Shot Through With Darkness – Part 1

 
September – 1963
 
She had stood there looking beautiful. Just like she had done on the day he had first set eyes on her in Fat Sam’s Diner.
With the sun shining through the oval window of the small, cramp, upstairs room, the yellow and orange light playing in amongst her strawberry blonde hair. The commotion outside in the street escalating to cacophony, the police sirens growing ever closer. He cast his mind back to that day, six months past, and a smile, like a whisper in the night, flickered across his lips.
He’d made her put on that same summer dress she had worn on that day. That day that both of their lives had changed forever. With that first look. The sudden spark of electricity. The shiver along the spine. The unexpected sensations of something hard to explain. He’d known that she was the one. The one to quell the restless voices from a distant past that raged inside. The memories of a simpler time, before all of the bloodshed and heartache, flooding his mind like a dam bursting its defences.
Now, as they both stood, facing each other, the tears streaming down their faces, and with the inevitability of their end carved into the fabric of time, he had whispered those three little words that he had longed to say for what seemed like an eternity.
Then, raising the gun that he had held at his side, and with a final breath, her jasmine scent rushing his senses, he shot in the head. Then, turning the gun on himself, did the same.
This is the story of how they died.
 
 
April – 1963
 
 
Jack Scarsbrook was a loser. For as long as he could remember it had always been the same. His mother and father had thought so, as had his older brother and younger sister, hell, they had all told him enough times.
‘Why can’t you pay attention in school like your brother?‘ he’d hear his mother say. ‘You’re never going to make shit of yourself, son. You aint fucking nobody.’ His father, full to the brim with whiskey, would remind him. ‘Get a fucking job, you dumb asshole.’ That was his brother one time. And so it went on, every day, no, every minute, of his life, he’d had the constant torture of negative opinions weighing upon his back like a ten tonne truck.
It was no surprise really, then, that he had killed them. Put a single slug in each of their heads one hot, humid, summer evening whilst they were watching some shitty show on television. The Montana farmhouse, a good ten miles from civilisation, ringing to the sounds of commotion and gunshots.
His sister, however, and just like she always had, the stupid little bitch, had struggled slightly, the bullet only grazing her left temple. Kicking her legs, arms flailing, mouth twisted in protest. It had taken another slug, this one between the eyes, to finish her off.
Standing over the four prostrate figures he, deep down, had felt that, maybe, he should have cried. Felt some kind of emotion for his slain family members. Maybe guilt or shame over what he had done. But he hadn’t. All he had felt was a strange relief washing over him like an alcohol haze. Easing the persistent throb in his mind and the ache that cracked at his bones.
He’d then wrapped their bodies, tightly, in sacking found in a dusty corner of the old barn, that had stood, creaking and unloved, at the back of the property. Dragging their corpses, along with a collection of each of their clothes and three suitcases, he lumped them into the back of his fathers beaten up, 1950 GMC, red, pick-up truck, before driving sixty miles to bury them in the wilderness.
Skip on five hours and he was back at the house, where, before anything else, he set to removing all trace of the incident. He cleaned the bloodstains from the wooden floor and furniture, and wiped down the wall where his fathers brain matter had splattered like a wet paper towel.
Heading upstairs he ran a bath, stripped off his clothes, his aching muscles burning like fire under his sweat filmed and dirty skin, and stepped into the cooling water.
Laying back, the fire slowing dissipating, he closed his eyes. It was the end of everything of he had known. The end of his past life, a life of torment and struggle. A life of being made to feel worthless and insignificant. The hardest part of all, though, the part that brought him to tears, almost, but not quite, was that the very people involved in his torture, were the very people that should have been the most supportive.
He had stayed there for a good long hour. Letting the water wash over him as it slowly cooled. His mind drifting to the grave that he had dug, nigh on seven feet down, the sweat pouring from his body, like a fountain, as the high sun burned its way across the sky. Rolling the wrapped corpses in one by one, a puff of dust and earth as each hit the bottom. Following them with the clothes and suitcases. The journey back had been spent in almost silence. Not a note of music emanating from the radio. Not a thought skipping through his mind. The only sounds that of the wheels rolling on the road, the clank of the engine and the breeze whistling though the open window.
He had slept well that night. Naked and uncovered. The cool night air breathing, as gentle as the touch of a feather, onto his body. The sounds of nature, like a symphony, swirling in his senses. The chirping of cicadas, the piercing howl of a coyote out on the plains.
Stood in the hallway the next morning, a backpack filled with clothes and supplies, the house, once filled with the noise of dispute and anger, now, deathly silent with the ghosts of past memories, Jack took one final look around, before turning and walking out of the door for the final time.
He hadn’t a single idea of where he was headed, or, of where his new life would take him. All he knew was that he wanted to live a little, to see some new places and meet some new people. To discover the wonders of the earth around him that had, since before that moment of blood lust, been shut off by the binds and constraints of negativity.
Maybe he would meet a nice woman. Someone who would love him and care for him. Someone who wouldn’t put him down and dismiss his every god dammed dream. A woman who would make him feel special, worthy, even, for the first time in his life.
He knew it was maybe a longshot, knew that he may just wander for the remainder of his existence in isolation, but dream he would, and it would feel wonderful.
 
*
 
The temperature was touching on ninety-five degrees as the bus pulled out of the station at a little after three pm on that day after Jack Scarsbrook had killed his family. Taking a seat next the window he sat with the stench of stale piss in his nostrils, and the howl of a newborn in his ears. With the sun burning a white hole in the azure sky he rested his head on the glass and closed his eyes.
He thought of everything that had been and pondered on things to come. Of a golden future, gilded along its edges and engraved with words of belief and courage. Of a future bright with possibilities endless. On where his life, so far, had taken him and where, now the shackles had, finally, been untied, life would lead him.
He wasn’t scared, no, that wasn’t the word. He wasn’t sure that he’d ever been scared. Wasn’t sure that he really knew how that felt, or, how it would feel should he ever be so. It was more a feeling of anxious anticipation. A feeling that swelled in his gut like foam swelled in a bath. But that’s where it stopped.
As each mile skipped by and the day bled from the canvas of the country that rushed past his window, one thought, one image, burnt its way through the centre of everything good and crumbled it to ash. That image was of his sister’s face, twisted in terror as he bore down on her, words of anger and fright spilling from her lips, the gun above her, waiting to fire, knowing that those moments, those last few precious seconds in which her family lay around her, blood seeping from the holes that had extinguished their lives, would, too, be her last. Sure, he had hated each of them from the day that he had fallen from the womb, and, knew, without any second of hesitation, that those feelings were reversed. He knew not why, of course, knew not what he had done to deserve their scorn, but, it was how it was and it was forever to be. But, her face, no matter how hard he tried, and no matter after all the years of near damnation, was there, pushing through, like some waking nightmare. He needed a drink.
 
The chance came at a small rest stop fifty miles from the state line of Nebraska. Stepping from the bus, the early evening sun dwindling on the horizon, its final light casting long shadows across the asphalt forecourt, he pushed his way through a crowd of fellow travellers, before making for the bathroom block.
Entering a cubicle, the floor no less than an inch deep in piss and god knew what else, a strong, sour, odour, hanging heavy in the air, he changed into some fresh clothes before bending over a corner sink to splash his face with cold water.
Straightening up on the third splash he gripped the sides of the cold porcelain and caught sight of his face in a grime cov and cracked mirror that clung by a thread to the wall. Standing for a long moment he stared at the face that stared back at him and it took a good few moments before the realisation set in that it was his own face that he looked upon. His skin was dry, sallow and cracked at the seams. Dark circles, like mud, hung under his eyes and faint lines, like rivers draining from an ocean, ran, at length, from their corners. He looked washed out, washed up, like a lifelong addict, the years of abuse finally taking their toll. To say that what he saw was unpleasant would not have been an understatement. To say that it was a shock, well, no. He felt as good as he looked and looked as good as he felt. Which was horrible.
Exiting the bathroom stall he headed across the, now, empty, forecourt, the large silver bus silent, its driver catching a few moments shut-eye in his seat on high, before starting out again on the, seemingly, endless trek across country. Once inside the diner he headed for the counter, an old Rockola Jukebox sitting against the far wall spitting out Poor Little Fool by Ricky Nelson, and picked up a Tab Cola from the poe faced waitress. Taking a moment he quenched his thirst, his parched mouth crying in relief. He thought about some food. Maybe a chilli dog or a nice juicy cheeseburger, just like the ones that he used to get back home on a Saturday night at the drive in. But the heat of the day had driven a sickness deep into his gut that he knew for sure would reject anything other than liquid.
Back outside, standing, solitary, he gazed out upon the awesome expanse of land that lay before him and beyond the highway. Cattle and horse speckled fields of green and yellow stretching off into the distance to meet the crisp blue sky on the distant horizon. That was all there was. A rich tapestry of colour, sights, and sounds. Forever and off to the end of time. Tossing the empty drink can into the trash he decided against climbing back aboard the bus, amongst all manor of the foul and obnoxious. Heaving his rucksack onto his shoulder, he drew in a deep breath of diesel fumes, freshly mown hay, punctuated with wood smoke from people’s backyard fire pits, and set out along the deserted highway.
He knew that it wouldn’t be too long before someone took notice of his thumbing. Some good, local, citizen passing by on their way home from work or out to meet their sweetheart. Wanting to pleasure themselves with a good deed. And it wasnt long before he was right.
Pulling up alongside him, the gentle thrum-thrum of the engine as the vehicle slowed to a crawl and then to a stop, Jack leant down and peered into the already open window.
The guy was in early fifties, balding and with a neat and tidy moustache that was half way to being a handle bar. He wore a clean, crisp, white shirt and dark blue jeans that looked like today was the first time they’d been worn.
‘Hey there, friend.’ His voice was mild, slight effeminate. ‘Where you headed?’
Jack smiled, took a look along the highway and then back to the man. ‘I have no idea, is the answer to that. How far you going?’
‘Well, I’m heading a little further into state, fifty miles or so. Not that far, but I can sure take you, if you want, that is?’
‘Sure, anything would be a help. That’s very kind of you.’
Reaching across with a smile, the driver opened the passenger door.
‘Just a word of warning, first,’ said Jack. ‘I think you may want to check your rear left tail light. It appears to have been smashed. I wouldn’t want you getting yourself a ticket.’
A frown formed on the mans face. ‘You sure, now? I only had the girl checked over two days back.’
Jack shrugged. ‘I’m pretty sure I know what I saw, mister. But, you’re welcome to take a look for yourself, should you want too, that is.’
Climbing from the car, Jack watched as the man walked around and regarded the rear of his vehicle, each light in turn. Looking back to Jack, who had now joined him at the rear of the car, he shrugged his shoulders.
‘I think you were mistaken, sir. Both look just fine to me.’
As it turned out, that was the very last thing that Jack’s ride, revealed three days after to be a Mr. Walter Getty, a fifty-four year old, divorced, father of three, would ever utter. He hadn’t seen Jack remove his father’s .22 snub-nosed revolver from his rucksack. He’d had even less time to react. The bullet entering his skull just under his left eye, his thoughts and memories splashing onto the grass verge, his lifeless frame slumping onto the asphalt like a sack of potatoes. It only took Jack a few moments to roll the body from the road. Dumping it into a roadside stream that was thick with grass and roots. He didn’t know how long it would it be before the body was discovered, what he did know, though, was that by the time it was, he would be long gone.
 
*
 
The next fifty or so miles passed by in a haze of dry heat and the tinny sounds coming from the car radio. It helped to clear his head. The music. The uptempo numbers were his favourite. The style, nowadays, that they were calling Rock and Roll. Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. He liked these guys, and he liked the way that their music made him feel. The sensations hitting him in places like never before. His father, however, had taken great delight in warning the family against the dangers of the ‘devils music’ as he liked to call it, and that dabbling in it would claim their soul. ‘Keep away, I beg thee, keep away from this here music that will pull you closer to the devils side, taking thee asunder to a world of no return,’ was just one of his deluded speeches, this one given over dinner one evening. The rest of the family in rapture to his preaching, ‘Amen father,’ came their responses.
A smile brushed his lips as he recalled pulling the trigger on the old fuck. The thud as the bullet entered his skull. The satisfaction of watching the last drops of his life twitch away as he lay on the cold floor. With the music turned high, that satisfaction would stay for the next fifty miles. Where he would come upon the town where his life would enter its final months.
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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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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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The Winter of Death – Part 7

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

 

*

 

