Bloodline | Chapter 5 of 8

Author: Mark Billingham | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 4930 Views | Add a Review

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PART ONE

 

BRAND NEW HEARTACHE

 

ONE

 

‘…is not viable.’

The woman let her words hang for a few seconds, having passed across the thick roll of kitchen towel, switched off the machine, then turned back to pass on the news while Louise was still wiping the gel off her belly.

There were a few statistics then: percentages and weeks and numbers out of ten. Some stuff about how common this was, and how it was far better happening now than further down the line.

Thorne hadn’t really taken much of it in.

Not. Viable.

He’d watched Louise nod, blinking slower than normal and buttoning her jeans while the woman talked for a minute or two about practicalities. ‘We can go through the details a bit later on,’ she’d said. ‘After you’ve had some time to yourselves.’

Was she actually a doctor? Thorne wasn’t sure. Maybe some kind of ‘scanner technician’ or something. Not that it really mattered. It obviously wasn’t the first time she’d said those words; there hadn’t been a pause or even a hint of awkwardness, and he would not have expected one. It was probably best for all concerned to be businesslike about these things, he’d thought. He should know, after all. Best just to say what needed saying and move on, especially with back-to-back appointments and plenty more happy couples waiting outside.

That phrase though…

Afterwards, they sat in the corner near the water-dispenser, facing away from the main part of an open-plan waiting area. Four plastic chairs bolted together. A nice, lemon-coloured wall and children’s drawings tacked on to a cork board. A wicker table with a few magazines and a box of tissues.

Thorne squeezed Louise’s hand. It felt small and cold inside his own. He squeezed again, and she looked up; smiled and sniffed.

‘You OK?’ she asked.

Thorne nodded, thinking that, as euphemisms went, it was a pretty good one. Bland yet final. Probably softened the blow for most people, which was, after all, the point.

Not viable.

Dead. Dead inside you.

He wondered if he should try it for size himself, trot it out the next time he had to meet someone at a mortuary or knock on some poor sod’s door in the middle of the night.

Thing is, your husband ran into some drunken idiot with a knife in his pocket. I’m afraid he’sno longer viable.

Fine, so it made the victim sound like an android, but that detachment was important, right? You needed the distance. It was that or a few more empty wine bottles in your recycling bin every week.

Softening the blow for you just as much as for them.

I’m sorry to have to tell you that your son has been shot. Shot to non-viability. He’s as non-viable as a doornail.

‘Tom?’

Thorne glanced up at the small nudge from Louise, watched as the woman who had performed the scan came across the waiting area towards them. She was Indian, with a wide streak of red through her hair. Somewhere in her early thirties, Thorne guessed. Her smile was perfect: sorrowful, but with a spring in its step.

‘OK, I think I’ve managed to find you a bed.’

‘Thank you,’ Louise said.

‘When did you last eat?’

‘I’ve not had anything since breakfast.’

‘That’s good. We’ll try to get the D and C done straight away.’ The woman handed Louise a sheet of paper, told her how to get to the ward she needed. Then she looked at Thorne. ‘You might want to go home and pick up a few things for her. Nightdress, whatever…’

Thorne nodded while the woman talked about Louise needing to put her feet up for a couple of days. Kept on nodding when she said that they should both take things easy, that there were phone numbers on the sheet for people they could talk to, if that was what they wanted.

He watched her walk back towards her room, turning to call the next couple inside when she was at the door. There was a TV mounted high on the wall in the opposite corner. A middle-aged couple was being shown round a villa in France or Italy, the wife saying something about how colourful the tiles were.

‘D and C?’

Louise was studying the instructions on her piece of paper. ‘Dilatation and curettage.’

Thorne waited, none the wiser. It sounded horrible.

‘Scraping,’ Louise said, eventually.

A thin woman in green overalls pushed a trolley stacked with cleaning equipment along the corridor towards them. She stopped alongside the wicker table, took a rag and plastic spray-gun from her trolley and squirted one of the empty chairs. She looked across at Thorne and Louise as she wiped.

‘What are you crying for?’

Thorne studied the woman for a few seconds, then turned to Louise, who was staring at the floor, folding the paper over and over. He was very hot suddenly, could feel the short hairs prickling at the back of his neck and the film of sweat between his hand and Louise’s. He nodded to the sign on the door of the Antenatal Scanning Suite, then snapped his head back to the cleaner.

‘Take a fucking guess,’ he said.

 

 

It took Thorne nearly fifteen minutes to drive the mile or so from the Whittington Hospital to Kentish Town, but at least the journey gave him time to calm down a little. To stop thinking about the heave in Louise’s chest when that cleaner had spoken to them. About wanting to stuff that rag in the woman’s stupid mouth.

She’d looked at him like he was being rude, for Christ’s sake!

Back at the flat, he threw some food into a bowl for Elvis and stuffed the things Louise had asked for into a plastic bag: a clean T-shirt; bra and knickers; a hairbrush and a few bits of make-up. He stopped at the door on his way out, needing to lean on the wall for a few seconds before walking back into the living room. He dropped on to the sofa hard and sat there, staring into space, for a while, with the plastic bag cradled on his lap.

It felt cold in the flat. Three weeks into September and high time the heating was put back on. Time for the petty squabbles to start again, with Thorne nudging up the thermostat and Louise nudging it back down again when she thought he wasn’t looking. Secretive readjustments of the timer. The constant fiddling with radiators.

The silly sit-com stuff that Thorne loved, despite the bickering.

They had been arguing — rather more seriously — since Louise had first learned she was pregnant, about what their long-term living arrangements would be. Though they spent most of their time at Thorne’s place, Louise still had her own flat in Pimlico. She was reluctant to sell it, or at least reluctant to accept the assumption that she would. Though they were both keen on sharing a place somewhere, they could not agree which property to put on the market, so they had started talking about selling both flats, then buying somewhere new together, as well as maybe a one-bedroom flat they could rent out.

Thorne stared at the fireplace and wondered if all that would be put on hold now. If lots of the things they’d discussed — some more seriously than others — would be shifted quietly on to the back burner, or become subjects that were simply never mentioned again.

Moving a bit further out of the city.

Getting married.

Quitting the Job.

Thorne stood up and collected the phone from the table near the door, carried it back to the sofa.

They had been talking hypothetically when most of those things had been mentioned; certainly the stuff about weddings and leaving the Force. Just stupid talk, that was all, along with the jokes about not wanting ginger kids and the barmy baby names.

What about Damien?

I don’t think so.

Wasn’t his nameThornein the film?

Without anE. Anyway, who says he’s going to be aThorne. Why can’t he be aPorter”? Come to think of it, who says he’s going to be a “he”?

Thorne jabbed at the buttons on the phone. He’d only signed out for two hours, so now he needed to let them know that he wouldn’t be back until sometime the following day. He’d have been happiest leaving a message, but he was connected straight through to Detective Sergeant Samir Karim in the Incident Room.

‘You must be psychic.’

‘Sorry?’

‘The DCI’s in the middle of leaving a message on your phone.’

Thorne reached into his jacket for his mobile. He’d turned it off in the hospital and forgotten to switch it back on again. By the time the screen had come back to life and the tones were sounding to indicate that he had a message, Detective Chief Inspector Russell Brigstocke was on the landline.

‘Good timing, mate. Or bad.’

‘What?’

‘We’ve just caught a job.’ Brigstocke took a slurp of tea or coffee. ‘Nasty one, by the sound of it.’

Thorne swore quietly, but not quietly enough.

‘Look, I was about to give it to Kitson anyway.’

‘You were right before,’ Thorne said. ‘Bad timing.’

‘It’s yours if you fancy it.’

Thorne thought about Louise, what the woman had said about needing to take things easy. Yvonne Kitson was perfectly capable of dealing with a new case, and he had plenty on his plate at work as it was. But he was already on his feet, hunting for a pen and paper.

Elvis was mooching around his ankles while Thorne scribbled a few notes. Brigstocke was right, it was a nasty one, but Thorne wasn’t overly surprised. It was usually The nasty ones they put his way.

‘Husband?’ Thorne asked. ‘Boyfriend?’

‘Husband found the body. Made the call, then ran out into the street screaming the place down.’

‘Made the call first?’

‘Right. Then lost it, by all accounts,’ Brigstocke said. ‘Banging on doors, telling everyone she was dead, screaming about blood and bottles. Definitely not what the good people of Finchley are used to.’

‘Finchley’s easy,’ Thorne said.

‘Right, nice local one for you.’

Five or six miles north of Kentish Town. He’d be more or less driving past the Whittington Hospital. ‘I’ll need to make a quick stop on the way,’ Thorne said. ‘But I should be there in half an hour or so.’

‘No rush. She isn’t going anywhere.’

It took Thorne a few seconds to realise that Brigstocke was talking about a dead woman and not about Louise Porter.

‘Give me the address.’