The incident room on the third floor of the station was in almost total silence as McCann and Conrad entered. Glancing around there were six or seven officers gathered in a loose circle around a desk to one side of the room, most with ashen faces and hands held over their mouths, staring at the small screen of a laptop.
Rhodes was the first to notice his entrance; turning away from the screen he met the approaching officers.
“Steve, what we got?” Said McCann, his query laced with nerves.
Rhodes blew out his cheeks and swallowed hard, McCann could see that whatever was on that laptop had affected him hard, his usual unflappable demeanor cracked at the seams, his voice quiet, almost a whisper.
“We’ve received something, a DVD. It was delivered earlier this morning. Left in reception.”
McCann frowned. “Left in reception? Who by?”
Rhodes shrugged and paused before responding. Knowing that the answer he was going to give was probably going to send McCann flying off the handle.
“We don’t know. It was left in the bin just inside the main entrance. No address, just one word printed across the front.”
With his eyes narrowing, McCann looked back across the room. The show had seemingly finished as the officers milled away, their faces ashen, from the desk that held the laptop. He spotted DC Fletcher, a tear in her eye. Whatever it was they had all seen, had shaken them up
Looking back to Rhodes. “Where’s the DCI?”
“In with the Chief Super, I’m pretty sure he’ll let us know when he’s done.”
Running his tongue around his top teeth he imagined Stone bursting into the room, his face a fire, his thick Manc accent puncturing the air.
“So, it was left in a bin? Who the fuck was on reception? How can someone just walk in to the main entrance and not be seen?” said Conrad. His look a mixture of puzzlement and annoyance.
“The desk sergeant was, well, slightly incapacitated. We’re guessing that it was a deliberate ploy so the package could be planted.”
“Planted? And no one saw anything at all?” Conrad continued. “There must have been someone about, how about the CCTV cameras on the front desk?”
Rhodes looked to the floor, a hand reaching up to scratch the back of his head. “Well, this is where it gets a bit weird. The cameras did pick up the culprit, well, I should say, culprits.”
McCann’s eyebrows pricked up “Culprits?’
Shrugging, he struggled how to explain the situation best. “Yeah. Look, you’d better see.”
Walking over to a desk under the east-facing window, Rhodes clicked on another laptop. A few seconds and the screen lit up with the grainy image of the CCTV footage.
“I’ll run it from a few seconds before the figure appears.”
After a key press, the image began to move, a timer in the bottom right hand corner of the screen ticking over the time of the footage. It began at 10:20:26am.
McCann and Conrad stood, watching, their arms folded across their chests.
The camera was situated high on the right hand wall and looked across the main lobby area, the main doors on the right hand side of the screen, the reception desk on the left. The space in between empty but for a tall potted fern plant up against the far wall and the waste bin stood next to it.
Everything was still for thirty seconds, the air in the room heavy with anticipation, until, like a bullet, a hooded figure, dressed in balck, appeared in shot. Darting through the doors, almost like a blur sliding from right to left across the screen, it leapt at the reception desk.
With limbs flailing the figure proceeded to repeatedly throw punches in the direction of the desk sergeant, the melee playing out like a silent movie, half in shot and half out, the officer trying, in vain, to defend himself as the assailant overpowered him.
It was then, like a ghost emerging from a fog, a second figure, this one taller and slightly rotund, dressed, again, entirely in black, a hood pulled over its head, appeared in shot. McCann frowned as he watched on, the figure standing, stock still, just in shot, staring straight ahead at the fracas that was taking place, before turning and making its way away from the camera and towards the waste bin on the far side.
Moving closer to the screen, McCann gazed through the slight fuzz that covered the image, watching the two figures and their every move, then, without warning, he found the wind knocked clean from his sails.
The taller of the two figures, after depositing the gift, turned, head bowed, and began to walk slowly back across the lobby area and towards the camera’s position. Passing the commotion, it stopped, just in shot, before slowly raising its head until it was looking up and directly into the camera.
What McCann saw caused a shiver to ripple down his spine. With eyes widened he reached forward, and, pressing a button on the keyboard paused the footage. Staring at the screen he took in the image, the hooded figure, black from head to toe, except for the white, smiling, theatre mask that covered the face.
He stood, transfixed, for a moment, the sinister image staring back at him.
“And no one saw this? Not one person saw these fuckers come in, do this,” he jabbed a finger at the screen. “And then leave.”
Rhodes slowly shook his head. “Not as far as we know.”
McCann let out a breath and chewed on the side of his mouth. “How about the desk Sergeant? What’s he saying?”
“He’s in A&E, unconscious, busted his face up pretty bad, so nothing at the moment. But as soon as we can we’ll get someone over to speak to him.”
“Fuck.” McCann ran a hand across his head. “Fuck. Ok, I want someone on to this right now.” He turned and scanned the room, catching the eye of DC Hagen. Calling his name he beckoned him over. “Dan, find out what the fuck happened earlier on to let this happen, and get over to the hospital and wait for the officer to come around, find out what he saw, anything, ok, just get anything, I don’t care how fucking trivial it may seem.”
Hagen nodded in response and headed for the door, grabbing his jacket from the back of a chair as he went.
Looking back to the screen, the image still frozen, and the face still staring out at him. McCann pressed another button on the keyboard and un-paused the footage. The following few seconds saw the two figures convene in the centre of the room, before exiting the building, the faces of them both left unseen.
“You said there was a word on the envelope?” asked McCann with a frown.
Rhodes, his eyes still focused on the screen. “Yeah, just said ”Samael”
“Samael? What the fuck does that mean?”
“Well, I ran it through a Google search,” reaching across he picked up a piece of paper from the desk next to the laptop and handed it to McCann. “It seems that it has a few different meanings, depending on religion. The main words that kept cropping up, though, were things like, seducer, destroyer, and loads of references to Satan. The best one, though, was from Jewish lore where it’s the name for the angel of death.”
McCann looked over the print out. “Great, so this fuck has given himself a nice little nickname has he?”
“It looks that way yes. I’ve got someone onto it to get some more info on the origins of the name and what else it could mean, but what I’ve already found seems to be quite apt.”
“Ok, well keep me posted, not that it matters much what he’s calling himself, but you never know, could be some clue to it all.”
Handing the paper back he drew in a breath. “Well I guess I’d better see it then.”
Rhodes didn’t reply, just nodded his head and paced over to the second laptop. McCann’s gut started to tense, knowing that this was going to be bad. The expressions on the other officer’s faces telling him all that he needed to know.
The focus was on a small, dimly lit room, the image much clearer than the CCTV footage, no expense seemingly spared on the quality of the camera. This was high end, picking up every detail as though you were actually there in the moment.
The first minute or so was a fixed shot across the room, the camera most likely positioned on a tri-pod. Candlelight flickered yellow light onto walls that were bare and ragged. McCann’s mind was triggered back to the victim, the dirt and debris found underneath her cracked and broken fingernails. He wondered if this was the very room where Emily Copper had spent her last moments, desperately trying to escape from her captor.
A few more seconds and the image began to shake as the camera moved from its position, now taking on a jerky homemade quality, and the first audible sounds became apparent. The slow, heavy breathing of the person behind the lens, mixed in with a faint sobbing sound coming from somewhere off screen, helping to create a sinister edge to the whole scenario that sent a chill up McCann’s spine.
Feeling his jaw involuntary clench and his eyes narrow, the shot panned slowly to the right, the sobbing becoming gradually louder, a line of small candles standing evenly spaced along tatty and worn wooden shelves, passed by, their wax bleeding and, in places, dripping down onto the darkly stained floor. It was then that his heart jumped into his throat, and suspicions were confirmed.
Naked, and bound tightly with black straps at the wrists and ankles to a heavy duty wood chair, Emily Cooper was sat bolt upright, her blonde hair pulled back from her dirty and tear-stained face and a layer of duct tape clasped over her mouth to muffle her desperate pleas for help.
McCann watched the shot slowly zoom in and out as the camera operator, breathing rhythmically like a pulse, walked around the chair, focusing on different areas of her body. From the dark bruises and scratches that covered her upper arms, her back and around her breasts to the dirt and grime that seemed to have created a second skin over her legs and feet, before settling on a close up shot of her face.
Her blue eyes were laced with desperation and wide like saucers as they stared into the lens. Beneath the gag her cries became steadily more aggressive, the pain and anguish showing through clearly.
A black-gloved hand then reached out, stroking the girls’ blonde hair, letting it run through the fingers. Her head bucked in a vain attempt to free herself, her eyes snapping shut. Pulling back, the hand then flew into the side of her head; the violent thud making McCann wince.
The screen then went black; a long piercing scream filled the air, followed by several low moans, then silence. McCann turned to Rhodes, his face a blank canvas, a myriad of questions buzzing through his mind. He went to speak, his DS holding up a hand to stop him.
Shaking his head. “Keep watching, there’s more, sir.”
McCann turned back, a deep frown forming on his face. The screen stayed blank for close on another minute before lighting back up again. The interval spent in silence.
The camera had now moved to a longer shot, the girl now in full view from head to toe. The time that had elapsed at the bottom of the screen was some twenty-five minutes further on and the image that presented itself churned his stomach to the point of almost releasing itself.
The entire area around the chair seemed to be spattered with dark red blood, the flickering candlelight giving it a silky look as it pooled on the floor around the chair and hung in patches from the walls.
In the middle of this mess was sat the limp and lifeless figure of the girl. Of Emily Cooper.
A sense of deja-vu washed over McCann as he watched on, the image of the girl ripped apart, her flesh hanging from her torso. The dark sockets that once held her pretty blue eyes now vacant and filled with silver.
Once more the screen then went black, only to flick back on no more than a couple of seconds later. McCann recoiled, a hand automatically moving to his mouth. He looked at Conrad who raised his eyebrows. A figure had now entered the shot, and was now stood, behind the chair, cradling the girl’s head in its hands.
“Pause it.” demanded McCann, his voice cracking.
Doing as he was asked, Rhodes stopped the footage. Leaning in, McCann stared at the screen, his eyes fixed on the figure dressed from head to toe in black, a hood pulled over its head, a white smiling theatre mask fitted over the face.
He had no choice but to sit down, his legs failing underneath him and an office chair taking his full weight. He’d read about this kind of thing in fiction, in books by Steve Mosby and Chris Carter. About psychos terrorizing communities, and the police force, with their evil doings. He remembered the Zodiac killings in America back in the 70’s and the subsequent film. About how the perpetrator had bamboozled the authorities with his coded messages and how, to this very day, no one had ever been captured for the crimes. This was where atrocities like this happened, in far off places or in the minds of crime writers, not on his very doorstep.
Regaining the composure that had been knocked from his very soul, he slowly stood up.
“Ok, so where are we?”
“Sir?” replied Conrad, his tone inquisitive.
“Where are we with this shit, James. How much exactly have we got?”
Rubbing his forehead. “In a nutshell, not much, a crime scene with virtually no evidence, a missing witness and possible suspect, and now some sick DVD.” He took a breath. “Nothing coming from the door to doors, phone lines are almost silent. To cap it all off we’ve got Gemma Dawson’s parents kicking off that we still haven’t found their kid, despite the amount of attention her disappearance has had.”
McCann pondered this for a moment, no more, no less, resting his hands on the desk in front of him, his face sinking with the implications.
“Fuck.”
Admitting that they were lost was something that no Police officer liked to do, not publicly anyway. But right now, it seemed, that there was no way out. No way to tackle the issue that they were confronted with. That bringing the perpetrator to justice for their crime was going to be a nigh on impossible task. And, just when the general thought sweeping through the room was that things couldn’t possibly get any worse, they did.
“Sir.”
In unison, McCann and Conrad turned to the sound of the voice.
The short, slightly podgy figure of DC Adam Stubbs was stood on the far side of the room, a worried look spread across his ashen face, his eyes locked on where McCann and Conrad were situated.
“What it is Adam?” said McCann.
There was a brief pause as the DC looked between them and the computer monitor.
“You need to come and look at this, like, right now.”
Exchanging glances, McCann and Conrad moved towards where Stubbs was now seated.
“What is it?” McCann said with slight trepidation, a noticeable crack in his usually firm voice.
Taking one final look between the two standing officers, Stubbs turned back to his monitor and clicked a mouse button.
“I was searching through links on the name Samael, you know, the one written on the package, see if anything else came up. Well, it did.”
Another click of the mouse and the screen lit up. It was a simple website, nothing flashy or in any way professional about its look, a red background with a series of square black spaces in the middle, each with a ‘PLAY’ icon situated at its the centre. It wasn’t dissimilar to any of umpteen million video sites that the Internet had to offer. What made this one different from all of the rest, however, was the white block capital print that sat towards the bottom of the page, just three little words, but three little words that seemed to suck all of the air from the room.
Watch Me Die
Running a hand over his stubbled chin, McCann rested his hands on the back of DC Stubbs’ chair and felt a cold shiver run the full length of his body.
After a brief moment of staring at the screen he drew in a deep breath and asked the DC to press play on the first square.
With a further click of a mouse button the black screen came to life. It was then that they realised what they were up against.
It was the same video that had been seen not a few minutes previous. The dark bricked room, the young girl tied to the chair. The figure dressed in black, its faced masked in white. Only this time, there were no cuts in the footage. No fades to black. This was the full ‘uncensored’ version. Every cut, every slash and scream laid bare.
“Click on another one.” McCann said, his voice cracking, the strain beginning to show.
Moving the cursor to the second box, Stubbs clicked.
The film began to play, just like the first. Everything was the same. Same chair. Same bricked room. Same outcome. The only difference being the victim, this was girl number two. And they knew then that it wouldnt be long before she was found.
Turning away as the full horror became apparent, McCann asked for it to be turned off and pulled Conrad to one side.
“How many squares were there on that screen?”
“Squares?”
“Yes, squares, little black squares. The videos. Come on James, step to it.” his irritation now full on.
Running a hand across his brow. “I don’t know, ten, no less than eight.”
“And how many bodies have we got?”
“One, so far.”
“And there you’ve just hit the nail on the head, James. So far.”
 
 
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The Winter of Death – Part 6

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

 

*

 
Lizzie Arnold hadnt wasted any time in getting the information that McCann had requested, and within a few short hours the station was abuzz with anticipation, and DCI Stone wasted little time in getting everyone together in the evidence room to announce the details that the first victims identity has been confirmed as that of Emily Cooper.
Stone took to the front, his face one of steely determination.
“Right you lot, lets ‘ave a bit of ‘ush can we now please.”
The mumbling and scribbling on pads ceased. Every eye now trained on the front of the room.
“Emily Cooper,” he paused, looking across at McCann, who had perched himself on the corner of a desk next to the window.
Taking his cue McCann produced a copy of the photo that Lizzie Arnold had provided of the girls night out, and preceded to walk amongst the officers, handing out one each.
Stone continued. “Confirmed, by her parents a short while ago, as our first victim. Now, I want everything dug up about this lass that can be dug up, ok? Who were her friends? What she was like, her home life. Even down to what brand of fucking tampons she used. Someone out there knows something that is going to lead us in the right direction, and, could possibly lead us to the identity of the girl in the photo left at the scene.”
Stepping aside he then handed over the reigns to McCann.
Taking a breath and surveying the faces in front of him, he started.
“As the DCI said, we now have an I.D on our first victim. We also have details of two friends, a place of employment and an interesting situation with an ex-landlord to check out.
“So,” looking out at D.S Fletcher. “Speak to these two friends, arrange to have them both at the club for the interview. Find out who they saw and who they spoke too. Her friend seemed pretty cut up by everything so likelihood is that they will be as well. A woman’s touch may be needed in a situation like this.”
Fletcher nodded in agreement, a small smile creeping over her lips at McCann’s comment.
Reaching behind him to the table he then picked up a sheet of paper, before stepping forward and handing to DS Rhodes.
“Details of her phone records and email address. Get hold of everything you can. Apparently she meet some bloke, a Ryan Caruthers, on a dating website recently, dig around and see if there is any trail. Also, get a check done on Lizzie Arnold’s mobile, as far we know the killer contacted her to tell her that Emily was dead. You know the drill. Lets see if we can pick something out, maybe the person we are looking for will be in there somewhere.”
Shifting his gaze, then, towards PC’s Andy Harris and Mark McAvoy who were stood at the back looking like Penn and Teller, the giant frame of Harris, arms folded in front of him, and the, in comparison, tiny frame of McAvoy, his uniform looking like that of a child who’s mother has bought his clothes two sizes too big in the thinking that he will grow into them.
“Check out the clubs’ CCTV. Hopefully they will still have the footage from the weekend. Anyone seen talking to our vic or making a nuisance of himself, no matter how trivial you think it may be, flag it up.”
McAvoy frowned and attempted to raise himself up beyond his miniscule height.
“That could be hours worth of film, sir. Could take all night.”
A ripple of anger shot across McCann’ shoulders. Mark McAvoy had a renowned for a talent of never being able to accept an order or assignment without some sort of complaint or argument. It was because of this very behavior that he had garnered the nickname of ‘Sir Moan-a-lot’ from some of the officers.
It was this very name that flashed through McCann’s mind as he stood and looked across at him, his tolerance, usually, quite high. Today, However, was a different matter entirely.
“Well, you’d better get started then hadn’t you, PC McAvoy. And, while you’re at it, how about taking a little time to think about that attitude of yours.” He paused, taking a step forward, his dander up. “Tell you what, you can always take yourself off and pay a little visit to our victims parents and break the news, if, maybe, you’d like something different to do? You never know, you may be able to brush up on your piss poor people skills.”
The room fell to a hush as all eyes proceeded to scan between the two of them. A moment or two passed before McAvoy’s flame red face turned away. McCann continued. His address to the room, just incase anyone else in the ranks felt like stepping on his size twelve’s. His gaze though, the whole time fixed up McAvoy.
“This is a murder investigation people, and a fucking serious one at that. I can’t afford to have anyone here who’s going to piss around and argue the toss. If you don’t like what you have been asked to do then you know where the door is, ok?”
The room stayed silent, a telephone chirped across the corridor, a car horn sounded outside in the street. McCann took a moment to look between the faces that stared back at him, his gaze, then, once again, fixing upon McAvoy before he wrapped things up.
“Ok everyone, thank you for your time. We’ll reconvene when we have anything further.”
The group moved away amidst the sounds of chattering. McCann looked over the heads of them all.
“DS Conrad, you got a sec?”
Turning, he looked back at McCann who was standing with hands in his pockets.
“Sir?”
“Get your coat, you’re with me.”
Along the corridor and down two flights of stairs the pair paced through the busy offices and towards the exit. It was then that McCann, momentarily, caught sight of a figure disappearing through a door at the far end of the hallway.
With his eyes firmly fixed on the door through which the figure had passed, McCann, feeling his pulse quicken, knew he had his moment.
“I’m just going to take a leak, James. Ill see you at the car.”
Marching towards the now closed door, he laid a hand on the handle, took a breath, and entered.
Inside, the small and dimly lit room, the usual smell of disinfectant and stale urine stained the air. The floor blotched with patches of water, the quiet drip-drip of a cistern. And there, at the far urinal, whistling and rocking up and down onto the balls of his feet, was DS Mulligan.
Pacing, quietly, over to where he stood, McCann positioned himself directly behind his adversaries squat frame.
“Hello Danny boy.”
Jumping back, a squirt of urine splashing against the wall and then down onto the front of his trousers, Mulligan let out a yelp. Trying to regain some semblance of composure, he spun around.
“What the fu…”
Jamming his hand around Mulligan’s throat, McCann forced him back, his head hitting the wall with a dull thud. Avoiding a swinging leg and ignoring muffled cries, he tightened his grip and drew in closer to Mulligan’s quickly reddening face, his voice falling to a hush through his clenched teeth.
“Right, you little prick, Ill make this brief. You utter one more word out of turn regarding me or my family, just one, and I will personally make sure that you never walk again, do you understand me?”
Struggling against the strong-arm that held him in place, Mulligan’s garbled attempt at a reply came out as nothing but a string of spit, McCann, however, picked up enough to realise that it was anything but pleasant.
“Come, come Daniel, there’s no need for that, just admit that you were wrong and we can move on, otherwise, well, Ill just have to hurt you a little more, wont I.”
Showing no sign of letting up his struggle and giving in, it was then that the wire in McCann’s head short fused.
With a rage set to burst, he released his grip, then, bringing a knee up into Mulligans midriff, he watched as he collapsed into a heap on the piss stained floor, the wind shooting from his lungs like a bullet from a gun.
Leaning over the prone figure, his right fist set as hard as stone, McCann landed a blow to Mulligans jaw, his fury in full flow, his booming voice echoing around the enclosed space.
“I warned you, you little cunt, didn’t I warn you? I said I’d hurt you.”
With his hands up in front of his face in self-defense and through a mouthful of blood, broken teeth and the stammer of tears, he squealed his pleas for mercy, before curling himself up tight into a fetal ball.
Readying himself for another strike, his arm drawn back like a piston ready to explode into action, the door behind them swung open.
“McCann, what in fucks name is going on?”
Feeling the tension seep from his body he straightened himself. A hand on his shoulder then roughly pulled him to one side and he found himself looking into the face of DCI Stone.
“I asked you a question dammit,” Stone’s gaze falling onto the stricken figure at his feet. “What the fuck is this?”
With Mulligan stirring, a moan escaping from his bloodied lips, Stone reached down and offered him a hand. Accepting, and slowly pulling himself up, he turned an angry stare at McCann.
“You’re a fucking animal McCann,” swinging his look back to the DCI, a shaky finger pointed at his assailant, “I want this bastard charged, I don’t care what it takes.”
Holding up a hand, Stone urged him to calm. The anger of Mulligan bubbling like a geyser. He then turned to McCann.
“If you’re not going to answer me now, then you can do it in my office, McCann, first thing tomorrow. Now get the fuck out of here.”
With a last look at Mulligan, McCann turned and headed for the door, a smirk spreading across his face.
 
10th December – Pump Lane. Late afternoon.
 
Bringing the unmarked car to a stop outside the bay fronted semi-detached house, McCann cut the engine and sat for a few short moments glancing out at the quiet residence. He knew the unimaginable anguish that the four walls would be hiding from the world, but he also knew that his job was to find whoever was respobsible for taking their daughter away.
Turning to Conrad he blew out a long sigh.
“Right, lets get this done.”
Climbing from the car and into the cold afternoon air, McCann straightened his jacket, pulling up the collar around his shoulders, and took a cursory glance at his surroundings. It was a quiet street. Tree lined all along both sides and well kept, and, in all honesty, he thought, no different from a million and one other streets that wound their way, like tiny little veins, piercing the length and breadth of the country.
Stepping toward the white painted garden gate, set in between two large hedges, Conrad now falling in at his side, they moved toward the house.
Making their way along the path towards the front door, it was became quite apparent that a lot of love and attention had gone into the front garden, of which the path cut through the middle. Even at this time of year when the ground was barren and nothing grew, the lawn was neat and well manicured and flowerbeds tidy and weed free.
The house was, like the garden, well looked after. Neat net curtains sat at every window, upstairs and down, and as they approached the front door they couldn’t help but notice the large elaborate stained glass swan that sat in the middle of it. Conrad turned to McCann, raised his eyebrows, and then rang the doorbell.
The high-pitched chirp echoed inside, a few moments passed, and a shadowy figured appeared behind the door before a pale male face appeared, that of Alan Cooper.
His eyes narrowed at the two figures stood on his doorstep, before recognition set in.
‘Detective McCann, isnt it?’
Nodding in confirmation, McCann stepped forward. ‘Thats correct yes, and this, ‘thumbing over his shoulder, ‘is my colleague DC Conrad. I know that there is never going to be a good time, but we just need to ask a few questions regarding, well -‘
‘The murder of my daughter, Detective? You can say it, it is the truth afterall.’ Pausing for a second, he then stepped aside.’ Please, come in.’
Inside, like out, was neat and tidy. A cream carpeted hallway lined on both sides with family pictures in frames, most of their daughter Emily, led them into a back room which was half sitting area and half kitchen. The smell of stale food and cigarette smoke lingered in the air. It was there that they met Mrs. Cooper.
She was a small woman with mousey hair and no make up. Her dark puffy eyes stood out on her pale skin, she was probably a few years younger than her husband. Alan Cooper appeared behind them.
“Fran, the detectives just need a few moments, few more questions.”
Looking at them both in turn, Fran Cooper slowly nodded her head and averted her gaze.
Taking a seat on a low, two seater, sofa, McCann started things off.
“We wont keep you any longer than we need to.” He said, looking between the pair. “We just have a few questions and then we’ll be out of your way.”
The couple looked at each other and then Mr. Cooper looked back to McCann. “I don’t what else we can say, other than what we told the officers when they,” he paused, looking down at the floor. “Well, when they told us the news.”
McCann pulled out his notebook from his jacket. “Well, we’ll see how it goes ok? We just need to try and piece together a few things about your daughter, so we can get a picture of what she was like.” He paused and waited for confirmation from them that he was ok to proceed. After a short moment, he received his cue.
Leaning forward slightly. “When was the last time you saw Emily?” There was a brief silence before Fran Cooper broke down, lurching across the sofa and sobbing into her husbands shoulder. Putting his arms around her he spoke quietly into her ear. After a few moments she stood, straightened her navy blue skirt, and left the room, shutting the door behind her. Alan Coopers gaze then came back to McCann. “Apologies, Inspector. As you can probably imagine, this has been, well, you know.” he paused and wiped a tear from his cheek. “She was our only child.” Conrad jumped in. “I understand that this can’t in any way be easy for either of you, Mr. Cooper. Do you have any other relatives or friends that you can call on?” He nodded. “My wife’s sister is coming down from Scotland tomorrow and my brother is only a few miles down the road, so we are not alone inspector. Thank you for your concern” “That’s nice to know.” said McCann. He looked down to his notepad and then back to Alan Cooper. “So, if I can go back to my original question. When was the last time you saw your daughter?” Looking down into his lap he took a moment or two before, like his wife had just done moments before, he began to sob. Leaving him for a few seconds to regain himself, McCann couldn’t help but notice that each of his finger nails were chewed down to the bone, leaving ragged, uneven and cigarette stained stumps. He found himself looking at his own, remembering the weeks after Karen had left, his own nails taking the same punishment.
Wiping away his tears with the sleeve of his jumper, Alan Cooper apologized and then continued.
“Saturday.” “Ok, and was she here all day, did she go out?” continued McCann. “No. In the morning, she had breakfast with us and then she headed out for most of the day shopping with friends. It, was a regular thing, Saturdays were shopping day.”
A glimmer of a smile washed over his lips at the recollection of his daughter’s routine. “And, did she come back here after?” “Yes, yes. She had bought a new top and some jeans for going out in the evening. She showed us before,” He paused and let out a long breath. “That was the last time we saw her.’ McCann noted down the information in his notebook allowing Conrad to continue. “Did she say who she was seeing that evening? Was it the always the same friends she went out with?” Cooper shook his head. “I’m not sure. I think so. She didn’t mention who exactly she was seeing, but it’s usually the same girls. They’ve been friends since they first went to school.” “And do you know the names of these girls?” said Conrad. “Yes, her two friends Katie and Isabelle.” McCann noticed there was a collection of family photos on the unit behind Alan Cooper. A couple of Emily alone, one with a guitar, a red Gibson SG he recognized having owned one himself many years ago, and one with the young girl holding a baby monkey at a zoo. There was also a posed photo, mother, father and daughter all smiling and smartly dressed in their finery. McCann couldn’t help but wonder at the devastation that this family must be feeling at this moment. “Do you happen to have the addresses of the two girls Mr. Cooper? Katie and Isabelle.” interjected McCann. “Just so that we can confirm if it was them that Emily was with.”
Cooper frowned. “Why wouldn’t it be? We would have know if she was going to be out with other people, she would have let us know Detective. She wasn’t the kind of girl to go out and not tell us who she was with.”
McCann nodded slowly and scratched his chin, feeling his stubble bristle beneath his fingers. He also could help but notice how he was talking about his daughter as though she had been a child, not a nineteen year-old woman.
“But you said yourself that you weren’t entirely sure who she went out with on that night. So, there is a chance it was with some other people. Work colleagues maybe.”
Alan Cooper ran his hand down his face and sighed. He looked like the kind of man who didn’t shy away from an exchange, but, right now, there was no fight left in him.
“No, I guess not. But we had no reason to think otherwise Inspector. She was very much a stickler for routine, and, like I said, Saturdays were girls days.”
“Ok, well, for now, we’ll go with her being with her usual friends.”
There was silence from across the coffee table that sat in between the two sofas. Cooper had drifted off and was staring into space.
“Mr. Cooper?” said McCann.
His eyes darted back towards his guests.
“Yes, erm, I’m sorry.” He paused, running a hand through his hair. “The addresses, ill get them for you.” He went to stand.
“There’s really no rush Mr. Cooper.” Said McCann. “You can always call us with the details when you get a chance to look.”
Alan Cooper broke a small smile and nodded a thank you at McCann before retaking his seat.
Conrad took back up the reigns.
“Ok, taking on the assumption that she was out with friends, do you know where she could have spent the evening? Was there a regular place she liked to go on these girls’ days? How about Nightclubs or pubs? Was she into that sort of thing?” McCann could see sense that Alan Cooper was starting to tire. He’d done this sort of thing enough times to know the signs. Just a few more questions and they would leave them. “Well, Bluewater was a favourite shopping destination, I know that, The Liquid Lounge in Maidstone was somewhere they went as well for a night out. I guess Maidstone in general was probably where they went most. I picked them up a few times when they couldn’t get a taxi home. Apart from that, Rochester maybe, I heard them mention that the pubs were good over there. Apart from that, I really don’t know anywhere else.” McCann noted down the names.
He knew Maidstone very well, having spent a lot of his younger days stumbling in and out of various pubs and clubs over that way. He remembered one of his first dates with Karen had been in a small pub in the high street. He also remembered getting rather drunk and leaving her stranded with a friend of his. He wondered if Emily Cooper had any boyfriends, someone that her parents didn’t know about. Conrad took up the reigns again, seemingly reading McCann’ mind.
“How about boyfriends, Mr. Cooper?” His face seemed to lose the sad edge and take on a harder look. “No, Inspector. There were no boys. She was too young for that sort of thing, she had her career and her studies to concentrate on, she knew she had plenty of time for that in the future.”
His sudden change of tone was something that caught both McCann and Conrad off guard. It seemed as though Alan Cooper was possibly something of strict ruler of the roost, and a naive one too. Expecting that his attractive young daughter would be out at nightclubs and not attracting the attention of young lads, and enjoying it. It also seemed that he didn’t know his daughter as well as he might have thought he did.
McCann pondered for a moment, deciding that pushing the boyfriend subject could lead them into Alan Cooper losing his rag, and therefore halting their obtaining any more information. He looked at the notes he had scribbled down.
“I understand she was having issues with a landlord at the premises she was living at before coming back here? I don’t suppose you could shed any light on that?”
Cooper frowned. “How did you know that?”
“We had a visit from a friend of your daughters, a Miss Lizzie Arnold. Said she was a work colleague from the club.”
Shaking his head, the frown still fixed on his tired face. “The club? I don’t follow.”
“Yes, your daughter worked at a bar in Maidstone, Strawberry Moons.” He paused, seeing the blank expression on Coopers face. He took a quick look across at Conrad before continuing. “You were aware of this?”
Drawing in a deep breath, the blank expression remaining.
“No, detective, I wasn’t aware of this.”
McCann felt a shiver course down his spine. The revelation to a grieving relative of information that they hadn’t been privy too was always a tricky thing to deal with. He’d been in situations in the past where he had been lunged at, swung for and, in the odd circumstance, had objects ranging from beer mats to vases full of flowers thrown at him. His next step was to judge how far her could go without incurring any wrath.
“I only know the details that I have been told. That she worked the bar at weekends to pay for her teaching degree. Here,” reaching into his pocket he pulled out a copy of the photo that Lizzie Arnold had provided him with of the five girls, and handed over to him.
Cooper let his eyes skip over the photo before fixing upon his only child, staring at it for what seemed like an eternity. A smile flickered across his lips, his finger running over the images shiny surface. A tear then prickled from the corner of his eye, descending through the ridges and creases that circled it before escaping and running down his face and dropping from the end of his chin.
Finally, he looked up, his voice cracking. “Would it, would it be possible to keep this?”
McCann nodded, deciding on just one more issue befoe leaving. ‘One more thing, Mr Cooper, your daughter, did she have acces to a computer here?’
‘Yes, her own PC in her room, why?’
‘We are going to need to take it away for analysis, Ill arrange for an officer to come over and collect it later on this evening, if thats ok? The sooner we can get started, the better.’
Alan Cooper slowly nodded his head, his eyes focusing back on the photo of his child.
“Ok Mr. Cooper, we’ll leave it there, for now.” said McCann. “You’ve been very helpful.” He stood, closely followed by Conrad and then lastly Cooper. “If there is anything else you can think of.” McCann continued. “Then please don’t hesitate to contact either of us.” Fishing into his pocket he pulled out a card and handed to him. Taking it, Cooper looked at it for a few seconds, his face drawn into sadness.
“You will catch this, this, person, wont you Inspector?”
McCann smiled. “I can assure you that we are doing everything we can, and we will continue to do so.” Within a few moments McCann and Conrad were back in McCann’s Ford Mondeo with the stereo on and heading along the A2 back to the station. Conrad looked at McCann and then down at the green flashing LED light display on the stereo.
“What the hell is this?” McCann looked to his passenger and then back to the road ahead. “This?” “Yeah, what is it?” McCann smiled. “Why this is Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes. Somehow, I sense you’re not impressed?”
Conrad shook his head. “That would be one way of putting it. The other would that it’s fucking dreadful.”
McCann raised his eyebrows. “This is one of the greatest prog albums ever made Ill have you know. One hour twenty minutes of pure genius.”
“One hour and twenty minutes.” exclaimed Conrad, reaching down and picking up the CD case, reading over the sleeve information. “Jesus Christ, 1973 this was made. You really need to get some more modern stuff. Can we have something else on?”
McCann blew out his cheeks. Usually he would have made a point of it being his car and no he couldn’t put something else on, but today he wasn’t in the mood and he knew that Conrad would bang on. “Yes, go on then. There’s some more CD’s in the glove box.”
Conrad leant forward and pulled open the hatch. Reaching inside he pulled out six CD’s and proceeded to flick through them.
“Caravan, Soft Machine, King Crimson.” He stopped after three, turning to McCann. “Let me guess, all these are the same kind of shit that we are listening to at the moment aren’t they?” “Yes, and less of the shit, please.” Shaking his head, he put the CD’s back and closed up the glove box.
“Fuck it, radio it is then.” he said pushing the button that said AM/FM. KMFM flashed across the display and some incessant beat with a whiney girl voice over the top spilled out.
“That’s better.” said Conrad. “I like this one.” After a few minutes of the nasty song and Conrad tapping out the beat onto his thighs, they pulled up at a set of traffic lights next to the big Roko gymnasium and both watched as a young attractive blonde women in tight black leggings and an even tighter grey t-shirt, cross in front of them, a large sports bag slung over one shoulder. Without taking his eyes from the woman, Conrad blew out his cheeks. “Bloody hell, I’m going to have to change my gym membership.”
The lights changed to green and they pulled away. “I’m sure that Debbie would love that.” Said McCann, a slight smirk spreading across his face.
Conrad had been with his long-term girlfriend Debbie for the past five years. She was a pretty little thing, a bit on the plain side but a lovely girl nonetheless, and of the people who knew them as a couple, most were of the opinion that she was batting above her average with the tall, chiseled good looks of James Conrad. McCann, however, was of the opposite opinion and that it was Debbie who could do better for herself.
Ignoring the comment, Conrad changed the subject. “What did you make of Alan Cooper?”
McCann shrugged. “Usual grieving father.”
“Bit weird though, thing about the boyfriends, and not knowing about her job.”
“Not really, no. You never expect them to grow up and fly the nest. Especially Fathers and their daughters.”
“Yeah, but the way he said it, like there was something more to it. I don’t know,” He paused. “I guess you’re right though, Dad’s and daughters and all that. You’d know more than me about it though.”
“You never think that they are going to grow up, that first moment you get to hold them in your arms, but, blink, and you’ve got an argumentative teenager on your hands.”
McCann’ mind flicked to his daughter. He’d spent most of the evening worrying about what she had said, about not being happy living with her mum and Tom anymore. He didn’t really know Tom at all, but what he did know, he knew wasn’t good for his kids. The guy cared more about money and material things than anything else. He obviously had a bit of money, more than McCann had, going by the four bed roomed detached house and the Mercedes SLK that sat on the driveway, but apart from that, he seemed like an ass. And for the life of him he couldn’t, and never would, understand why Karen had gone for him. As time had gone by, he had managed to grasp the reasons why she had left, but not for someone like Tom. She’d never shown any incline for that kind of life, never seemed to have any interest in flash guys with sport scars, she had always thought that they were nothing but dicks. But, here she was, shacked up, and engaged, to one. The more he thought about it, the angrier it made him, not necessarily Karen, although he missed her and would, in some way, always love her, she had made her decision and he had to deal with it, and, as hard as it was, he felt that he was. Sure, he still had the bouts of darkness that had blighted him for many years. The episodes that were in some way responsible for driving her away. But the bad days were, seemingly, growing dim, the good days starting to outweigh them. And, as much as it pained him to say, after all the hassle he’d had in the past, his new councilor, Derrick Arthur’s, seemed to be making a difference.
“Anyway,” McCann continued, “How about we go and pay a little visit to this landlord character, see what he’s got to say for himself.”
 