 

TWO

 

It was a quiet street, a few turnings east of the High Road. Edwardian houses with neat front gardens and off-road parking. Many, like number 48, had been divided into flats, though this house was now itself divided from its neighbours: a tarpaulin shielding the side-alley, uniformed officers stationed at each corner of the front lawn and crime-scene tape fluttering above the flower beds.

Thorne arrived just before eight, and it had already been dark for almost an hour. It was light enough in the kitchen of the downstairs flat, where the beams from twin arc-lamps illuminated every mote of dust and puff of fingerprint powder, bounced off the blue plastic suits of the CSIs and washed across the linoleum on the floor. A retro-style, black-and-white check, its simple pattern ruined by a few spots of blood. And by the body they had leaked from.

‘I think I’m about ready to turn her,’ Phil Hendricks said.

In the corner, a crime scene investigator was scraping at the edge of a low cupboard. She barely glanced up. ‘That’ll be a first…’

Hendricks grinned and gave the woman the finger, then looked around and asked Thorne if he wanted to come closer. To squeeze in where he could get a better view.

Thorne doubted that the view would get any better, but he walked across and placed himself between the still- and video-camera operators, opposite the pair of CSIs who were preparing to give Hendricks the help he needed. To add the necessary degree of strength to his gentleness.

‘OK, easy does it.’

The woman was face down, arms by her sides. Her shirt had been lifted, or had ridden up, showing purplish patches on the skin just above her waist where the livor mortis had started and revealing that her bra had not been removed.

‘Something, I suppose,’ a female CSI said as she walked past.

Thorne raised his eyes from the body and looked towards the single window. There were plates and mugs on the draining board next to the sink. A light was flashing on the front of the washing machine to let somebody know that the cycle had finished.

There was still a trace of normality.

Assuming they didn’t get a result in the first few days, Thorne would try to come back at some point. He found it useful to spend time where the victim had lived; even more so if it was also where they had died. But he would wait until he didn’t have to weave between crouching CSIs and negotiate the depressing paraphernalia of a crime scene.

And until the smell had gone.

He remembered some movie where the cop would stand in the houses where people had been murdered and commune with their killer. Was this where you killed them, you son of a bitch? Is that where you watched them from?

All that shit…

For Thorne, it just came down to wanting to know something about the victim. Something other than what their last meal had been and what their liver weighed at the time of death. Something simple and stupid would usually do it. A picture on a bedroom wall. The biscuits they kept in the kitchen cupboard or the book that they would never finish reading.

As for what went on in the mind of the killer, Thorne was happy knowing just enough to catch him, and no more.

Now, he watched as what remained of Emily Walker was moved, saw the hand flop back across the leg as it was lifted and turned in one slow, smooth movement. Saw those strands of hair that were not caked in blood fall away from her face as she was laid down on her back.

‘Cheers, lads.’

Hendricks worked with a good team. He insisted on it. Thorne remembered one CSI in particular — back when they were content to be called scene of crime officers — handling the partially decomposed body of an old man no better than if it were a sack of spuds. He’d watched Hendricks pushing the SOCO up against a wall and pressing a heavily tattooed forearm across the man’s throat. He couldn’t recall seeing the two of them at the same crime scene since.

The cameramen stepped forward and went to work. When they’d finished, Hendricks mumbled a few preparatory notes into his digital recorder.

‘How much longer, Phil?’ Thorne asked.

Hendricks lifted one of the dead woman’s arms; began bending back the fingers of a fist that was closed tight. ‘Hour and a half.’ The thick Manchester accent stretched out the pathologist’s final word, flattened the vowel. ‘Two at a push.’

Thorne checked his watch. ‘Right.’

‘You on a promise or something?’

Thorne did his best to summon the right expression, something conspiratorial and devilish, but he wasn’t sure he’d managed it. He turned to see where Detective Sergeant Dave Holland had got to.

‘She’s got something in her hand,’ Hendricks said.

Thorne turned back quickly and bent down to get a closer look, watched as Hendricks went to work with his tweezers and lifted something from the victim’s fist. It appeared to be a small square of plastic or celluloid, dark and wafer thin. Hendricks dropped it into an evidence bag and held it up to the light.

‘Piece of film?’ Thorne asked.

‘Could be.’

They stared at whatever was in the bag for a few more seconds, but both knew they would only be guessing until the Forensic Science Service laboratory had finished with it. Hendricks handed the bag over for the evidence manager to log and label, then carefully fastened polythene wraps around both the victim’s hands before moving further up the body.

Thorne closed his eyes for a few seconds, let out a long breath. ‘Can you believe I had a choice?’ he said.

Hendricks glanced up at him. He was kneeling behind the victim’s head and lifting it so that it was resting against his legs.

‘Brigstocke gave me the option.’

‘More fool you.’

‘I could have let Kitson take it.’

‘This one’s got your name on it,’ Hendricks said.

‘Why?’

‘Look at her, Tom.’

Emily Walker was … had been early thirties or thereabouts, dark hair streaked with a little grey and a small star tattooed above one ankle. She was no more than five feet tall, her height emphasising the few extra pounds which, judging by the contents of the fridge and the magnet on the door that said ‘ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE HUNGRY?’, she was trying to lose. She wore a thin necklace of brown beads and there was a charm bracelet around one wrist: dice, a padlock, a pair of fish. Her shirt was denim. Her skirt was thin cotton, the same pillar-box red as the varnish on her toenails.

Thorne looked across at the sandal that had been circled on the lino close to the fridge. At the decorative bottle a few feet away, with what looked like balsamic vinegar on the inside and blood and hair caught in a few of the glass ridges on the outside, and beyond, to the light still winking on the front of the washing machine. His hand drifted up to his face, fingers moving along the straight, white scar on his chin. He stared until the red light began to blur, then turned and wandered away, leaving Hendricks cradling Emily Walker’s head and talking quietly into his Dictaphone.

‘There is nothing holding the plastic bag in position over the victim’s head. Assume that the killer kept it in place around the victim’s neck with his hands. Bruises on neck suggest he held it there with a great deal of force until the victim had stopped breathing…’

Holland was standing out on the patio at the rear of the house, watching half a dozen uniforms combing the flower beds. There were arc-lamps out here too, but this was only an initial sweep and more officers would be back at first light to conduct a fingertip search.

‘So, no forced entry then,’ Thorne said.

‘Which means she knew him.’

‘Possibly.’ Thorne could smell cigarettes on Holland, wanted one himself for a second or two. ‘Or she answered the door and he produced a weapon, forced her back inside.’

Holland nodded. ‘Let’s see if we get lucky with the house to house. Looks like the kind of street where there’s plenty of curtain-twitching.’

‘What about the husband?’

‘I only had five minutes before they took him to a hotel up the road,’ Holland said. ‘In pieces, much as you’d expect.’

‘Trying too hard, you reckon?’

‘How d’you mean?’

‘Sounds like he wanted everyone in the street to see just how upset he was. After he’d called us.’

‘You heard the 999 tape?’

‘No.’ Thorne shrugged. ‘Just…’

‘Just wishful thinking?’ Holland said. ‘Right?’

‘Yeah, maybe.’ It was getting a little chillier. Thorne shoved his hands inside the plastic suit and down into the pockets of his leather jacket. ‘Be nice if it was … a simple one.’

‘I can’t see it,’ Holland said.

Nor could Thorne, if he were being honest. He knew only too well how domestic violence could escalate; had seen the ways a jealous boyfriend or a domineering husband could lose it. He blinked, saw the flop of the arm as the body was turned. Spots of pillar-box red against black-and-white squares. Not a simple one…

‘Maybe he was just that upset,’ Holland said. ‘How many of these have we done?’

Thorne puffed out his cheeks. There was no need to answer.

‘Right. And I still can’t imagine what it must be like. Not even close.’

Holland was fifteen years younger than Thorne. He had been working alongside him for more than seven years and though the fresh-faced newbie was long gone, Thorne still relished the glimpses of someone who hadn’t been totally reshaped by the Job. Holland had looked up to him once, had seen him as the kind of copper he would like to become, Thorne knew that. He knew equally that Holland was not the same as he was … not where it mattered, and that he should be bloody grateful for it.

‘Especially when it’s a woman,’ Holland said. ‘You know? I see the husbands and boyfriends and fathers, how it hits them, and it doesn’t matter if they’re hysterical or furious or sitting there like zombies. I’ve got no bloody idea what’s happening inside their heads.’

‘Don’t knock it, Dave,’ Thorne said.

They both looked across at laughter from further down the garden, where one of the officers had obviously stepped in something. Watched as he scraped the sole of his shoe across the edge of the lawn.

‘So, where were you skiving off to earlier, then?’ Holland asked.

‘Sorry?’

‘When all this kicked off.’

Thorne cleared his throat.

Louise had been fine about him taking the job on, when he’d popped into the hospital to drop off her stuff. She was already in bed, working her way through a copy of heat and trying to tune out the incessant chatter of a woman in the bed opposite. He’d asked if she was sure. She’d looked at him like he was being stupid and asked why she wouldn’t be. He’d told her to call if she wanted anything, if she needed him. She’d told him not to worry and said that she could get a taxi back when it was all over, if she had to.