10th December – Rochester. Early evening.
 
The old Victorian town house that had been Emily Coopers home until a few months previous was nothing in keeping with the standards set by the neighbouring homes.
Pulling up across the street it was obvious that whoever was responsible for the upkeep of the premises was more than guilty of a serious case of neglect. From the severely overgrown garden to the battered and worn house with its patched up windows, cracked and rotten guttering and dirty brickwork, not one single thing made the place look anything other than uninviting.
Climbing from the vehicle, McCann led Conrad across the street, never once averting his gaze from their destination.
“And there was me thinking that this part of town was reserved for the posh folks.”
Ringing the doorbell, a booming chime emitting from inside, they stood and waited. Leaves swirling around their feet as a chill breeze whistled from the east. 
“How about if one your youngsters came home and said they’d found a place to live, and it turned out to be like this?” Conrad said, casting his gaze across the ramshackle garden and dilapidated house.
Rocking on his heels and pushing his hands deeper into his pockets, McCann blew out his cheeks.
“Id say that they were pretty desperate, wouldn’t you?”
Cutting Conrad’s reply before it had begun, their attention was grabbed by theo pening of the front door.
The face that appeared was drawn and gaunt. Black lines under the eyes and a mop of shaggy salt and pepper hair hung, limply, over the ears.
“Can I help you?” the voice as worn as the features.
McCann stepped forward. “Harold Bart?”
Screwing up his eyes. “Yes, who’s asking? You’re not poxy Jehovah’s are you? Christmas comes and they all crawl out of the bloody woodwork.”
Pulling his badge from his jacket pocket.
“Detective Inspector McCann and DS Conrad. Could we have a few moments of your time please?”
Keeping his eyes screwed up, he shifted his gaze quickly between the two of them.
“Can I ask what for? I am rather busy, and,” glancing at his watch, ‘It is getting rather late in the day.’
McCann took a breath to reign in the anger that bristled through him.
“Well, how about we step inside and then we can tell you all about it.”
A brief moment passed, a lookt hat nestled somewhere between contempt and irritation passing across Bart’s face, before, stepping back, he finally allowed them to enter.
The inside was only marginally better than out.A  long hallway stretched out in front, a closed door on either side, a worn and patchy dark green carpet underfoot. The walls were an off white and adorned with two large, framed surreal prints, one on each wall.  McCann’s knowledge of the arts was limited to say the least, but he knew exactly who this artist was.
“A fan of Dali then, are you?” he asked.
Bart stopped in front of them and slowly turned, first eyeing the images and then McCann.
Shaking his head. “No, not at all. Found them at a junk shop a few months back. Thought they’d, you know, brighten the place up a bit.”
Images of crooked elephants and bent and misshapen clocks wasn’t the type of thing that McCann would choose to brighten things up. But it took all sorts.
Entering a back room they found themselves in a large sitting area, which was confirmed to be Barts living quarters.
Looking around it was apparent that his lifestyle was nothing short of basic. An old fashioned, deep backed television stood to the left, a layer of dust on the screen pointing to lack of use. In the middle of the room, placed on top of a tatty looking red and white rug was a leather chair, faded at the head and on the armrests, the rest of the room was overtaken by books.
Where there wasn’t a bookcase, of which there was five and each overflowing, in some points the ceiling being the only thing that stopped the pile growing ever higher, there were books on every surface, books on the floor, books on the windowsill, books used under the leg of a small table to level it up.
“Bit of a reader are you?” Conrad asked.
Taking a seat in his leather chair he faked a sliver of a smile, dull eyes not even bothering to look towards the question.
“A room without books is like a body without a soul. Either of you know who said that?” he looked up, an eyebrow raised. Seeing no reaction, he continued. ”Ill tell you shall I. Roman author, orator and politician, Cicero. Know how I know that? Books. They are everything that anyone should ever need, officer.” 
After a quick glance towards Conrad, McCann decided to get to the matter at hand.
“Mr Bart, I’m sure that you are wondering as to why we are here, so…”
Without looking up, Bart’s voice cut across McCann’s.
“It’s about the girl, isn’t it?”
Feeling his heart skip and his skin tense, he shot a look at his colleague, his face taking on a deep frown, before settling back on Bart.
“And can I ask, what makes you think that?”
Shuffling in the chair, their host ran a hand through his unkempt hair, flecks of white falling onto his collar and shoulders.
“Call it an educated guess, if you like. It was all over the lunchtime news and she used to be a tenant of mine. Seems obvious to me as to why you would be here.” 
It hadn’t taken long, but McCann’s opinion of Harold Bart was anything but favourable.
Shuffling on his feet McCann stepped over one of many piles of books that littered the floor and into Bart’s eye line.
“Maybe you can tell me a little about our victim then, seeing as you appear to know so much?”
Shifting in his seat Bart eyed McCann with a cautious glare. One similar to that a child called might give a parent after being called down from their bedroom.
“I hope that you are not insinuating anything, detective? I’d hate to have to ask you to leave.”
Conrad stepped to McCann’s side. “Mr. Bart, if you’d care to drop the attitude for one moment, then we may be able to get somewhere. Now, the reason for the visit is that we have received information stating that Emily Cooper was a tenant of yours…”
“I’ve already acknowledged that.”
“If you’d care to let me finish.” Conrad eyed Bart until he gave a slight nod of his head. “We also have information that while she was in lodgings here, there was some, how shall I put this, aggravation.”
Sitting up in the chair, Bart leaned forward, his face falling into a frown.
“Aggravation? May I ask where you came by this information?”
McCann took up the reigns. “No, you may not. All you need to do is answer the question.”
Eyeing McCann he raised himself up out of the chair. “Can I get either of you a drink, tea, coffee, maybe something stronger?”
Shaking his head, McCann took a step forward. “Sit down Mr. Bart and answer the damn question. I don’t want to be here any longer than needs be, what with it being late in the day and all.”
Never once shifting his gaze from McCann, Bart slowly sat back down.
“That’s better.” Said McCann. “Now, can you confirm that Emily Cooper was a tenant here in this,” he cast a swift glance around the ramshackle room, “lovely home that you keep?”
A brief pause. “Yes.”
“Thank you. Now what was your relationship like with her?”
“Relationship?”
“Yes, you know, her as your tenant and you as her landlord. Unless, well, unless there is something you’d like to tell us?”
Bart appeared to have a witty riposte prepared, but, wisely, chose to sidestep it.
‘I had no complaints about the girl, as such. She always paid her rent on time. There was, occasionally, some noise from her room which I had to address, but –‘
‘Noise?’ said McCann.
‘Yes, you know young women with their music and the men they surround themselves with, nothing out of the ordinary. She took umbrage on being told to turn it down, but I have to take my other tenants’ needs into account. ’
‘And this caused confrontation?
‘A little, she made it clear, how can I put this, that she wasn’t happy about my interfering, as she put it, but, as I just said, there are other tenants here to consider.’
‘And you didn’t feel the need to ask her to move out at all?’
Bart shook his head. ‘It crossed my mind, I wont lie to you. But, she paid her rent on time, and that outweighed anything else.’
McCann nodded, his gaze quickly scanning over the metres of bookshelves that ran around the room, he saw everything from finance to anatomy and from sport to fiction. There didn’t seem to be anything that wasn’t covered. Focusing his attention back on Bart.
‘You said that she had men here?’
‘I heard male voices coming from her room on occasions, I couldnt, however, say whether they were friends or otherwise.’
‘Would you happen to know if this was regular thing, did they sleep here, leave early in the mornings, arrive late at night?’
‘I never saw any of these men, detective. I couldnt say as to whether it was one man or a different one every night
McCann, again, made notes. He couldn’t see any further reason to take up any more of Harold Bart’s time.
Stepping out into chilled afternoon air, they thanked him for his time. Along the garden path, they heard the thud of the large front door behind them.
‘What do you think?’ Conrad said as they paced towards the car.
McCann shrugged. ‘Irritating, self important.’ He scratched his head. ‘We’ll run a search on him, see if he has any previous. You never know.’
 