‘Dentist,’ Thorne said. ‘An hour with the Nazi hygienist. The woman’s like something out of Marathon Man.’

Holland laughed. Said, ‘Is it safe?’

‘I’m telling you.’

‘They remade that film, you know?’ Holland waited for Thorne to take the bait and look at him. ‘But they had to call it Snickers Man.’ He laughed again, seeing that Thorne was doing his best not to.

‘You told Sophie you’re back on the fags?’ Thorne asked.

Holland shook his head. ‘Got a glove compartment full of extra-strong mints.’ He leaned down and spat into a drain. ‘Stupid really, ’cause I’m bloody sure she knows. Just doesn’t want a row, I suppose.’

Holland and his girlfriend were another couple who had been talking about getting out of London, and about Holland giving up the Job. Thorne wondered if that was something else that was not being mentioned for fear of reigniting an argument. He had always been convinced that Holland should stay where he was, but he would never have said so. If Sophie so much as got wind of Thorne’s opinion, she would fight tooth and nail to do the opposite.

So he kept his mouth shut, content that Holland was still there.

‘We’ll get the official ID done first thing in the morning,’ Thorne said. ‘Then bring the husband in for a chat.’

‘Fair enough.’

‘You never know, we might get lucky.’

Holland snorted, nodded across to where the uniformed officer was now working at the sole of his shoe with a twig, flicking out the shit. ‘That kind of lucky,’ he said.

They both looked up as a plane passed low overhead, lights blinking, on its way to Luton. Thorne watched it move fast across a clear sky and swallowed hard. Eight weeks earlier, he and Louise had gone to Greece together for their first proper holiday as a couple. They had spent most days lying by a pool reading trashy books and done nothing more culturally demanding than work out how to ask for beer and grilled squid in the local taverna. They’d both tried hard not to talk about work and had laughed a lot. One day, Louise had rubbed cream into Thorne’s shoulders where he’d got burned, and said, ‘This is as far as it goes for me in terms of non-sexual intimate contact, all right? I’m not into squeezing other people’s blackheads and I will not be wiping your arse if you break both your arms .’

She’d bought the pregnancy testing kit on their final morning there. Used it just before they’d gone out to dinner that last night.

 

 

Thorne was sitting in the car when Hendricks came out.

He’d checked his phone and tried both flats, but Louise hadn’t got back yet and there were no messages. He’d listened to the radio for a while then called again to no avail. Louise’s mobile was switched off and Thorne guessed it was too late to ring the hospital.

Hendricks walked around to the passenger side and got in. He’d changed out of the protective suit and was wearing black jeans and a skinny-rib sweater over a white T-shirt. ‘Just about done,’ he said.

Thorne grunted.

‘You OK?’

‘Sorry … yeah.’ Thorne turned and looked. Nodded and smiled.

A skein of red and blue ink was just visible above the neckline, but most of Phil Hendricks’ tattoos were hidden. Much to the relief of his superiors, a good few of the piercings remained out of sight, too. Thorne was happy to have been spared the graphic details, but knew that some had been done in honour of a new boyfriend, one for each conquest. There hadn’t been a new piercing for quite a while.

It was not what many people expected a pathologist to look like, but Hendricks was the best Thorne had ever worked with; and still — despite the many ups and downs — the closest friend he had.

‘Fancy a pint later?’ Thorne asked.

‘What about Louise?’

‘She’ll be fine.’

‘No.’ Hendricks grinned. ‘I mean she’ll be jealous.’

‘We’ll make it up to her,’ Thorne said. In truth, he was the one who had suffered from jealousy. He and Louise had been together almost a year and a half, having met when Thorne was seconded to help out on a kidnap case she had been working, but it had taken her only a couple of weeks to get as close to Phil Hendricks as Thorne had managed in ten years. There were times, especially early on, when it had been disconcerting; when he’d found himself resenting them their friendship.

One night, when the three of them were out together, Thorne had got pissed and called Louise a ‘fag-hag’. She and Phil had laughed, and Phil had said how ironic that was, because Thorne was the one acting like an old queen.

‘Yeah, OK then,’ Hendricks said. He looked towards the house, from which officers had begun to drift in twos and threes. ‘Mind you, if I’m going to be elbows deep in that poor cow first thing in the morning, I’d better just have the one.’

‘Well, I’m having way more than one,’ Thorne said. ‘So we’d best go to my local. I’ll give you a lift.’

Hendricks nodded, let his head drop back and closed his eyes. Thorne had given up trying to find any decent country music and had tuned the radio into Magic FM. It was nearly ten o’clock, and 10cc were winding up an uninterrupted hour of easy-listening oldies.

‘He brought his own bag,’ Hendricks said.

‘What?’

‘The bag he used to suffocate her. He knew what he was doing. You can’t just grab some carrier bag out of the kitchen — they’re a waste of time. Most of them have got holes in, so your vegetables don’t sweat or whatever. You want something air-tight, obviously, and it needs to be a bit stronger, so it won’t get cut to ribbons by your victim’s fingernails, if she’s got any.’ Hendricks tapped his fingers on the dash in time to the music. ‘Also, with a nice, clear polythene bag, you can see the face while you’re doing it. I think that’s probably important.’

‘So, he was organised.’

‘He came prepared.’

‘He didn’t bring the vinegar bottle, though.’

‘No, I’m guessing that was improvised. First thing he could grab hold of to hit her with.’

‘Then he gets the bag out once she’s down.’

Hendricks nodded. ‘Might even have hit her hard enough to do the job before he had a chance to suffocate her.’

‘I suppose we should hope so.’

‘I wouldn’t bet on it,’ Hendricks said. ‘You ask me, the bottle was just to make sure she wasn’t going to struggle too much. He wanted to kill her with the bag. Like I said, I reckon he wanted to watch.’

‘Jesus.’

‘I’ll know tomorrow.’

The windows were beginning to steam up, so Thorne turned on the fan. They listened to the news for a couple of minutes. There was nothing to lift the mood even slightly and there was nothing in the sports round-up to get excited about. The football season was still only a month or so old and, with neither of their teams in action, none of the night’s results proved particularly significant.

‘Six weeks until we stuff you again,’ Hendricks said. A committed Gunner, he was still relishing the double that Arsenal had done over Spurs in the north London derbies the previous season.

‘Right…’

Hendricks was laughing and saying something else, but Thorne had stopped listening. He was staring down at the screen of his mobile, thumbing through the menu and checking he hadn’t missed a message.

‘Tom?’

Making sure he still had a decent signal.

‘Tom? You OK, mate?’

Thorne put the phone away and turned.

‘Is Louise all right?’ Hendricks waited, saw something in Thorne’s face. ‘Shit, is it the baby?’

‘What? How d’you know …?’ Thorne pushed back hard in his seat and stared straight ahead. He and Louise had agreed to tell nobody for the first three months. A good friend of hers had lost one early on.

‘Don’t be pissed off,’ Hendricks said. ‘I forced it out of her.’

‘’Course you did.’

‘To be honest, I think she was desperate to spill the beans.’ Hendricks looked for a softening in Thorne’s demeanour but saw none. ‘Come on, who else was she going to tell?’

Thorne glanced across, spat it out. ‘I don’t know, her mother?’

‘I think she might have told her as well.’

‘Fuck’s sake!’

‘Nobody else, as far as I know.’

Thorne leaned down and turned off the radio. ‘This was why we agreed we wouldn’t say anything. In case this happened.’

‘Shit,’ Hendricks said. ‘Tell me.’

When Thorne had finished, Hendricks began telling him that these things usually happened for good reasons, that it was better now than later on. Thorne stopped him. Told him he’d heard it all already from the woman who’d done the scan and that it hadn’t helped too much then, either.

Thorne saw Hendricks’ face and apologised. ‘I just didn’t know what to say to her, you know?’

‘Nothing much you can say.’

‘Need to give it time, I suppose,’ Thorne said.

‘Tell her to call me whenever she likes,’ Hendricks said. ‘You know, if she wants to talk about it.’

Thorne nodded. ‘She will.’

‘You, too.’ He waited until Thorne looked over. ‘All right?’

They sat in silence for a minute. There was still plenty of activity at the front of the house — vehicles coming and going every few minutes. Half a dozen spectators were crowded on the opposite side of the road, despite the best efforts of the uniforms to keep them away.

Thorne let out an empty laugh and smacked his hand against the steering wheel. ‘I told Lou I was going to get rid of this,’ he said.

‘Your precious Beemer?’ Hendricks said. ‘Bloody hell, that’s a major concession.’

Thorne’s 1971, ‘Pulsar’-yellow BMW had been a cause of much amusement to many of his colleagues for a long time. Thorne called it ‘vintage’. Dave Holland said that was just a euphemism for ‘knackered old rust-bucket’.