August 27th 1990
 
It had been a simple task to find out where Keith Mason lived, easy to sneak into the office at the hospital after everyone had left for the night and pull out his patient file, make a copy, and then slide it back from where it came. No one would miss the key that he had stolen, as no one, seemingly, cared about a lowly porter.
That was one of the perks of his job on the night shift. The security was slack. Giving him free reign over the entire hospital complex. The wards, the kitchens, the secure areas for x-rays and radiotherapy, he had access to everywhere. And who was going to question a porter just going about his job?
And now, hunched down in the drivers seat of the stolen Nissan, under the shadow of a large oak tree, a light misty summer rain falling from the early evening sky, he watched the Mason residence and awaited their return.
He had come to learn, over the past couple of weeks, all of the patterns of their life. He knew Keith Masons appointment times and the Doctor that he was signed too. He knew the intimate details of his family, and that his father Alfred Mason, mother Rita, and his twenty-year-old sister Harriett, had, so tragically, been wiped out in a car accident not three weeks previous.
He knew the routine of where they shopped to the brand of baby food they fed they son, and the make of Tampons that his wife, the lovely Marie, used. He knew the times of when they were going to be in and, more importantly, when they were not, and that they kept a spare key in the flowerpot outside the back door.
A smile flickered at the corners of his dry lips as he recalled entering their small semi detached house for the first time. Fishing the key from the dirt and sliding the key into the lock, the click as the tumblers fell into place, and then, there he was, standing in the tatty kitchen, the thought of where he was and what he was doing making his pulse quicken to the point of explosion. Then, slowly walking through each of the rooms in turn, exploring cupboards and shelves, delving into every nook and cranny, looking into family secrets kept behind the bricks and mortar. Taking in the sights and smells. Admiring photographs that stood on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. Happy faces staring back from beach scenes and family Christmases. Of Grandparent and Aunts and Uncles. Of mangy pets, cats and dogs, with tongues wagging, begging for scraps of food.
The bedroom was his favourite place. Entering the light and airy room it didn’t take him long to locate what he was looking for. Slowly pulling open the bedside drawer and running his fingers through the delicate lingerie that Marie kept there, the black and red silk, the lace and frills, the pleasure at finding the thick blue vibrator hidden away in a box under the bed. The thought of her lying back, eyes half closed in ecstasy, legs spread wide as she slowly dipped it in and out of her wet pussy, making him hard. Lighting a cigarette he let the smoke twirl around his lips and the thoughts linger in his mind for a few moments. The sounds from the boot of the car had finally ceased, the injection taking effect at last, hopefully silencing the girl until he got her back to the seclusion of his home. He had removed a clump of hair, a scraping of skin and a drop or two of blood as part of his plan, and here it was, falling into place. Back in the car, and as the tall, gaunt figure of Keith Mason appeared around the corner, his feet shuffling on the pavement under him as he slowly moved along the dimly lit street, his wife, Marie, at his side, her face one of concern for her husband, he felt his muscles twitch in excitement. For he was the devil incarnate. Bringing hell to the land that he walked. Creating misery upon the innocent. And now, in Mason, he had his reason to continue.
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The Winter of Death – Part 5

August 25, 1990
 
The hospital canteen was quieter than usual, the gentle clinking of plates and cutlery and the soft hubbub of voices the only sounds of any note, and, sitting alone in the corner, newspaper laid out in front of him, he stared at the one word headline emblazoned across the front.
“Manhunt”
Carefully reading through the article a grin began to spread across his face as he savoured every word and sentence as though they were the sweetest toffee. Devouring it over three times with the relish he felt it deserved. He had longed for this day, longed for it since before he could remember, and here it finally was, in glorious black and white.
The two-page article told of teenager Amy West whose mutilated body had been found two days before, dumped in woodland not far from where he was sitting. The journalist, Jane Buxton, had spun a sad and endearing tale of devastation and loss. The popular only child of her parents, Hilary and Frank, ripped away in the prime of her youth, by the hand of a maniac. Pictures showing the grieving faces
of friends and the floral tributes left outside her home and upon the gates of the college that she attended, the usual smiling and happy photos of the victim, party shots, family Christmases and the like. Questions were posed, who could have done such a thing? What were the authorities doing to do apprehend the culprit? All of it nothing but the usual bullshit in circumstances such as this.
She had, though, left out all of the minute gruesome details, just plumping for the standard fare of nothing too heavy or graphic as to upset the public or cause any panic. But he knew everything. He knew every inch of the suffering that had been inflicted on little Amy. Every cut and bruise, and every punch and kick. Right up to the moment that her life had been snuffed out and she’d been torn her apart like a butcher would an animal carcass. Just knowing that it was he who was responsible for the event provided him with a pure rush of unadulterated pleasure like never before.
Folding away the newspaper and tucking it in his back pocket, he sat with his with his Styrofoam cup of coffee, trying to hide the sheer delight that was inching over his features as the next, and most integral part of his plan began to form. His mind whirred with images of him, images of the man who had been enveloped in his thoughts ever since that day, three weeks previous, when they had met. A man who, until now, was as anonymous as any average man was, but who, in the times to come, would become synonymous for some of the most heinous acts of violence ever committed.
 
9th December – Mortuary. Early morning.
 
No matter how many times McCann descended the dimly lit steps into the death rooms, as they were commonly known, it still twisted a knot into his stomach. He’d always wondered the mind of someone who chose to pour their time dissecting the dead for a living. But he also knew that without them, the job of apprehending the vile and moral less folk that roamed the streets would be a tortuous task.
The smell was always the first thing to hit you. A mixture of the sour tang of death and decay combined with the bitter aroma of disinfectant, both assaulting your every sense, making you wish you were anywhere else but there. This was definitely the one part of the job he would quite happily avoid if at all possible. And today, coupling all of that with having to face Dr Campbell again, he knew that this was going to be one day he wouldn’t be remembering in a hurry.
Leading Conrad down into the abyss, his colleague seemingly oblivious to his surroundings, they headed along the wide, low ceilinged corridor and made for the double doors at the end, behind which hid away a multitude of sins.
Pushing open the doors they stepped inside.
The room was small and bare, white tiles and bright overhead lights, which when reflected in the shiny floor made it seem as though you were walking on a hundred tiny little suns.
A gleaming, silver sink unit was situated on the left wall, upon which stood umpteen bottles of chemicals. A door led off to the right, a small cubbyhole cum office hidden inside, the distant hum of a music emanating from within.
The main attraction though, was the gurney table that was stood slap bang in the centre of the room, a white sheet pulled up and over the mound that lay upon it. The thought of what was beneath causing a cold shiver to spread across McCann’ back.
Approaching the table a movement caught McCann eye, a figure standing in the doorway of the small office. Dr Campbell. He turned to face her. She spoke first, a note of irritation in her voice.
“Can I help you Detective?”
McCann decided against the nicey nicey approach. What with their previous exchanges, and now with the presence of DS Conrad, he knew that getting to the root of the case was far more pressing than getting to the root of their personal issues.
He nodded curtly. “Dr Campbell. Any news on our victim?”
She frowned, his response obviously not what she had been expecting.
“Apart from what I disclosed to you at the scene yesterday, its far too early –“
“Anything would be good, it doesn’t matter how small.” McCann interjected.
Campbell glared at McCann for a long moment before grabbing her white coat from a hook behind the door. Slipping it on, she walked out to meet them, greeting DS Conrad in the process.
“If you’d let me finish.” She said with a raised eyebrow. “There is something that you should take a look at.”
McCann and Conrad exchanged glances and then back to the Doctor.
Making sure that she had both of their full attention, she reached down and pulled back the sheet, revealing the head and shoulders of the body underneath.
She had been cleaned up since the last time they saw her, her face and hair now clear of the blood and grime which had previosly made her unrecognizable. The coins had also been removed, her eyelids, or what was left of them, pulled down to cover the dark empty sockets.
Averting their gaze downwards, both officers took in the sight and the stone cold realization.
A long moment passed before anyone said anything. Both officers’ eyes fixed on the corpse, the Doctors on the officers. Conrad was the first to break the silence. “Fuck.” He said. Not intending it to come out quite as loud as it did. McCann took a breath. “That’s one way to put it.”
“The samples that I’ve taken, unfortunately, won’t be back for a while, so any concrete answers to your questions will have to wait.” Said Dr. Campbell.
“Any idea how she died?” asked Conrad. Campbell pulled back the rest of the sheet, exposing the entire horror once more. The flayed skin, even though now cleaned, still resembling something more akin to being seen on a butchers slab than anything vaguely human. Her butchered flesh marked with deep gashes that seemingly covered every inch of her torso and abdomen. Her breasts now returned to their right place but still looking more like bloodied mounds of mincemeat than what they should look like.
Conrad looked away almost as quick as his eyes were drawn to the savage image, a lump of bile rising in his throat, a white handkerchief whipped from his pocket, covering his mouth and nostrils. McCann, on the other hand kept his gaze fixed.
“Where do you want me to start?” asked Campbell, pulling on a pair of surgical gloves and moving around the table, gesturing to the torso.
“Like I said earlier, any one of these wounds could have been the fatal one.” She leant closer to the body, running her hands over the marks. “The abdomen is the worst affected area, you can see here,” pointing to just above the navel. “The muscle wall of the abdomen is relatively thin and easily cut or punctured, which would cause any significant wound to bleed heavily. If she were being kept somewhere for a prolonged period of time, which we are surmising, and had no access to treatment, then infection would be inevitable, which would lead to death.” She paused again and took a breath. “Then there is the case of Internal bleeding, which is enough to kill a person quickly, dependant on the organs that are affected. If it’s the spleen then its likely to be quicker than, say, the liver, which bleeds more slowly.” She paused once again for breath. “We’ve also got, if all of that wasn’t enough, the marks around the throat area as well, which are conducive to strangulation.”
She straightened up, removing her gloves, and looked back to McCann and Conrad, both their faces deep in thought.
“Another thing,” she continued. “Is that if, and it is a slight if, at the moment, she was alive when this was done, then the shock would have been enough to cause heart failure.”
If nothing else, this last statement got both officers attention.
“You think that’s possible?” asked McCann. “That this was done pre death?”
Campbell broke a grin. “I think we can safely say that anything is possible, don’t you think?”
McCann nodded in agreement. He’d had enough of being in the room and needed a big gulp of fresh air.
“Ok, well we’ll leave you too it Doctor. How long do you think it will be before we can expect anything concrete?”
Campbell shrugged, moving away to her small office. “Who can tell, hours, days, I don’t know. Ive put a rush on the toxicology results, so Ill let you lot know when I do.”
McCann led Conrad back up from the underworld and into the land of the living. Stopping by the coffee machine next to the reception desk, he pushed in six five pence pieces and pressed the button marked espresso.
“Just when I thought this day couldn’t get any fucking worse.” He said as the machine gurgled into life, delivering his drink into a small white plastic cup. Lifting it out he turned to Conrad. “Listen, get back onto missing persons and tell them that its fucking urgent now and that we need anything that they can give us. Find out the names of all the females that have been reported missing in this area in the last, say, six weeks. If that doesn’t show anything then get them to widen the search, take in London, Essex maybe. Just get some names, at least it’ll be a start.”
Stepping out into the winter sunlight, pulling his coat tight around his shoulders, McCann trudged across the car park. Half way across, his phone rang.
“DI Fletcher, what can I do you for?”
There was a hissing sound, followed by mumbled voices, before Fletcher finally spoke.
“Sorry, sir, listen, the guy who we spoke to regarding his missing car, well, now he’s gone missing.”
McCann frowned as he opened his car door and climbed in. “Go on.”
“Well, we tried him yesterday after the initial conversation without any luck, so went back today, only to find the house a mess and the front door wide open.”
“Fuck.” Said McCann.
 

*

 
The rest of the day and the next had passed just like they seemed to do at the begininng of any major investigation, slowly and with very little, or no, information forthcoming. Any possible lead that could have turned up a scrap of truth, instead, fell by the wayside. Any avenue of interest was blocked before anyone had a chance to ask any questions.
The station had turned into a war zone. Every minute was filled with the buzzing and ringing of telephones and the ping of emails. Raised voices and crossed words causing every officer involved, directly or not, to brim with anger.
The television stations, every one of them, seemingly, had the story on repeat. Usual programing interupted to broadcast live pictures and information. Experts and witnesses giving equal time to share their views, whether good, bad, or indifferent. The main debate was as to whether it was the missing teenager, Gemma Dawson, but, without any word of confirmation one way or the other, it was all nothing but hearsay.
It was always the same. All they had to do was wait, wait for that scrap, that morsal, to turn up to, hopefully, bring about the change. It was early the next morning that it happened.
 
10th December – Staion Foyer. Early morning.
 