‘Promised I’d get something a bit more practical,’ Thorne said. He tugged at the collar of his jacket. ‘A family car, you know?’

Hendricks smiled. ‘You should still get rid of it,’ he said.

‘We’ll see.’

Hendricks pointed to the front door, to the metal trolley that was emerging through it, being lifted down the step. ‘Here we go…’

They got out of the car and walked slowly across to the rear of the mortuary van. Hendricks talked quietly to one of the mortuary assistants, ran through arrangements for the following morning. Thorne watched as the trolley was raised on its concertina legs and the black body-bag was eased slowly into the vehicle.

Emily Walker.

Thorne glanced towards the onlookers: a teenager in a baseball cap shuffling his feet; an old woman, open-mouthed.

Not viable.

 

THREE

 

Louise called from a payphone in the Whittington at a little after 8 a.m., just as Thorne was on his way out of the door. He felt slightly guilty at having slept so well, and did not need to ask how her night had been.

She sounded more angry than upset. ‘They haven’t done it yet.’

‘What?’ Thorne dropped his bag then marched back into the sitting room, like he was searching for something to kick.

‘There was some cock-up the first time it was scheduled, then they thought it would be late last night, so they told me there was no point in me going home.’

‘So when?’

‘Any time now.’ There was some shouting near by. She lowered her voice. ‘I just want it done.’

‘I know,’ Thorne said.

‘I’m bloody starving, apart from anything else.’

‘Well, I can tell you where I’m off to this morning, if you like,’ Thorne said. ‘That should kill your appetite for a while.’

‘Sorry, I meant to ask,’ Louise said. ‘Was it a bad one?’

Thorne told her all about Emily Walker. As a detective inspector with the Kidnap Investigation Unit, Louise Porter was pretty much unshockable. Sometimes, she and Thorne talked about violent death and the threat of it as easily as other couples talked about bad days at the office. But there were some aspects of the Job that neither wanted to bring home, and while there was often black comedy to be shared in the grisliest of stories, they tended to spare each other the truly grim details.

Thorne did not hold back on this occasion.

When he had finished, Louise said, ‘I know what you’re doing, and there’s really no need.’

‘No need for what?’ Thorne asked.

‘To remind me there’s people worse off than I am.’

 

 

Two hours later, as unobtrusively as possible, Thorne reached into his pocket, took out his phone, and checked to make sure that it was switched to SILENT.

‘I think we’re ready.’

There were times when you really didn’t want a mobile going off.

The mortuary assistant drew back the sheet and invited Emily Walker’s husband to step forward.

‘Are you able to identify the body as that of your wife, Emily Anne Walker?’

The man nodded once and turned away.

‘Can you say it, please?’

‘Yes. That’s my wife.’

‘Thank you.’

The man was already at the door of the viewing suite, waiting to be let out. It was customary, after the formal identification, to invite the next of kin — should they so wish — to stay with their loved one for a while, but Thorne could see that there was little point on this occasion. Suffocation could do as much damage to a face as a blunt instrument. He couldn’t blame George Walker for preferring to remember his wife as she had been when she was alive. Presuming, of course, that he wasn’t the one responsible for her death.

Thorne watched Walker being led down the corridor by two uniformed officers — a man and a woman. He saw the slump of the man’s shoulders, the arm of the female officer sliding around them, and remembered something Holland had said the day before: ‘I’ve got no bloody idea what’s happening inside their heads…’

As if on cue, Dave Holland came strolling around the corner, looking surprisingly perky for someone about to attend a post-mortem. He joined Thorne just as Walker was turning on to the staircase and heading slowly up towards the street.

‘I know you said you wanted him in later for a chat,’ Holland said. ‘But I reckon we can leave it a while.’

‘Oh, you do?’

‘He’s still all over the shop, and we should really let him have a bit of time with his family.’

It was at such moments that Thorne wished he had to ability to raise one eyebrow, like Roger Moore. He had to settle for sarcasm. ‘I’m listening, Sergeant.’

Holland smiled. ‘We got a result with the curtain-twitchers.’

‘Let’s have it.’

‘Old bloke across the road claims he saw someone coming out of there an hour or so before Emily’s husband got home.’

‘And he’s sure it wasn’t Emily’s husband.’

‘Positive. He knows George Walker by sight. The bloke he saw had a much narrower build, he says. Different colour hair, too.’

‘You got him knocking us up an E-fit?’

Holland nodded. ‘Gets the husband off the hook, you ask me.’

‘I wasn’t,’ Thorne said. ‘But it’s a fair point. We’ll have him in tomorrow.’

A door opened halfway along the corridor and a familiar-looking, shaved head appeared around it. ‘In your own time,’ Hendricks said.

Thorne nodded and loosened the tie he’d put on for the identification.

Holland wasn’t looking quite so chirpy as they walked towards the open door.

Other places had different arrangements, but at Finchley Coroner’s Mortuary a narrow corridor ran between the Viewing Suite and the Post-Mortem Room, so the bodies could be moved quickly and privately from one to the other. From soft furnishings and a comforting colour scheme to a white-tiled room with stainless-steel units where comfort of any description was in short supply.

However much its occupants could have done with some.

Hendricks and Holland caught up a little, having been too busy for chit-chat the night before. Hendricks asked after Holland’s daughter, Chloe, about whom he seemed to know more than Thorne did. Thorne found this rather depressing. He hadn’t exactly been holding his breath when it came to Holland and his girlfriend choosing a god-father, but there had been a time when he’d sent presents and cards on birthdays and at Christmas.

Thorne listened to the pair of them rattling on — Holland telling Hendricks how big his daughter was getting, still only pushing four, and Hendricks saying what a fantastic age that was, while he moved the scissors and skull-key to within easy reach — and it niggled him. He was still trying to remember the date of the girl’s birthday when Hendricks began removing Emily Walker’s clothing.

Middle of September?

While Hendricks worked, he related his findings into the microphone hanging above his head. Holland made notes. This précis would be all the investigation had to go on until the full report arrived, but often it would be more than enough for the likes of Tom Thorne, until and if the likes of Phil Hendricks were given their chance to go through the details in court.

The science and the Latin…

‘Major laceration to back of head, but no fracture to the skull or sign of significant brain injury.’

When Thorne was not being called upon to concentrate, when it was just about observing medical procedures he’d seen far too many times before, he did his best to zone out. To block out the noise. He’d long since got used to the smell — meaty and sickly sweet — but the sounds always unnerved him.

‘Damage to thyroid and cricoid cartilages … Major petechial haemorrhaging … Bloody froth caked around victim’s mouth.’

So, Thorne sang in his head. Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, whatever came to him. Just a chorus or two to take the edge off the bone-saw’s whine and the solid snap of the rib-cutters. The gurgle in the windpipe and the sucking as the heart and lungs were removed from the chest as one single, dripping unit.

Ray Price today: ‘My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You’.

‘No indication of pregnancy … No signs of recent termination … Death due to manual asphyxia.’

There’s people worse off than I am.

Towards the end, with organs weighed and fluids collected, Thorne asked about time of death. When it came to finding a prime suspect, it often turned out to be the most important factor.

‘Late afternoon,’ Hendricks said. ‘Best I can do.’

‘Before five?’ Holland asked.

‘Between three and four probably, but I’m not swearing to it right now.’

‘That fits.’ Holland scribbled something down. ‘Husband claims to have arrived home a little after five o’clock.’

‘He out of the picture, then?’

Nobody’s out of the picture,’ Thorne said.

‘OK.’

Thorne saw the expression on Hendricks’ face, and on Holland’s as he looked up from his notebook. ‘Sorry…’

He’d been looking at the stainless-steel dishes that now contained Emily Walker’s major organs and thinking that she’d finally shifted those few extra pounds she’d been so worried about. His eyes had come to rest on her feet, bloated and pale; on the red nail varnish and the star above her ankle. When he’d spoken, he’d snapped without meaning to, the words sounding snide and spiky.

Holland looked at Hendricks, stage-whispered conspiratorially: ‘Wrong side of the bed.’

Thorne could feel himself growing edgier by the minute. He told himself to calm down, but it didn’t work, and walking out with Holland ten minutes later, he found it hard to control his breathing and the flush of it in his face. Sometimes, he felt fired-up coming out of a post-mortem, confused or just depressed more often than not, but he could not remember the last time he’d felt quite so bloody angry.

He had been turning his phone back on before he was out of the post-mortem room and by the time he emerged through the mortuary’s main entrance on to Avondale Road, he could see that he had three missed calls from Louise. He told Holland he’d catch him up.

It was the voice she used when she’d been crying. ‘They’ve still not done it.’

‘Christ, you’re kidding!’

‘I don’t know what to do,’ she said.

He turned away, looking across the North Circular and avoiding the stares from a couple at the bus-stop who had heard him shout. ‘What did they say to you?’

‘I can’t find anyone who can tell me what’s going on.’

‘I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,’ Thorne said.

 

 

She burst into tears as soon as she caught sight of him, pushing through the doors at the far end of the ward. He shushed her gently, drew the curtains around the bed and sat down to hold her.

‘I just want it … out of me,’ she said. ‘Do you understand?’

‘I know.’

They heard the voice of the woman in the bed opposite coming from the other side of the curtain. ‘Is everything OK?’

‘It’s fine,’ Thorne said.

‘Do you want me to get someone?’

Thorne leaned closer to Louise. ‘I’m going to get someone.’

He prowled the corridors for five minutes until he found a doctor on the next floor up and told him that something needed to be done. After shouting for a minute or so then refusing to budge while the doctor made a couple of calls, Thorne was back at Louise’s bedside with a soft-spoken, Scottish nurse. She made all the right noises, then admitted there was nothing she could do.

‘Not good enough,’ Thorne said.

‘I’m sorry, but this is standard practice.’

‘What is?’

‘Your partner’s just been unlucky, I’m afraid.’ The nurse was flicking through the paperwork she’d brought with her. She waved it in Thorne’s direction. ‘Each time the procedure has been scheduled, another case has taken priority at the last minute. Just unlucky…’

‘She was promised it would be done last night,’ Thorne said. ‘Then first thing this morning.’

Louise lay back on the pillow with her eyes closed. She looked exhausted. ‘Two hours ago they said I was next in.’

‘It’s bloody ridiculous,’ Thorne said.

The nurse consulted her paperwork again, nodding when she found an explanation. ‘Yes, well, we had someone come in with a badly broken arm, I’m afraid, so—’

‘A broken arm?’

The nurse looked at Thorne as though he were simple. ‘He was in a considerable amount of pain.’

Thorne returned the look, then pointed at Louise. ‘You think she’s enjoying herself?’

 

 

Alex was stuffing a last piece of toast into her mouth when Greg came into the kitchen. He nodded, still tucking in his shirt. She grunted, waved, and went back to the story she’d been reading in the Guardian.

‘Hope you’ve left some bread,’ Greg said, flicking on the kettle. He heard another grunt as he walked to the bread-bin, then a mumbled request for an apology as he moved to the fridge. ‘Oh, right, as if you would have scoffed it all…’ He scanned the inside of the fridge, looking in vain for a yoghurt he knew had been there the day before. Kieron, the flatmate who had moved out at the end of the previous year, had a habit of polishing off the last of the communal bread, milk or whatever, as well as eating stuff that had never been his in the first place. Now Alex was shaping up to be almost as bad. But Greg was more inclined to forgive his own sister, and she did leave the bathroom smelling a lot nicer than Kieron had done.

She pushed the paper away when he finally brought over his tea and toast and sat down. ‘You’re going in early.’

‘Twelve o’clock lecture,’ Greg said. ‘Henry the sodding second. And it’s not really what the rest of the world would call early.’

‘Feels early enough to me.’

‘What time did you get in?’

‘I don’t know,’ Alex said. ‘Not stupidly late. But a bunch of us ended up in some place in Islington where they were necking these lethal-looking vodka shots.’

They were necking?’

Alex grinned. ‘Fair enough, I necked a few.’ She pointed as Greg shook his head and slurped his tea. ‘You can’t get all big brother-ish, matey. Not with some of the things you get up to.’

Greg blushed, which annoyed him, then he got even more annoyed when Alex giggled knowingly and he blushed some more. ‘Look, you’ve only been here two weeks, that’s all I’m saying.’ He cut her off when she opened her mouth. ‘And don’t tell me to “chillax” or whatever. You’re not twelve.’

‘I’m making friends,’ she said.

‘Well, you need to pace yourself. Oh yeah, and maybe do some work.’ He struck his chest theatrically. ‘I know, mental idea…’

‘Like you said, I’ve only been here two weeks.’ She reached across, tried and failed to grab a piece of his toast. ‘And, you know … it’s drama. It’s not like there’s a lot of work to do.’

‘How thrilled was the old man when you got a place here? When you told him you were moving in with me?’

She shrugged.

‘And how pissed off would he be if he knew you were caning it every other night?’

Just when it looked as though Alex was about to shout, or storm off, she produced the same butter-wouldn’t-melt smile she’d been turning on for eighteen years. ‘You’re just jealous because you got lumbered with a proper course, with proper lectures,’ she said. ‘Henry the sodding second.’

‘Dull as fucking ditchwater,’ he said.

They both laughed, and she made another, more successful grab for the toast. Greg called her a sneaky bitch. Alex called him a tight-arse, then got up to make them both some more.

‘You going to be in the Rocket tonight?’

Alex turned from the worktop, pulled a mock-horrified face. ‘After what you just said?’

‘I’m just letting you know I’ll probably be in there.’

‘Right. Probably.’ She pointed accusingly, with a knife smeared in butter and Marmite. The Rocket complex on Holloway Road was the student union of the Metropolitan University’s north London campus. It was also home to one of the city’s trendiest clubs and until very recently had not been a place her brother had been known to frequent very often. ‘That’s three times this week.’

‘So?’

‘Making a bit of a habit of it, aren’t you?’

He shrugged. ‘The drink’s cheap.’

‘Right, so it’s not like you’ve got your eye on anyone, or anything like that?’

Greg blushed again and stood up. He told her he was running too late for more toast, that he needed to get ready. She shouted after him, told him he could eat it on the way. He shouted back: ‘Yeah, if I want to get killed…’

Five minutes later, he was wheeling his bike on to the pavement and doing his best to finish the toast Alex had thrust into his hand at the top of the stairs. That was often the way it went. However much their father thought Greg would be keeping an eye his little sister, she was the one who usually ended up doing the looking after. Fussing and checking up on him, and generally behaving like the mother they didn’t have.

As he climbed on to the bike and waited for a gap in the traffic, he glanced up and saw her waving from her bedroom window. She pressed her face against the glass like a child. He waved back and cycled away, heading for the Hornsey Road, the Emirates Stadium glorious against the grey sky ahead of him.

Greg raised a hand to wave again, in case Alex was still watching.

Unaware of the eyes on him.

On both of them.

 

FOUR

 

Though what was inside their heads remained largely a mystery to Dave Holland, he had seen the way that those directly affected by violent death could seem altered physically. It was as if they had been hollowed out by it; or, as in the case of George Walker, shrunken slightly. Walker was six two or three and thickset, but sitting opposite him in the Interview Room at Colindale station, Holland saw a man who seemed almost slight.

‘Won’t be too much longer,’ Holland said. ‘It really helps us to get everything down on tape, you know?’

The Murder Squad was based five minutes away at the Peel Centre, but the brown, three-storey building that housed the offices was no more than the administrative HQ. While investigations were orchestrated from Becke House, officers needing the use of interview rooms, custody suites or good old-fashioned cells would usually make the short journey up the road to Colindale.

‘Anything I can do,’ Walker said.

Holland nodded. He had no way of knowing what George Walker had sounded like before his wife was murdered, but now even his voice seemed small. ‘So, the day before yesterday, you came home at the usual time?’

‘Twelve forty-five, give or take.’

‘And stayed for an hour or so.’

Walker nodded, then said, ‘Yes, an hour,’ when Holland prompted him to speak for the benefit of the tape. He was a teacher at a school close to where he and his wife lived, and Holland had already established that he came home for lunch every day.

‘School meals not got any better, then?’

‘They’re pretty good actually,’ Walker said. He’d been staring at the tabletop, picking at the edge of it with a thumbnail. Now, he looked up and directly at Holland. ‘I just enjoyed going home.’

‘Wish I could do the same,’ Holland said. ‘The canteen here’s bloody atrocious—’

The door opened and Thorne walked in. Holland announced his entrance for the tape, then paused the recording while Thorne made his apologies to Walker for being late. Walker told him not to worry about it.

‘Traffic’s a nightmare,’ Thorne said.

He had popped into the Whittington en route and caught the tail-end of the Friday morning rush hour. They had finally performed the D and C the previous afternoon but had kept Louise in overnight. She had eaten an enormous breakfast and was in better spirits than at any time since she and Thorne had been told about the miscarriage. Thorne could not explain why, but it had made him oddly nervous.

‘I just want to get home now,’ she had said.

He had told her he would do his best to pick her up at lunchtime, or to let her know if there was a problem.

In the Interview Room, once Thorne had sat down, Holland quickly filled him in on what had been covered so far, and they resumed recording George Walker’s statement.

‘Tell us about when you got back after school,’ Thorne said.

Walker cleared his throat. ‘It just felt wrong the minute I came through the door,’ he said.

‘Wrong?’

‘Different…’

‘This would have been what time?’

‘Just before five,’ Walker said. ‘I run a chess club after school on a Wednesday. Otherwise it would have been earlier.’

Thorne glanced over at Holland, made sure he saw the significance, then nodded to Walker to continue.

‘I caught a whiff of something, which was … the blood, obviously. There was a vase on the floor in the hall, and water everywhere. She must have tried to fight him off, don’t you think?’