The shabbily dressed young woman looked nervous as she stepped into the brightly lit reception area. The late morning winter sun Standing for a few moments she let her eyes wander the room, one hand in the pocket of her torn dark blue jeans, the other running through her unkempt red hair.
The desk sergeant, noticing her entrance, laid down his sandwich and shuffled towards the front counter.
“Can I help you madam?”
Startled, she turned on her heels, looking straight at him, her eyes wide.
“I’m, I’m not too sure really.” She stopped, her face taking on a frown, a finger tucking a stray strand of hair back behind her right ear. “I’m sure that it’s nothing, don’t know why I’m here really.” She let out a small chuckle.
Moving a stack of papers and his mug of tea to one side, he leant his elbows on the counter and linked his fingers together. His mind running over the same old thing, another time-waster or lonely smack head with nothing better to do.
“Well, how about you start from the beginning love.”
Approacheing the counter, her wide eyes still wandering the room, she rested her fingers on the counter, a strong whiff of smoke emanating from her clothes.
“Its about that young girl that has been found. You know, the one that has been on the news.”
The sergeant raised his eyebrows, used to all kind of folk wandering in off the street with all kinds of high tales.
“Ok, you have some information?”
Her eyes drifed to the floor before settling back on the officer.
“Yes, well, I think so anyway.”
The sergeant nodded. He could see that the girl was becoming more and more agitated as the moments ticked by. “Ok, well how about you start at the beginning.”
“They said on the news that they hadn’t identified her yet?”
“That’s correct, yes”
“Well,” reaching into her pocket she pulled out a dog-eared colour photograph and handed it over the counter. “I think I know who she is.”
Taking it from her, the sergeant cast his gaze over it, five pretty young girls dressed up for what looked like a party, shiny dresses and made up faces, each with a glass of wine in their hands.
Looking back to the women. “Which one?”
She reached across the counter and pointed at the photo at the blonde haired girl, second from the right.
“Her name is Emily Cooper.”
The sergeant took one more look at the photo before reaching for the desk phone.
McCann had taken less than two minutes to descend the steps from the third floor where he was battling with a mountain of paperwork, the desk sergeant having little trouble in dragging him away.
Walking across the reception area he was pointed in the direction of the young woman as she stood in the corner, staring at the notice board. McCann smiled and approached her.
“Good afternoon. My name is DI McCann.”
Turning, she looked straight at him, McCann noticing the black circles under her eyes and her lank hair as it hung down over her shoulders of her suede jacket. She had an all too familiar look of someone who made her money on the streets. McCann knew that he was more than likely wasting his time, but he wasn’t going to turn down anything at that moment to maybe get a break.
“Sorry, I wasn’t told your name.” He held out his hand.
Her handshake was timid, as was her voice. “Lizzie, Lizzie Arnold.”
“Well, thanks for coming in, I’m informed that you may have some information for us regarding our current investigation?”
Her eyes left his and wandered to the floor. “Yes, I, I think that I know who the girl is that was found in the woods.”
McCann nodded, his pulse quickening.
“Ok, well how about we step into somewhere a little more private.”
Ushering her into a small side room just off the reception area, McCann invited her to sit down at one of three chairs positioned around a low table scattered with magazines.
He couldn’t help but notice how nervous she looked, sitting there, twisting her hands in her lap and chewing on her bottom lip.
“So, how about we start at the beginning. You said that you think you may have some information regarding our current enquiry?”
She nodded her head a couple of times, all the while twisting and pulling at the skin on her hands as they sat in her lap, the flesh fast becoming red and inflamed.
“You’re going to hurt yourself.” He said, drawing her attention down.
Instantly, she stopped, an awkward look of embarrassment pulling at her features.
“Sorry, force of habit, been doing it since I was little.”
“Its fine, no need to apologize. Please, when you’re ready.”
She took a deep breath. “I’ve been so worried, you know, after seeing the news yesterday. I kept on thinking about Emily and how, well, you know, how it could be her, of course I didn’t want it to be, my God, I just couldn’t concentrate on anything all day, I kept calling her over and over again, we all were, must have used all my credit…”
Holding up his hand McCann attempted to calm her. Seeing him she stopped, dropping her head down.
“Ok, ok. Listen, I understand that you are concerned, but I need to establish a few things first, is that ok?”
Agreeing, McCann continued.
“You mentioned Emily? That’s her name is it, the girl you think was found?”
Nodding, she once again she reached into her pocket and pulled out the same colour photograph that she had shown to the desk sergeant a few moments previous, and handed it over the table to McCann.
Taking it from her, he noticed the nails on her hand were bitten almost down to nothing, what was left flecked with the remnants of red nail varnish. The fingers stained yellow. Not the hands of a usual young woman.
Letting his gaze wander over the image, he almost instantly focused his attention on one girl in particular, the blonde, second from the right. His breath caught in his throat, it was her, victim number one. Holding it for a second longer he looked into the eyes of the girl as she would have looked in life. Happy and bubbly, surrounded by friends and seemingly without a care in the world. Wishing that the past could speak and give him something, anything.
Letting it rest on his lap he looked back to the nervous figure of Lizzie Arnold, who was now twirling her hair between her fingers. His heart was now starting to beat faster at the breakthrough.
Sitting forward in the chair he went to speak. Across the table Lizzie Arnolds face fell, her shoulders sagging.
“So it is her then? Emily.”
Resisting letting the information slip, he first needed some further details.
“Lets first discuss what makes you think that it is her, Emily, that is, I mean, as far as I’m aware, no details have been released apart from the fact that a body has been discovered.”
Averting her gaze, she began to chew on her bottom lip.
“Lizzie? Its ok, you can tell me.”
A few moments and she met his gaze once again.
“I don’t,” pausing, “what I mean is, well, its complicated. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me, you never know.”
He’d heard many tall stories in his years on the force. It was going to take something truly bizarre to render him surprised.
Her voice hushed to barely a whisper.
‘He told me.’
McCann leaned in closer, not one hundred percent certain of what she had said. ‘Im sorry, you said, he told you? Who’s he?’
With her eyes to the floor, she slowly shook her head. ‘Im not sure, I mean, I, I, didnt know who it was, it was just a voice, a crackly voice. My phone rang late, the night before last, I’d been trying to get hold of Emmy, Emily, I mean, for a few days, we all had, and when it rang I prayed it was her,’ she looked up, her eyes brimming with tears, ‘but it wasnt. It was this horrible voice telling me that I wouldnt see her again, and that she had paid for being, for being, a whore.’
Running a hand down his face, McCann sat back in his seat as Lizzie Arnold burst into tears.
Handing her a box of tissues, he gave her a minute to settle down.
‘Ok, you said the voice was crackly, how exactly do you mean?’
With her focus still on the floor at her feet she wiped her eyes and blew her nose, before focusing again on McCann.
‘It was, well, I dont know, crackly. I mean, it wasnt natural sounding or anything, it was, like, like whoever it was was speaking into a machine or something.’
‘So it wasnt just a deep, husky, voice?’
She shook her head. ‘No, not at all, it was, well, it was creepy, it was,’ she paused, ‘the best way I can describe it is like, you know how Mr Punch sounds.’
Silence feel between the pair for a moment as McCann took in what he was hearing. If Lizzie Arnold hadnt had the picture he would have been sceptical, but, there was very little doubt now that the girl lying mutilated in a mortuary freezer was anyone other than her friend.
Lizzie Arnold broke the silence.
“Its her, isnt. Emily?”
Slowly nodding his head he informed her it was his belief that the body found two days previous was the same woman as in the photograph. That of Emily Cooper.
She started to shake. “Oh God, Oh God. I knew it, I knew it was her, she hadnt been in touch for days, she never stays out of contact, never. I know that her parents were going out of their minds with worry. I went to bed that night and thought that she would be call soon, and then, then, that voice, I cant shake it from my mind, the things it it said, I…”
She was starting to palpitate. McCann put his hand out again to try and calm her. “Miss Arnold, I appreciate that this has come as a big shock to you, but I’m going to need to ask you just a few more some questions, ok? We don’t know one hundred per cent yet, but I will need you to answer them, just so we can determine some facts.”
It took a few moments for her to calm herself and wipe the tears that had started to streak her face. She nodded as a sign for McCann to continue. He pulled out a notepad.
“When was the last time you saw her?”
She fidgeted in her seat and took a breath. Looking to the ceiling for a moment and then back to McCann.
“Friday night, yes, that’s it. We finished at the club at about, I don’t know for sure, but it must have been not long after midnight…”
McCann interrupted. “The club?”
“Yes, Strawberry Moons in Maidstone. We work behind the bar, Emily’s only part time, just a couple of nights a week.”
McCann noted it down, also noting the present tense that she was using to describe her friend.
“Ok, so on that night, did you happen to notice if anyone had been paying her any attention?”
A hint of a smile crept over her lips. “She gets quite a bit of attention, she’s a pretty girl. Loads of guys are always chatting to her up and cracking on to her. Its part of the job really, you get used to it all. Some are quite nice and harmless, but then on occasions you get one that’s a bit, you know, sleazy.”
“How about on that night in particular, was there anyone different or anyone that stood out to you?”
She frowned and looked to the table, gripping and twisting the skin on her hands again. McCann let it go this time, the matter at hand more important.
“No, I don’t know, its, well, it’s hard to pay attention to things like that when you are working. I mean, its busy, the music is loud, I don’t know.”
McCann nodded slowly. “You’re sure, no one at all? Maybe someone was hanging around and you thought them a bit odd at the time but paid no attention. Have a think.”
She sat and let her gaze wander the room, her lips muttering to herself. McCann sat back and waited for a response, his pen poised at the ready for anything that came to her.
A few moments passed before she looked at him again and shook her head.
“Sorry, I can’t think, I’m sorry, there’s too many people to remember just one. I’m sorry.” She looked back to the floor.
McCann sat forward. “That’s ok, I understand.” He paused. “Ok, how about boyfriends? Anyone on the scene that you knew of?”
Shaking her head. “No one specifically that I know of. She’s been on a couple of dates in recent months, one she said was a bit of a creep and gave her some hassle, but I don’t think any of them have gone any further. She seemed too busy with her studying for stuff like that.”
It was McCann’s turn to frown. “I don’t suppose you know the name of this creepy at all?”
“Ryan, I think. Hang on.” She put a finger to her temple. “Ryan Caruthers.”
“Anything else?”
“I’m sorry?”
“How about things like, where she met him, where he lives? Anything that you think could help us.”
Taking a deep breath she crossed her left leg over her right.
“She met him online I think, you know, one of those dating websites. Not sure which one though. He was from the area, Rochester I’m sure she said.”
McCann nodded and jotted down the details.
“Ok, just a couple more things. What was she studying, at college?”
“Teaching. English I think, the job is only to fund her fees, not that we get paid much, but it all counts I guess.”
“And was this local?”
“Local?”
“Yes, the college?”
“Oh, yes. Chatham, I’m pretty sure. Not sure what it’s called though, I’m sorry.”
“That’s ok, no problem. We’ll find out in time.” He paused and sucked on the end of his pen. “How about living arrangements?”
Silence from across the table, her eyes staring into space.
“Miss Arnold?”
She blinked a few times and focused back on him. “Sorry, this is, well, a big shock. She was such a lovely person, so full of life and, well, I don’t know, she was just, just a really cool person.”
Her head sunk down and her shoulders began to shake, the sound of her sobbing filling the room. McCann sat there and gave it a few moments for her to compose herself.
“Its ok, take your time, I know this must be hard for you. But the more we can get then the quicker, hopefully, we can start looking at catching the person who did this.”
She nodded a few times and wiped her eyes.
“I know, I’m sorry. I’m ok now.”
“Sure?”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure.”
“Ok, right. I asked about her living arrangements?”
“With her parents at the moment, her landlord was giving her a lot of grief so she moved out and went back with them.”
“And was this local too? The place she was living?”
“Yes, little place in Rochester. I have the address somewhere if you need it?”
“That would be great, thank you. I don’t suppose you know what kind of hassle she was receiving from the landlord?”
Shaking her head. “No, nothing. Sorry.”
“Whether it was over rent, or maybe, I don’t know, sexual.”
“Sorry, she didn’t discuss it.”
Noting it down he caught sight, again, of the photo on the table.
“How about the other girls in the picture,” he picked it up and showed it too her. “Do they work the club as well?”
She wiped her eyes with a balled up piece of tissue. “Two of them do, the others are friends of mine. That was taken at a party last summer.”
“Ok, I’m going to need the names and any contact details you may have of the these girls. We’re going to need to ask them a few questions as well. Can you do that for me?”
She nodded. “Yes, I don’t have them on me, but I can get them for you.”
McCann smiled. “Thank you.”
Tucking his notebook back in his pocket he stood.
“Ok Miss Arnold, thank you for your time, I know this cant have been easy for you, but you’ve been a great help.”
Standing, he reassured her with a smile, and ushered her towards the door.
“Oh, one more thing. I know it may be an inconvenience, but I’m going to need to take your mobile, just for now. It may lead us to whoever made that call.
Nodding her head she agreed and reached into her bag. ‘Of course, I have a spare at home.’
‘If you could also let us know the details that we spoke about as quick as possible that would great. The sooner we can get on with things, the better.”
She gave him a small smile and nodded in agreement. Her face then darkened and she turned to face him.
“You will catch him, wont you? The person that did this to Emmy, I mean.”
McCann held back for a brief moment. He knew that the answer wasn’t going to be a simple ‘yes’ He knew that this case was going to present a challenge like nothing else he had ever encountered.
“I can assure you that we will be doing everything we can.”
Standing at the door, he watched her leave. Watched her walk along the path through the car park and out into the street, her gaze fixed to the floor in front of her all the way. He wondered the life she was heading back too, where she called home, or, if she even, for that matter, had a place that she could spend the night and make a home. But, above all, he thought about her strange gift.
Feeling the walls slowly closing in around him, the atmosphere of the station becoming stifling, McCann grabbed up his jacket and headed for a few moments of deserved fresh air.
Outside, he moved up to a brisk walk, circling the stations grounds, pulling in deep breaths, his heart rate escalating, the life seeping back into him.
To the back of the building, he came upon one of the many smoking sheds erected since the ban was introduced in 2007, it was then that he couldn’t help but pick out the dulcet tones of Dan ‘Spray Tan’ Mulligan filling the mid afternoon air.
Ordinarily, he would of done anything to avoid having to listen to one of his, almost daily, tirades, but today was different.
He didn’t know who he was speaking to, who he was berating with his lop-sided, arrogant views. That wasn’t important. What was important, however, was the subject matter of his rant.
“How many times recently has McCann shown up to work reeking of booze, eh? It’s just not on. He’s a fucking senior officer. I mean, what kind of an example is it to set? People need to be able to look up to us. I tell you what; if it was me, and I had the power, I’d have him out on his arse in a flash. I don’t give a shit about his family issues, no wonder his wife left him. From what I’ve heard his kids don’t want anything to do with him either.”
It was the emphasis that he put on the word ‘family’ that riled McCann more than anything, that, somehow, the pain that he had endured of recent months was nothing but a figment of his imagination, a fairytale concocted as an excuse.
Standing, unseen, he felt his pulse quicken even further, the blood now bubbling at his temples. DS Mulligan wouldn’t know what hit him.
 
 
 
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The Winter of Death – Part 4

 

8th December – Police Station. Early evening.
 