‘We’re still trying to put it all together,’ Holland said.

‘So, I was calling Emily’s name out in the hall, and then I walked into the kitchen. Well, you saw it.’

‘And you phoned us straight away, didn’t you?’ Thorne glanced down at his notes, although he knew the time very well. ‘We’ve got the call to the emergency services logged at four fifty-six. You sounded very calm.’

‘Did I? I think I was just in shock.’ Walker shook his head, breathed noisily for ten seconds, then said, ‘I can’t even remember calling.’

‘What about afterwards?’ Thorne asked. ‘Do you remember running out into the street? Knocking on your next-door neighbour’s door and shouting about the blood?’

More shaking of the head. ‘Sort of.’ Walker’s voice dropped to a whisper. ‘I can’t remember exactly what I said … shouted. I can remember my throat being sore afterwards and not knowing why. I was kneeling down with Emily by then, waiting for someone to come. It seemed to be taking ages, you know?’ The tears were coming now, but Walker did not seem bothered. He casually lowered his head and pushed them away with the heel of his hand when he needed to. ‘I really wanted to touch her,’ he said. ‘I knew I shouldn’t, because it would mess up the evidence or whatever. Seen too many of those TV shows, I think. But I just wanted to hold her hand for a few minutes. To reach inside that bag and tuck her hair behind her ear.’

Holland looked hard at Thorne until he got the nod. ‘Do you want to take a few minutes, Mr Walker?’ He pushed back his chair, mumbled something about finding some tissues.

‘Actually, I think we can leave it there,’ Thorne said.

Walker nodded, the gratitude evident in his eyes before he closed them.

As soon as Holland had stopped the tape, Thorne was out of his chair and moving towards the door. ‘Right, let’s see if we can get you a cab organised.’

Walker rose slowly to his feet. ‘The hardest thing was telling Emily’s dad,’ he said. ‘After what happened to Emily’s mother, I mean.’ He turned to look at Thorne. ‘How bloody unlucky can one family get?’

‘Sorry, I’m not with you,’ Thorne said.

Walker seemed confused. He looked at Holland, who shook his head to indicate that he was every bit as in the dark.

‘Oh, I thought you must have known,’ Walker said. ‘My wife’s mother was murdered herself, fifteen years ago. Emily’s maiden name was Sharpe.’

Thorne could do no more than say ‘sorry’ again. As a matter of course, Emily Walker’s name had been run through the CRIMINT system to see if she had a criminal history, but there was nothing on record. A tragedy in her family’s past would certainly not have been considered relevant criminal intelligence.

Walker was still looking from Thorne to Holland and back, as though he were expecting the name he had mentioned to be recognised. He reached for his jacket and, when he spoke, it was clear he was well used to what he was saying being the end of a conversation.

‘She was one of Raymond Garvey’s.’

 

 

They watched Walker’s taxi pull away, and began walking in the other direction, back towards the Peel Centre. It wasn’t quite ten yet. The morning was mild, but there was the lightest drizzle in the air.

‘I made a call before he came in,’ Holland said. ‘He was back at school by two. Didn’t leave until a quarter to five. I can talk to Hendricks again if you like, double-check to see if he’s sure about the timings.’

‘Don’t bother,’ Thorne said.

They picked up the pace a little in an effort to stay as dry as possible.

‘I was thinking about him going back to school after he’d had his lunch,’ Holland said. ‘Suddenly had this image of the killer watching him leave, marching straight up and ringing the doorbell. Emily opening it, thinking her old man had forgotten something.’

Thorne shook his head. ‘Times still don’t fit.’

‘Just had that image, you know?’

They walked on, turning left on to Aerodrome Road and falling into step within a few paces.

‘I think you were right the other night,’ Thorne said. ‘It’s somebody she knew. Not well … not necessarily, anyway. Maybe he works in a local shop, does next-door’s garden, whatever.’

‘A face she recognises.’

‘That’s all he needs to be. You heard what Walker said about if it had been a different day. Sounds like whoever killed Emily had been watching, and for a while. He knew their movements, knew when the time was right.’

‘So he targeted her?’

‘Looks that way. He wasn’t just ringing doorbells until someone answered that he liked the look of.’

‘Why Emily, though?’ Holland asked.

Thorne looked sideways at him and Holland acknowledged the stupidity of asking the question now, when they had so little to go on. When there were a thousand answers, and none at all. They both knew that the true answer, if they ever found it, would almost certainly give them their best chance of catching whoever had killed Emily Walker. At that moment, Thorne could do no better than a muttered ‘Christ knows’, before jogging across the road and walking quickly towards the main gate.

‘That’s weird though, isn’t it, this Garvey business?’ Holland was doing his best to keep up, a few feet behind Thorne. ‘Before my time, but shit … that was a big case, wasn’t it?’

Ahead of him, Thorne was waving his ID at the officer inside the control box.

‘Did you work on it?’

Half a minute later, it was Holland’s turn to wait, light rain blowing into his face, while his warrant card was checked. Thorne was already twenty feet clear of the barrier and moving across the car-park towards Becke House. He didn’t appear to have heard Holland’s question.

 

 

Thorne had worked on the Raymond Garvey investigation, though not in any significant way. He’d knocked on a few doors, been part of a fingertip-search team one night. At the time, it was the biggest investigation for a decade or more, with hundreds of detectives working to catch a man who would eventually murder seven women. There can’t have been too many officers in the Met who had not been involved in some capacity.

Inside Becke House, Thorne walked into the lift and jabbed the button for the third floor, thinking back.

He was an up-the-sergeant’s-arse, eager-to-please detective constable back then. Kentish Town CID, the station no more than five minutes’ walk from where he lived now.

The lift doors were stubbornly refusing to close, so Thorne stabbed at the button again. He was ashamed that he could remember every detail of a blue suit he used to wear back then and the number plate of the car he’d been driving around in, but not the names of Raymond Garvey’s victims.

The door finally slid shut.

Not a single one…

He told himself that it was always the way, especially with a series of killings. How many of Dennis Nilsen’s fifteen victims could he name, or Colin Ireland’s five? Could he remember any of Harold Shipman’s two hundred or more?

Out of the lift, he walked down the corridor, past the Major Incident Room and towards the small office he shared with DI Yvonne Kitson.

It was different with his own cases, of course. He could remember every name, every face; each ‘before’ and ‘after’ photograph. Her mother’s name might not have been as instantly familiar as it should have been, but Thorne knew he would never forget Emily Walker’s.

Kitson had left a note on his desk about a case that was due in court the following week and some evidence that needed chasing up. Thorne laid it to one side and pulled the computer keyboard towards him. All the way back from Colindale, he had been wondering where the Garvey case notes would have been archived. Now, he decided there was a far quicker way to do a bit of research.

Thorne hit a few keys and logged on to Google. Typed in ‘Raymond Garvey’.

There were over three hundred and fifty thousand hits.

He scrolled past the first half a dozen links, ignoring Wikipedia and something called serialkiller.com, until he found a site that was not advertising a magazine or true-crime shows on satellite TV and seemed more or less reliable. Hee looked at the list of names. Susan Sharpe, aged forty-four, was number four. She had been attacked on her way home from a gym, bludgeoned to death, as had all the other victims, and been found on a canal bank in Kensal Green, the vast mausoleums and elaborate statuary of its famous cemetery spread out alongside. Thorne clicked on the name and brought up a picture. He saw no immediate resemblance to Emily Walker, then reminded himself that he had never seen Emily alive.

Raymond Anthony Garvey had murdered seven women in four months. He might have killed many more had he not been arrested after a simple pub brawl in Finsbury Park. Had a sample of his DNA taken after that incident not matched that found on two of the victims. It was the kind of coincidence that would have crime-fiction writers accused of laziness, but good luck played a bigger part in cracking such cases than most senior police officers would care to admit.

Garvey, who always refused to talk about his motives, was given five consecutive life sentences, and was told by the judge that he would die in prison. That happened a lot sooner than anyone expected, as he was diagnosed with a brain tumour twelve years into his sentence and succumbed to it six months later.

Thorne looked again at the picture of Raymond Garvey — the bland, blissful stare of an ordinary psychopath — before highlighting the names of the women he had murdered. Just after he’d clicked PRINT, the door opened and Russell Brigstocke walked in.

The DCI dropped his sizeable backside on to the edge of Thorne’s desk and glanced at the images on the computer screen. He nudged at his glasses. ‘Holland told me about that. What are the bloody chances?’ He pushed his fingers through what had once been a pretty impressive quiff, but was now getting decidedly thin.

‘Yeah.’ Thorne knew that his own appearance had changed just as much. There was still more grey hair on one side than the other, but a lot more of it everywhere. He logged out of the website, Garvey’s face giving way to a blue screen and a Met Police logo: the reassuring words ‘Working Together for a Safer London’.

‘Thirty-six hours into this one already, Tom,’ Brigstocke said. ‘Where are we?’

The DCI could interpret Tom Thorne’s expressions and his curt body language as well as anyone. He recognised the twitch in the shoulder that meant ‘Nowhere.’ The puff of the cheeks that said, ‘Barring our killer handing himself in, you won’t be standing outside Colindale station making triumphant announcements to the press anytime soon.’

‘What’s happening with the FSS?’ Thorne asked.

The Forensic Science Service lab in Victoria was busy examining all the trace evidence gathered from the crime scene: hairs, fibres, fingerprints. They were analysing the bloodstain pattern in the hope of creating an accurate reconstruction of the crime. They were trying to identify the fragment of celluloid found clutched in Emily Walker’s hand.

‘I’m chasing,’ Brigstocke said. ‘Same as I always am. Tomorrow, with a following wind, but more likely Sunday.’

‘What about the E-fit?’

‘Have you seen it?’

Thorne nodded. The curtain-twitching neighbour had clearly not witnessed as much, or in as much detail, as he had first claimed. ‘I’m not holding my breath,’ he said.

‘Right. I don’t think it’s going to help us a great deal either, but what do I know? Jesmond wanted it out there on the hurry-up, so it’s out. It’s in the Standard today, and some of the nationals. London Tonight, too.’

Brigstocke was every bit as transparent as Thorne himself, and Thorne caught the roll of the eyes that translated as, ‘Waste of fucking time.’ Of course, Superintendent Trevor Jesmond would want the E-fit distributed as widely as possible, to show that his team were making progress. It did not seem to concern him as much as it should — with a picture of the killer that looked as though it had been drawn by a chimpanzee — that precious time and manpower would now be wasted taking, logging and filing hundreds of pointless calls, mental or plain misguided, proclaiming that the person the police were looking for was everyone from the man next door to Johnny Depp.

The superintendent’s overriding concern was always how he came across on screen or in print. He would be doing his bit to camera outside Colindale station later that day. He would dispense the simple, shocking facts, emphasising the brutality and the horror of what had been done to Emily Walker and letting it be known that any steps necessary would be taken to bring her killer to justice.

Thorne had to give the man his due. He couldn’t catch a council-tax dodger if his life depended on it, but he did righteous indignation pretty damn well.

‘It’s someone she knew,’ Thorne said. ‘Someone who’d been watching. She’d seen him around, spoken to him, whatever.’

Brigstocke nodded. ‘Let’s get bodies into every shop she went to regularly, the nearest supermarket, the gym she visited. Let’s take a good hard look at friends and workmmates. Interview all the neighbours again.’

‘Phil reckons he came prepared.’ Thorne picked up the post-mortem report that Hendricks had delivered the previous afternoon, flicked through it. ‘I’ve got a feeling he’d been “preparing” for a while.’

Brigstocke groaned. ‘How bloody long have I been doing this?’ he said. ‘And yet hearing stuff like that still depresses me.’ He eased himself up from Thorne’s desk and walked to the window. ‘I mean, I’m not saying it would be any better if her old man had caught her playing away from home and smacked her over the head with something. I know she wouldn’t be any less dead. But Jesus…’

‘It should depress you,’ Thorne said. ‘When it doesn’t—’

‘I know, time to retire.’

‘You turn into Trevor Jesmond.’

Brigstocke smiled. He picked up the piece of paper that had been spewing from the printer when he’d walked in. He looked down at the list of seven names. ‘This anything we should be looking at?’

‘Don’t see why,’ Thorne said. ‘Garvey died in prison three years ago.’

Brigstocke flapped the sheet of paper, as though he were fanning himself. ‘Just one of those freaky things.’

The DCI nodded his understanding. The pair of them had worked a case only a few months before in which a man had been beaten to death in front of his family after confronting a noisy neighbour. It transpired that twenty years earlier, and only two streets away, exactly the same thing had happened to that victim’s father.

‘One of many,’ Thorne said.

 

 

As it turned out, with a briefing that overran by twenty minutes and a Crown Prosecution Service lawyer who refused to get off the phone, lunchtime would have been a tricky time for Thorne to get away. But by then it did not matter: Louise had already called to say that she would be making her own way back to the flat. That she felt OK and needed to get out.

Driving back at the end of the day, Thorne felt nervous, as though he and Louise had had an argument. He ran through the conversations they might have when he got home, but they all went out of his head the moment he stepped into the silent flat. When he saw her lying on her side in the darkened bedroom.

‘It’s OK,’ she said. ‘I’m not asleep.’

It was only eight o’clock, but Thorne got undressed and climbed in beside her. They lay still for a while, listening to a motorbike revving up in the street outside, and a song Thorne couldn’t quite place drifting down from the flat upstairs.

‘Do you remember the Garvey killings?’ he asked.

She grunted and he wondered if he had woken her up, then she said, ‘I was at college, I think. Why?’

Thorne told her about Susan Sharpe. How a mother and daughter had been murdered, fifteen years apart. It was quiet now upstairs and Thorne still wasn’t sure what the song had been.

‘You’re doing it again,’ Louise said. ‘Trying to make me feel better.’

‘I wasn’t, I swear.’

‘And all you’ve succeeded in doing is making yourself feel old.’

Thorne laughed, for the first time in a few days. He pushed up close behind her and slid his arm across her stomach. After a few seconds he felt awkward and began to wonder if she would want it there, so he took it away again.

 

FIVE

 

As per the standard system of rotas and rest days, Thorne spent seven Saturdays out of every eight at home. Normally, a Saturday morning would be taken up with sleeping far later than usual, nipping out for a newspaper then coming home for a gloriously unhealthy breakfast. Since Louise had come into his life, these were no longer always solitary activities, and thankfully the same was true of the sex, which could occasionally be squeezed in between the fry-up and Football Focus.

This Saturday, two days after Emily Walker’s murder, all rest days had been cancelled and overtime approved where necessary. Thorne sat in his office at Becke House, not looking through statements, ignoring the reports on the desk in front of him, wondering instead if the possibility of sex had now become remote.

When would it be all right to talk about it? Just how much of a self-centred bastard was he being, even thinking about it?

He looked over to the desk opposite, where Yvonne Kitson was working considerably harder than he was. She had been taken off a domestic murder that was all but done and dusted, and drafted in to bolster the top end of the team. Thorne was grateful to have her on board. Kitson was one of the best detectives they had, her achievements that much more impressive considering her circumstances, past and present. For several years she had been a single mum of two, her marriage having collapsed after a messy affair with a senior colleague that had also resulted in her formerly smooth progress through the ranks coming to a shuddering halt.

She glanced up from her desk, saw Thorne looking. She dropped her eyes again, turned a page. ‘What?’

Once, when neither had been laid for a while and it was debatable which was the more drunk, there had been the mildest of flirtations between the two of them, but they were long past that.

‘Saturday,’ Thorne said.

Kitson scoffed: ‘Never mind the bloody Tottenham game, or a morning under the duvet with Louise, or whatever you were thinking about missing. Some of us should be watching our sons playing rugby. I’ll have to be even more of a taxi service than I am already to make up for this.’

For a few moments, Thorne thought about telling her what had happened to Louise, getting a female perspective on it. But he just smiled and went back to the reports in front of him.

A minute later, a ball of paper bounced off his desktop and on to the floor. He bent to retrieve it and stared at Kitson. She shrugged, denying all knowledge.

Thorne unwrapped what turned out to be a transcript of that morning’s calls to the Incident Room. The published E-fit had generated a good deal of attention, and while the Press Office was handling the understandable media interest, the team itself had to deal with any information from the public. Thorne and Brigstocke had clearly underestimated the extent to which the picture would inspire some of the city’s more community-minded nutcases.

‘I wouldn’t mind coming in,’ Kitson said, pointing to the sheet of paper in Thorne’s hand, ‘if I didn’t have to spend all morning sorting through that shit.’

‘Got to be done, though,’ Thorne said.

They all knew it. Everyone on the team routinely joked about procedure and bitched about paper-pushing, and 99 per cent of the time, with a primary lead as shaky as their E-fit, nothing would come from this kind of work, but you had to double- and triple-check, just in case. Nobody wanted to be the one who missed the vital piece of information tucked away in a long list of crank calls. The clue hidden in the crap. In an age where the inquiry into the inquiry was commonplace, arse-covering had become second nature. It began before the victim was cold and would continue until the judge’s gavel came down.

It didn’t stop the whingeing, though.

‘Not a single name on there more than once,’ Kitson said.

‘You’re wrong.’ Thorne ran his finger down the list, stopping to beckon Holland inside when he saw his face come around the door. ‘Three different people phoned to let us know they think it looks like the bloke who runs the garage in EastEnders.’

‘We should arrest him anyway,’ Kitson said. ‘For crimes against acting.’

Thorne looked up at Holland.

‘Had a call I think you might be interested in,’ Holland said.

‘Don’t tell me. The killer looks like someone in Emmerdale.’