The following few hours passed with the general hubbub that a new case brings, officers bustling with ideas, phones ringing of the hook. A case of this magnitude caused everyone to up his or her game and presented the challenge that all officers crave. The rain had come. A huge deluge in fact. Pouring itself down for a good couple of hours or so, and since the darkness had fallen at about four thirty that afternoon, McCann’ time had been filled with paperwork and more paperwork.
Writing up reports were the bain of his, and any officers’ working lives, but it was something that had to be done in between catching the bad guys, which recently, and up until now, hadn’t overloaded the schedule. A few muggings, a post office robbery in the town centre with no leads, a hit and run outside a pub in Rochester, but apart from that, all had been relatively quiet and being stuck inside for most of the day had given him a raging headache and the hump to go with it, he needed a drink and a good curry. Stretching in his chair, which squeaked under his weight, he pushed his arms up above his head and gave out a little moan in doing so. The office had been relatively empty for the last hour or so, with most people clocking off at five pm. McCann had been one of the last ones to leave. He was nearly always the last one in the office and most of the time it was intentional. It gave him the peace and quiet he sometimes craved to mull things over without having any distractions, mainly from Conrad and fellow DI, Dan Mulligan and their constant battle over trivial matters like who should be in the England squad. Should it be Rooney or Defore? No, it had to be Rooney, but what about Carroll? Or how about fresh blood like Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain?
There were days when he felt like snapping and occasions when he did just that, lack of sleep or a night with a bottle leaving him with a mood like stink and in no frame of mind to put up with two youngsters banging on about shit. He ran his hands down his tired face, two days growth bristling between his fingers and then flicked off his monitor and PC tower, the ceasing of the whirring making the room silent, the only sounds now being the rain rattling on the window next to his desk and the wind whistling through the spindly trees that stood outside. He stood and pushed his chair under his desk, picking up his jacket from the back of it and slipping it on. He was about to turn and head for the door, when the phone rang.
Sighing, he thought about leaving it, but, decided that it may be important and if it was he didn’t want to be the one to have to answer to the powers that be. Walking across the room he reached for the receiver.
His voice tired. “Good evening, DI McCann.”
Silence.
“Good evening, DI McCann.” he repeated, this time with a tone of irritation.
Again, silence.
“Conrad, is that you?” he sighed. “I’m tired and can’t be doing with playing silly buggers.”
Silence.
“Oh fuck you then if you’re not going to talk.”
Hanging up, and, after switching off the lights, he made his way out.  Along the main corridor and then down the main stairs that ran through the middle of the building. His footsteps echoing throughout the stairwell and after saying goodnight to a pretty cleaning lady, he stepped from the station and into the night.
The rain was still pouring from the star-less sky. A river of water overflowed from a drain and was gushing down the slope that led away to the main gate. The streets were eerily quiet. The intersection that was usually busy at this time of the evening almost deserted, a lonely lorry rumbled through, ferrying its cargo to some European destination. He took in a big lungful of fresh air, the smell of rain filing his nostrils, before darting across the car park to his car. Once inside he brushed the water from his head and was to halfway to inserting his key in the ignition when he felt vibrating in his inside pocket. Reaching in he pulled out his mobile, seeing the name on the display and answered. The sounds of music and loud voices filled his ear.
“Conrad. You’re not going to fuck around this time are you?”
There was a pause and McCann heard him ordering a pint of Guinness before answering.
“Do what? Fucking around?”
“It wasn’t you then, a minute ago?”
“Wasn’t me what?”
McCann sighed and shifted in his seat. “Never mind. What’s up?”
More laughter, he recognized Mulligans’ voice in the background. Probably berating some poor unsuspecting fellow with his stupid opinions.
“We’re in the Prince of Wales if you fancy it. Just a couple of jars, nothing too heavy.”
McCann took a deep breath and pondered it. Pondered whether he could stomach an evening with the terrible twosome. Thought about the quiet one he was going to have with a drink and a curry. He was half way through his pondering when Conrad crackled back in his ear.
“Come on, don’t be miserable, just one drink. Tell me what else you’ve got to look forward too? And if it doesn’t involve being up to your balls in a fit blonde then I’m not interested.”
What could he say to that? There really wasn’t any comeback to that remark at all and suddenly his quiet night in didn’t sound too good after all. The journey to the Prince of Wales was a short one. A few minutes through the now torrential rain, windscreen wipers going ninety to the dozen, people on the streets running for cover wherever they could find it, umbrellas popping up everywhere.
Parking the car in the car park just up from where he needed to be, he sat for a few moments in hope, more than anything that the rain would ease.
A few minutes turned into fifteen with still no sign of it letting up so, after zipping uphis jacket right and pulling the collar around is neck, he flung open the door and made a run for it.
Dashing down the hill, splashing through puddles, the rain slapping into his face. The beat of the music from the Tap N’ Tin pub filled his ears as he passed, the smell of the various kebab and curry houses that lined the high street wafting in his nostrils, causing his stomach to rumble. He’d never been a big fan of kebabs, but right now he would happily have eaten a scabby horse if he had been presented with one.
Reaching the crossing he took a quick look in both directions before dashing to the other side, the pub was now in sight, no more than fifty yards to go.
On reaching the entrance he excused his way past three men in hoodies huddled together trying to light cigarettes, laughing to himself in that there is, seemingly, no weather that a smoker will not brave for a fix, and went inside.
The place was rather busy for a Wednesday evening. It was a lot busier than he’d seen it most Friday nights. Then he realised why. The big screen on the far wall was showing the Arsenal and Liverpool match on Sky Sports.
A light smile spread across his face as Jack popped into his head. He could picture his son sitting at home, decked out in his Arsenal shirt, probably drinking tea from his ‘Number 1 Gunners fan’ mug, a plate of biscuits on his lap, constantly chatting away at the TV. Bemoaning every decision that went against his team and cheering every tackle made. He stood and watched a few moments of the match from just inside the doorway, heads in front of him bobbing up and down, expletives filling the air with the odd chant or two. He then caught Conrad’s eye and made his way to the corner of the room. The small round table that sat between them was filled with empty glasses, and crisp packets. McCann went to speak, to ask them if he could get them anything when Mulligan piped up, waving his hands in the air.
“McCann, move yourself, I can’t see the TV through you.”
McCann looked at him and then looked behind him, realising that he was standing right in his eye line to the match. He smirked and stayed right where he was. If there was one person on this planet that he liked to wind up then it was him.
Dan “Spray Tan” Mulligan was a thirty six year old short arse of a man with an attitude like that of a small yappy type dog. He was rarely happy and always had something to say, which was fine, but usually what he had to say was bollocks. He was also, as his nickname suggested, a bit on the orange side.
Mulligan swore a couple of times and shuffled his seat to his left to regain his view.
“Oh, sorry Dan,” said McCann. “Was I in your way?”
Mulligans eyes flicked for a second onto McCann and then straight back to the screen.
“Get me a pint and sit yourself down will you.”
McCann smiled, and after taking Conrad’s order, stepped back through the crowd to take his place in the queue for the bar. He wondered what the fascination was with watching Football, or any sport, in pubs. At an actual match you get the full atmosphere, the electricity, the anticipation as the players take the field in front of you, ready for battle. Everyone is there for the same reason, to cheer your boys to the finish line. But in a pub, you get none of that. A half-baked atmosphere where most of the people there couldn’t give a toss and would rather it was turned off so they could have a drink in peace.
The queue moved forward as someone else got their drinks and returned to their seats. McCann reached into his jacket and pulled out his mobile, nothing. He thought to himself that if life was a popularity contest then he was well and truly lagging behind the rest of the field.
Flicking through the menu he sent Jack a quick message, enquiring as to whether he was enjoying the game, and then tucked the phone back into his pocket. It was then that he saw her.
Standing at the bar on the opposite side of the room to him, looking as immaculate as she always did, her red hair trailing down onto her shoulders, was Dr Campbell. He felt a drip of sweat trickle from his armpit and run down his side as he looked at her laughing and joking with two women, neither of whom he recognized. His thoughts then flashed back to the luke warm reception she had given him at the crime scene. It all came back again, like a damn bursting its banks. As he stood there in the queue it played over in his mind, like a bad B movie. The first woman since Karen that had taken the slightest bit of interest in him, and he had blown it, and not just once either. He seemed to always be letting her down and making excuses. Most of them due, in the main, to falling asleep drunk and, like the previous evening completely forgetting she even existed.
Despite this, and again, up until last night, she had always let him back in. Always believed his excuses and considered the situation he had been in. But not this time, this time was a step to far.
He stood looking at her for a few more moments, his stupidity buzzing in his brain, as the queue in front of him dissipated, drinks and snacks being taken back to tables and dark corners. Then, she saw him, and in a split second her face changed from that of content, of happiness in the company of friends for a drink and a gossip, to that of someone who’d just seen the person responsible for the greatest sin of all.
They both stood, eyes fixed on each other, for what seemed, to McCann, like an eternity, but what, in reality, was probably no more than a few seconds, until she looked away, like he had never existed, her face changing back to how it was before she saw him. He reached the bar in the next few moments, in which time Dr Campbell had moved away and taken a seat with her two friends in the opposite corner of the room. The young spotty barman then took his order and slouched away, leaving McCann with his thoughts.
He needed to speak to her, explain himself, tell her that what happened the other night was a mistake and that he was an idiot, he’d had too much to drink and that wasn’t usually how he acted. She knew the real him, didn’t she? Knew that that wasn’t the person he was, didn’t she? He batted it around in his head until the drinks were brought back. He paid up and took them back to the table, where Mulligan’s face was still carved into that of disgust that his team, Liverpool, were being beaten.
Placing the drinks down onto the table, he pulled out a stool and sat down. A few seconds passed in relative silence, just the buzz of the crowd in the bar filled the air, the odd yelp and cheer, a laugh here and there. McCann spoke.
“You’re looking a bit pale Dan, everything all right? You ran out of spray on?”
Conrad stifled a laugh and took a swig of his beer. Mulligan took a sideways look at McCann.
“I’m not in the mood McCann.”
McCann took a gulp of his beer. “Sorry, just not used to seeing you looking so pasty that’s all.”
Mulligan shook his head. “Funny, you’re really funny McCann, anyone ever told you that?”
McCann nodded. “One or two people yes.”
Mulligan muttered something that was barely audible and Conrad jumped in to avoid any tension building up.
“You get Bethany back ok?”
McCann nodded and placed his glass back on the table. “Yes, thanks. Karen came and got her this morning.’
A smirk appeared on Mulligans face, sensing his opportunity to go on the offensive.
“How are your little ones McCann? They enjoying their new life in that big house? Must be nice for them to have a bit of room to play in?” the smirk stayed right where it was.
McCann knew his game and ordinarily if anyone took his family’s name in vain he would bite, but this was Mulligan, and not biting back would make him even tetchier, which was exactly the plan. He spoke with smile on his face, a false one mind. The thought of his own flesh and blood being away from him with their new lives made him boil.
“They’re doing great thanks, I’m just happy that they’re happy, no point beating myself up about it is there?” He let the question hang in the air with his eyes fixed on Mulligan, knowing that his reaction wasn’t the expected one.
There was a moment of silence. “Well, yes, I guess that’s right.” He paused, looking at McCann, not knowing what to say to the calm response he had received. McCann enjoyed seeing him flustered, enjoyed seeing his beady eyes darting to and fro in his head, the piece of shit. He left his gaze on Mulligan for a few seconds more and then turned on his stool to face the big screen on the opposite wall, catching a smirk on Conrad’s face in doing so. He also caught sight of something else, Dr Campbell, leaving, and on her own. This was his chance. He grabbed up his drink and swigged it back and placing it back down on the table he excused himself and made for the exit, which she was just passing through. Outside the night air was cold and filled with a light breeze specked with drizzle. He stepped from the door and looked left and right, catching her making her way down the high street towards the car park by the river. Pulling his jacket collar up around his shoulders he made his way after her, he needed to get this sorted. This stupid mistake. He got to within ten yards or so of her and called her name. No reply. He plugged on, calling again, this time she did reply, but kept on walking.
“Piss off Elliott. Please.”
Speeding up, the rain becoming heavier, he brought himself up next to her.
“Jennifer, please, just listen to me will you.”
She turned her head to face him, her pace still brisk. “Listen to what? Listen to your bullshit? I’m not interested. I’m prepared to be civil on a professional level, but that’s all. I’ve had enough, ok?”
He sighed. “The other night, I don’t know what to say, it was stupid, I sat down and had a few drinks and, well—-“
She stopped, raising up a hand in front of him. “What part of go away don’t you understand?” He went to reply but didn’t get the chance, her voice dropping in tone but still keeping the same intensity.
“You know how I felt and you knew how important last night was to me, but you had to be a dick. It was fucking selfish Elliott, ok?” she took a breath; she was on a role, her eyes like fire. “I’ve confided in you Elliott, told you things that I’ve not even thought about telling anyone else, and why? I’ll tell you why, because I thought you were different, thought you were one of the good ones,” she paused and huffed a laugh. “But I was wrong, and this time I’m not putting up with being second best, not putting up with your excuses, so I’d like you to leave me alone.”
And with that she walked on. He thought about following but then thought against it. There was no point, she had said all that she needed to say, he had fucked up and that was it. He stood and watched her go, all the way to the end of the high street until she reached the crossing and was out of sight, she didn’t look back.
 
8th December – Napier Road. Late evening.
 
He hadn’t hung around after his altercation with Jennifer Campbell. He hadn’t much felt like going back into the pub to sit with Mulligan, the smug bastard. Having to work with him was bad enough, without having to go through the trauma of socializing with him as well. He could think of a better caliber of person to spend his free time with, Hitler, Mussolini, Fred West maybe, but not Dan Mulligan and his ridiculous views on society. It was like being on a rally with Oswald Moseley at times. He wouldn’t have minded so much had he been in the twilight years of his career, an old bobby having had experience of the things he raved about, but he wasn’t. He was barely in his third decade and knew nothing, absolutely nothing.                                      Arriving back at his house he let himself in and switched on the hall light. Pacing into the kitchen he rummaged around in the bureau drawer, a few moments and he pulled out two take-away menus. One for The Red Palace Chinese and the other for Spice Fusion, with its billing as ‘Medway’s newest and best in Indian  Cuisine.’ Studying them for a few more moments he plumpt for the Indian. A good curry, a beer or two and some good music was enough to put a smile on anyone’s face after a shitty day.                                 
After phoning through his order, a Prawn Masala, pilau rice, a side of Bombay potato and a peshwari naan bread, he climbed the stairs and jumped into a hot shower to wash off the dirt of the day. It hadn’t been a particularly good one, not that his days were ever that good right now. The loneliness had come back, worse than before. After Karen and the kids had left it took a while to get used to the empty house, but, as time went by, he came to terms with it and started to enjoy the peace and quiet. He dearly missed them all, sure he did, and knowing that it was his fault that his family had broken up was a hard thing to bear. The feelings of guilt and frustration, on occasions, flooded over him like a damn bursting it banks. The knowing they were safe, even if it wasn’t with him, sometimes made him feel better, but there was still times when he would beat himself up over it and find himself at the bottom of a bottle. This was something that the many councilors he had visited had tried, some with more success than others, to drum out of him. Telling him that if ever wanted to get to grips with his life and try to move on, he had to stop these feelings of guilt and regret, no matter how hard it was, he had to try, not just for his sake, but the sake of his children.
But what did they know? Which was exactly his attitude towards them. One after the other he kicked against the advice, and one after the other they fell by the wayside, only for the next one to spout the same advice until he gave up. Gave up with the appointments and gave up answering their calls, and went about trying to solve it all on his own, something which was more difficult to put into action than he ever realized it would be. But his current one was different. With Derrick Arthurs he felt like he was getting somewhere. He felt like his way of dealing with it all was getting him out of it. Pulling him out of his rut.
Lying on the bed, wet, and wrapped in the towel, he pulled out some folded papers from his jacket, and laid them out on the bed. No matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t shake the Lonely Hearts Killer case from his mind. He knew that it was stupid, as Conrad had told him in, but something about it just kept on wriggling away inside him.
Reading over the information for the umpteenth time, he felt a pang of sympathy for Keith Mason. The troubled man left to rot in prison for crimes that he denied committing, his life ending on the end of a rope. Crimes that, from no matter which angle you approached it from were undeniably his.
He blew out a long breath just as the doorbell rang. Dragging himself up from the bed he quickly threw on a t-shirt and his tracksuit trousers and descended the stairs to open the front door. He was confronted by a gangly, Asian youth, a baseball cap adorned with the restaurants logo, fitted tightly on his head. They went through the pleasantries and McCann paid, took his food and bid him goodnight.
Closing up he headed for the kitchen, grabbing a plate and some cutlery and then, after sliding Pink Floyds 1971 album Meddle, in the CD player, he made himself comfortable on the sofa, and as the opening bars of One of These Days gently wafted in, he took down his first mouthful. He’d been looking forward to this very moment all day.
The food didn’t hang around for long, and halfway through ‘Fearless’ the albums third track, his plate and the silver cartons were all clear of food. He pushed the small table away and sat back on the sofa. The food swilled around in his gut and he put his head back on the sofa, a few moments and his phone rang.
With a bolt of dread filling his gut, he pulled himself up and crossed the room towards his mobile phone,
Tentatively, he answered. “Hello.”
“Hello, Elliott?”
With a sigh of relief, he smiled.
“Derrick. Sorry, I had a horrible thought that it was going to be more bad news.”
“Well, I’m glad to dispel those feelings for you. Sorry that it’s late, I hope that I haven’t interrupted anything?”
“No, not at all. What can I do for you?”
There was the sound of rustling paper.
“I was just going through my diary and wanted to confirm our appointment tomorrow, what with the current situation and all. I didn’t want you to think that you had to come in. I’ve had the news on all afternoon. What a terrible business.”
Crossing back to the sofa, McCann sat himself back down.
“No, I’m all set, unless something major crops up, of course, its hard to say at the moment. But, as of now, I’ll be there.”
“Excellent, I’m glad to hear it, Elliott. Well, I’ll let you get back to your evening.”
Taking another swig of the water he got up and gathered up the remnants of the meal, carrying the plates and silver trays into the kitchen and leaving them on the draining board, he’d clear them away tomorrow.
Turning to leave the kitchen he headed towards the stairs and the distant sound of his bed calling his name, when the doorbell rang. Instinctively, he glanced up at the clock on the wall, a few minutes to midnight. Who the hell would be knocking on his door at this time of night? He thought of Bethany, but surely not? He walked through the kitchen and into the hallway, calling out, but no reply. Reaching the door, he hesitated and then opened. What confronted him was nothing but the cold night air drifting in onto his face. He stepped out onto the path and looked left and then right, but the length of the road was clear. The barking of a dog and the distant rumble of an airplane the only sounds filling the air. He frowned, taking one more glance around, and then stepped back inside, closing the door. It wasn’t long before he was in bed, hoping that the nightmare of earlier was nothing but a one off and that sleep would come easy and interrupted. His wish was granted, but soon enough, the nightmare would be all too real.
 
Alice Morgan sat at her dressing table, a white cotton towel wrapped around her body and another, the same but smaller, wrapped tightly around her head, soaking the excess water from her freshly washed hair. She glanced at the time on the radio alarm clock that sat on her bed side table, the small green diode numbers showed 08:51, she had almost an hour and a half until her date and she wanted to look her best.
She had been chatting to Tom, or TOMRR1979 as he was known on the website, for a couple of weeks now. It had started with an innocent wink from him on the dating website that she had signed up for on the recommendation of her friend Shara, after she had met someone the year previous and who was now engaged to.
They had exchanged messages for a couple of days, just brief comments on how their days had been, things like that. It was all knew to her, she didn’t really know if there were any rules to it or not, things you should always do or things you should avoid saying. Then, one morning, she had checked her emails before heading to work to find that he had sent her his mobile number, the message accompanied with a smiley face and ‘hope you don’t feel this is too forward, but be nice to chat to you’ She had smiled at the message and entered the number into her phone, which she used on her lunch hour. The conversation was nice and relaxed, there were no awkward silences or fumbling for anything to say, it was comfortable and easy and she liked it. That was how it went for the next few days, lunchtime or an evening phone call, chatting and laughing until he asked it she would like to meet, no pressure, but he thought that it would be nice to finally chat in person. She agreed and the date was set.
Alice’s luck with men had been somewhat checkered in the past. Cheats and losers where how she described the guys she ended up being with, and with her last real relationship having ended almost a year to the day, she was finally in a place to shake of the shackles and get back out there and, hopefully, meet someone good, and from what she had learnt so far, Tom sounded like someone who could be just that.
Over the course of the next forty-five minutes or so she went about her usual routine, hair drying and styling. Make up, not too much, but enough to look good. Her new outfit which she had bought especially for the occasion, new dark blue jeans and a nice fitted white top that showed her cleavage, again, not to much, but enough to look good, enough to catch attention. If you’ve got it flaunt it was her motto, and she had it, so was going to do exactly that. With fifteen minutes to spare she was ready and stood in front of the full-length mirror on the front of her wardrobe. She turned one way and then the other, looking at herself, and deciding, with a smile and a nod of the head, that she looked the part. She then took her brown leather jacket from the back of her chair and slipped it over her slender shoulders. She was ready; she just hoped that he appreciated the effort.
They had arranged to meet in a little coffee shop in the high street, his choice. She wasn’t used to coffee dates, but thought it would be a nice change from the noisy pubs she was usually taken too. Her profile information had stated about her sweet tooth, so she had taken little persuading when he mentioned the lovely cakes and muffins they served, and had accepted with a smile, thinking it lovely that Tom had taken the time to read her comments and make a decision to take her somewhere nice for their first date.
She had arrived first and stood under the awning outside to shelter from the light drizzle that fell from the concrete grey sky. It was just before ten thirty and she was a little early. She looked in through the door and saw the counter lined with delicious looking things. Cakes with lashings of cream, gingerbread men with smartie eyes and buttons, jam doughnuts the size of tea plates. Everything looked wonderful and the smell that emanated from inside was of fresh bread and coffee, she couldn’t believe that she hadn’t known about this place, otherwise she would have been here every day.
“Alice?” A voice from behind made her jump.
“Yes, yes,” She paused, looking at the smiling face that stood in front of her, his wet brown hair dripping water down onto his forehead. “Tom? Yes?”
He ran the sleeve of his jacket over his face, clearing the water away. “Hi, yes, lovely to meet you at last. Sorry I’m a little late, I couldn’t find any change for the car park.”
He held out his hand, and when she extended hers he moved in for a kiss on the cheek, which she accepted with a smile. With a slight blush on her cheeks. “Shall we get inside out of the awful weather? I’ve just been looking at all the things they sell, I can’t wait.” He smiled and nodded and they went inside. Taking a seat at a table in the corner they waited to be served. There was the usual nervous silence filled with nervous smiles and raised eyebrows while they looked at the menu’s delights, perusing everything on offer.
“So, can you recommend anything?” She said. “It all looks great.”
He raised his head and looked at her. He had a warm face and a smile to match, his deep blue eyes looked into hers and she could feel something, she wasn’t sure quite what it was but something seemed to happen.
Well, the Gypsy Tarts are my favourite and the Carrot cake is also really good, if you like the sound of either of them that is.”
Nodding in agreement, she chose the Gypsy Tart, and a Cappuccino to accompany it. He smiled and said that he would have the same but with a Latte. They were served a few moments later and then chatted in between mouthfuls of cake and sips of their drinks. He seemed like a nice guy. After the initial nerves and slight awkwardness they both eased into the date, telling each other about themselves, asking questions about this and that, things about what they had written on their profile about their likes and dislikes, things that had caused the initial attraction, albeit one over cyberspace. She learnt that he worked in I.T in the city for a small company; he had two older brothers and loved a good book, especially Jack Kerouac and Ernest Hemingway. Couple this with the things that she already knew from reading his online profile, he loved to travel, America and Scandinavia being among his favourites, he one day wanted to own a Porsche 911 and wasn’t a big fan of Tomatoes, she was finding herself becoming attracted to Tom. But there was one other question that she had to ask and one that she had asked the other guys that she had chatted to through the website, though there were not that many, just a handful. “So what brought you to the world of internet dating?” He huffed a laugh and took a sip of his drink, placing the mug back down on the table in front of him and leant back in his chair.
Well.” He paused.
“No pressure.” She interrupted with a cheeky smile.
Returning her smile. “I guess I got to the point in my life where I was settled in a decent job, had my own place, and wanted someone to share it with.” He looked into her eyes, she felt his warmth radiate across the short distance between them. “Or something like that.” He continued with another smile, then looking with a hint of embarrassment.
“No, I like it. I think we all get to that point don’t we? Thinking that we are ready to make that leap to the next step.” “And you think you are there?” He said with a raised eyebrow and a grin.
She smiled and nodded slightly. “I think I could be yes. I think I’m in a good place, so you never know.”
They both chuckled and spent the next hour or so doing the same, chatting and laughing, getting to know one another. Alice couldn’t believe her luck that she was sitting with a guy that didn’t seem like a loser, didn’t seem like every other guy that she seemed to have the misfortune of meeting. He had a stable job, not that that was everything but it meant that he wasn’t going to sponge from her like some of her boyfriends had done in the past. He was interesting and well read, and she got a sense that he wanted to better himself in his career and in his life, he wanted to see the world and try and make a difference. She had to pinch herself. By the time they left it was nearly twelve thirty and the sun had poked itself into the sky, there was still a chill in the air but nothing like early when they arrived.
Strolling down the high street they continued to laugh and joke, peering into the windows of all the little nik nak, charity and second hand bookshops. It was turning out to be a lovely day, something that Alice hadn’t had in a while, and something that sometimes she thought would never happen again. But here she was with a guy that made her laugh and made her feel at ease. A guy that seemed genuine and sincere. It sounded silly but she couldn’t wait to tell her mum. The rest of the date had stayed fine, the roads drying under their feet as they walked, a few puddles here and there but no more. Tom then suggested a drink in a nice quiet pub that he knew. She didn’t think anything of it and agreed without hesitation. He said that he would drive and then drop her back to get her car later on, saying that it would be safe parked where it was for a while. Again, she didn’t think anything of it and said yes, liking that he was taking control of the situation.
He had an estate car, his fathers he had said. There were blankets, rope and a spade in the boot. Once more, she didn’t think anything of it and climbed into the passenger seat. Once inside she reached for the seatbelt, pulling it across herself, and clipped it into the holder. It was then that it struck her.
Looking to her right, she froze, expectant on seeing Tom sitting there, waiting to whisk her off to their next destination, his smiling face looking at her and drawing her in, she was, instead, confronted by someone else, a larger man, breathing heavily and donned all in black. His hair slicked back on his head, a twisted grin visible through the mouthpiece of the white mask that covered his face.
It took a good few seconds for the comprehension to set in, her heart skipping a beat in her chest, her mind ticking overtime. She went to speak, opening her mouth to ask what was going on, the sounds quenched by the dryness of her throat.
Panicking now, she spun around, reaching for the door handle. Grabbing it in her hand she shook it, wrestling hard against it, but it was locked, there was no escape. She looked back over her shoulder, the man was still gazing at her, he hadn’t moved a muscle, hadn’t uttered a word, all she could hear was the breathing, hard and low. Was he real? Was this a dream, a joke maybe? Then she saw Tom, outside, standing a few feet from her window, smiling at her. She looked at him and said his name, but he didn’t move. She frowned and said it again, a little louder this time. Still nothing. Her heart was now racing, beating in her chest like a drum. She started to bang on the window, harder this time, her hands throbbing from the pressure, shouting Tom’s name, screaming, but he was unmoved, just standing, stock still, like a mannequin in a shop window.
Frantic now, tears streaming down her face, sobbing his name, desperately looking for a way out. A moment more passed and Tom’s face spread into a smile, then, raising his hand, he waved, moving it slowly from side to side, the smile fading to a chilling look of hatred. She then felt a hand around her mouth and a voice whisper in her ear. “Time to die Alice.”
She awoke, balled up on the floor, groggy and in pain, her right cheek swollen and the skin tender around her mouth, in almost pitch darkness. Opening her eyes slowly, she could just make out that she was in a small room, no more than seven or eight feet wide and with a low ceiling, the walls tattered and rough under her hands as she reached up to touch them. 
Her thoughts were fuzzy, her head throbbing like a bass drum, but she remembered Tom, remembered his face and being out with him in the rain, the coffee and cake in the restaurant, his smile and their laughing together. Then she remembered someone else, the man in the car, the man in the mask, sitting there, next to her, just staring, the sound of his breathing, slow and shallow, rhythmic, Tom standing outside with the twisted smile on his face. She suddenly felt the panic rise as she recalled the man’s hand clasped over her mouth and the whispered words in her ear, words that meant nothing to her, words in a language that was alien. She shuddered at the recollection of the voice, hushed and toneless, evil she thought. The room started to spin, claustrophobia swept over her, she couldn’t breath, and her throat was tight, her lungs calling out to be filled with precious air.
Pulling herself up she felt along the wall further, trying to compose herself as best she could, dust and concrete falling away as she did so, crumbling down to the cold floor beneath her, there must be a door, a way out, she needed air, needed to get outside. A few moments more and she came upon something, something solid and hanging about halfway up. Grabbing hold of it she began to feel around its shape. The pointed corners, the shiny surface, raised and rough on one side, her mind trying to picture what it was in the darkness her hands were touching. It was a good few seconds before it dawned on her, a good few seconds before all the signals joined up and her mind switched on. Tugging at the object it slid away from the wall, more debris falling to the floor, dust swirling around and into her nostrils, making her sneeze. She stepped back from the wall a couple of paces and blinked furiously, her eyes slowly starting to adjust to the dark. Holding the object that was in her hand up to her face she could, then, just about make out the outline. In her hand she held a crucifix.
The clanging as it hit the hard stone floor reverberated around the small room, and the ringing in her ears seemed to take an age before it died away and the silence once again took hold, it was then that she heard the footsteps. They were above her head and as loud as thunder and as her heart began to pound she crouched down onto her knees as though they were coming straight for the top of her head, then, as quick as they started they stopped, the silence returning. She waited, the darkness closing in around her, her breath rapid like machine gun fire. Her mind ticking over double, triple time, trying desperately to figure out what was going on, and more importantly where she was, and why. After a few silent moments the footsteps started up again, this time the sound of the steps echoed on wood and descended to her right. Whoever it was coming for her, and they were getting closer. The sweat started to roll from her underarms and drip onto the floor. A wave of emotion swelled inside her and hit like a train, tears starting to roll from her eyes and down her face, her lip quivering like jelly on a plate. She went to cry out for help but all that escaped from her dry throat was a whimper, a pathetic little whimper. For a second time the footsteps stopped as quick as they started, a long moment passed before a thud and then a click broke the silence, splintering the air, and a shaft of light flooded into the room. She held up a hand to her face, the sudden burst of light blinding her eyes, and through her fingers saw a silhouetted figure stood in a doorway. Falling backwards, she scrabbled away as far as she could from the sight, back against the wall as it entered and stood looking down at her. She could hear breathing, long and heavy breaths and time seemed to pass like in a vacuum as the figure just stood, looking, its head occasionally tilting, slowly, from side to side.
She went to speak, but her throat caught and she burst into a coughing fit, still the figure didn’t move, composing herself as much as she could she tried again. It was ragged, but it came out this time.
“Please, don’t hurt me, please.”
Silence followed as the figure, still, made no movement or sound. Just stood, motionless, like a waxwork.
She continued. “Please, what’s going on?” I don’t know what I’ve done.”
It was then that the figure uttered its first sounds, a long drawn out sound. “Sssshhhhh.”
She frowned and waited for more, but that was it as silence again took hold. Her mind raced, her heart thumped like pneumatic drill. She thought about making a run for it, but the figure was large, and she was weak, it would be no contest. She spoke again, tears filling up her eyes, and dripping down her face.
“I don’t know what I’ve done, please, let me go, please.”
The figure then stepped forward, slowly pacing towards her. She scrabbled backwards again, but there was nowhere else to go, she was trapped like an animal. The tears were flowing now, her speech incomprehensible as she blubbed. Reaching her, the figure bent down, a strong scent of something she couldn’t quite place filled her nostrils, she blubbed some more, holding her hands up in front of her, begging, pleading, before the figure silenced her with a hard fist to the side of her head, knocking her down to floor.
She laid still, her eyes flickering, drifting in and out of consciousness. The figure straightened up and spoke, the voice low and haunting.
“Alice, Alice, sweet little Alice, so young and so innocent. Such a shame that this is where it all ends.”
The figure then left the room, leaving her alone as blackness then filled her senses
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