Holland dropped a scrap of paper on to Thorne’s desk: a scribbled name and number. ‘He’s a DI in Leicester. Someone up there saw Jesmond on TV last night talking about the Walker murder and thought it sounded familiar.’

‘Sounded what?’

‘So, this DI was calling to check the details we didn’t give out to the press. See if they matched up with a murder they caught a few weeks back.’

‘That doesn’t sound good,’ Kitson said.

Thorne was already dialling…

Once the pleasantries were out of the way, DI Paul Brewer told Thorne that the body of Catherine Burke, a nurse aged twenty-three, had been discovered three weeks earlier in the flat she had shared with her boyfriend, on a quiet street behind Leicester City’s football ground.

She had been struck on the back of the head with a heavy ornament and then suffocated with a plastic bag.

‘It was the suffocation bit that got the old antennae twitching,’ Brewer said, the East Midlands accent not as thick as Thorne had been expecting. ‘When your superintendent mentioned it on the box. Wasn’t me that saw it, but as soon as I heard I thought it would be worth following up. You know, just to make sure.’ He sounded pleased with himself. ‘Looks like I was spot on.’

‘Three weeks ago, you said?’

‘Right.’

‘And?’

A chuckle. ‘And … brick wall, mate. We’ve got a description of a bloke she was seen talking to outside the hospital the day before, but we’ve had sweet FA off that. She was an occasional drug user, tablets mostly, nicked them from her own hospital as it turned out, but that’s led us nowhere. To be honest, it was all going stone cold until your one turned up.’

‘Stroke of luck,’ Thorne said.

Brewer said something else, but Thorne was too busy mouthing obscenities at Kitson and Holland.

‘What about forensics?’

‘That was the easy bit,’ Brewer said. ‘Looks like she scratched him when he had the bag over her head. We dug plenty of blood and skin from under her nails, so we can match the bastard up as soon as we make an arrest.’

Thorne scribbled ‘GOT DNA’ on the piece of paper and pushed it across the desk for Holland and Kitson to see.

‘You still there?’

‘So, how are we going to work this?’ Thorne asked.

‘Not a clue, mate,’ Brewer said. ‘I know it won’t be anything to do with me, so it don’t matter what I think. My guv’nor’s probably on the phone to your guv’nor as we speak, carving it up. Politics, budgets, all that shit. We just do what we’re told, right?’

‘Right…’

‘Just so you know … I’m not bothered about territory, anything like that,’ Brewer said. ‘No need to worry about any of that crap. We can sort out who gets the credit once we’ve caught him, fair enough?’

Thorne knew that, whatever opinion he was rapidly forming about DI Paul Brewer — Job-pissed and probably disliked by all his colleagues — he was going to have to get along with him. He thanked him for his help, praising his initiative and insisting that the credit would most definitely go where it was due. He called him ‘Paul’ as often as he could manage without gagging, promising him a night on the town when they eventually got together and trying to sound pleased when Brewer promised to take him up on the offer.

‘It’s from an X-ray, by the way,’ Brewer said.

‘What is?’

‘The piece of plastic in her hand.’ Brewer sounded pleased with himself again. He waited. ‘There was a piece of plastic, right?’

‘An X-ray of what?’

‘They can’t tell us that just yet. There’s a few letters and numbers on it but they can’t make sense of them. If we’re lucky, your piece might help.’

When Thorne looked up he saw the expressions of confusion from Holland and Kitson who had only heard his side of the conversation.

‘X-ray?’ Kitson whispered.

Thorne put a hand over the mouthpiece, told them he’d be another minute. Brewer was saying he was on his way into a meeting but that he’d try to call again later. That his was a large Scotch and water.

‘Just before you go,’ Thorne said. ‘Is Catherine’s mother still alive?’

‘What?’

‘Her mother.’

‘No. Both parents dead, and an elder brother who was killed in a car accident a few years ago. Took us a while to trace a blood relative.’

‘How did she die?’

‘Sorry?’

‘How did the mother die, and when?’

‘No idea,’ Brewer said.

‘Could you find out and get back to me?’

‘I suppose so.’

‘Cheers, Paul, I appreciate it. What kind of Scotch do you like?’

‘What’s all this about?’

‘Probably nothing,’ Thorne said. He looked up and locked eyes with Kitson. ‘Just covering my arse.’

 

 

Brewer had phoned back a few minutes before the briefing was due to start, and apologised for taking so long. He told Thorne that he’d spoken to Catherine Burke’s boyfriend, who had confirmed that her mother had died of cancer when Catherine was a young girl. Thorne had thanked him, unable to decide if he felt disappointed or relieved.

‘Oh, and by the way, any single malt will do nicely,’ Brewer had said.

Thorne passed the news on to Brigstocke outside the door of the Briefing Room as the troops were filing in. The DCI glanced up from the notes he had been working on for the last hour.

‘Worth a try,’ he said.

Thorne watched as unfamiliar faces drifted past; nodded to one or two of those drafted in quickly from other teams. ‘So, how’s this going to pan out?’

‘We take it from here,’ Brigstocke said.

‘Really?’

‘Well, no, not officially, but in terms of money and manpower we’re way more capable of doing it than they are. So, off the record, we get to run things.’

‘And off the record, what happens if we mess up?’

‘Then, obviously, it was always a fifty-fifty operation and the blame for any operational glitches gets shared out equally.’

‘Sounds fair,’ Thorne said.

Inside, it was standing room only. Muttered conversation no more than the preferred alternative to silence. One phone call had changed the complexion of the case entirely and suddenly the atmosphere was as charged as Thorne could remember in a while.

There weren’t too many like this.

Loss of life was never treated lightly, not if you looked beyond the banter and the off-colour jokes to what was in the eyes of the men and women at a crime scene. Thorne had met clever murderers and profoundly stupid ones. Those who had lost it and lashed out and those who had enjoyed themselves. Some had made him angry enough to come close to murder himself, while for others he had felt nothing but pity.

There were as many shades of killer as there were ways to end a life, but while it was Thorne’s job to catch them, the murderer was always taken seriously.

And when he murdered more than once…

‘Right, thanks for gathering so quickly,’ Brigstocke said. ‘There’s a lot to get through.’

From the back of the room, Thorne watched the notebooks open, heard fifty ballpoints click. He glanced at the door as a handful of late-comers hurried in, half expecting to see Superintendent Trevor Jesmond make a well-timed and inspirational appearance.

‘As some of you know already, we received a call this morning that has changed the focus of the Emily Walker inquiry. I’ve spent most of the day since then on the phone to various senior officers from the Leicestershire constabulary…’

While Brigstocke spoke, Thorne thought about control; the exercise of it. Emily Walker’s killer had been meticulous in his preparation, in waiting to make his move and in the use of the bag to suffocate her. Now, there was every reason to believe that the same man was responsible for the death of Catherine Burke. She too had been discovered at home, with no sign of forced entry, so it seemed likely that he had planned her murder every bit as carefully as Emily Walker’s.

A man who waited and watched and then killed twice in three weeks.

‘So, the investigations into these two killings will proceed separately for the time being,’ Brigstocke said. ‘With as much cooperation between ourselves and the boys in Leicester as is required…’

Thorne felt his mouth go dry. Twice in three weeks … as far as they knew.

‘…and if, as seems likely, they turn out to be linked, then we will have the necessary protocols in place.’

By and large, the briefing was about practicalities from then on, as Brigstocke outlined the way forward. Neither force would want to risk the other screwing up their investigations, so it had been agreed that each would have ‘read only’ access to the other’s HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System) account. As the Met team’s office manager, DS Sam Karim would be responsible for all case information inputted into their account and for liaising daily with his opposite number in Leicester.

‘Not a problem,’ Karim said.

‘Especially not if his other half ’s a “she”,’ someone added.

It was a ‘delicate’ situation, Brigstocke said, and ‘potentially fraught’, but he trusted his team could handle it.

If his team needed any more reasons to try to make things work, Brigstocke waited until the end to give them the best one of all. He nodded, then turned to the screen behind him as the lights were flicked off. Many in the room had seen the picture of Emily Walker, but none save Brigstocke and his DIs had seen the photo of Catherine Burke that had been emailed across a few hours earlier.

The pictures had been taken from different angles, but projected next to one another, the similarity was evident … and horrifying. Though the limbs were splayed differently and there was a little more blood in one bag than the other, Thorne guessed that all eyes in the room would be drawn, eventually, to the faces. To the shock and desperation etched into each woman’s chalk-white skin, just visible through plastic fogged with her dying breath.

When he had finished talking, Brigstocke left the lights out and waited for each officer to walk out past the pictures on the screen.

Thorne was the last to leave.

‘They’re nothing like each other physically,’ he said. Brigstocke turned and the two detectives stood in the semi-dark, staring at the screen. ‘So, if we’re looking for a connection, it’s not like he’s got a type.’

If it’s the same killer,’ Brigstocke said.

‘You think it might not be?’

‘I’m just saying we don’t know for sure.’

‘Come on, Russell, look at them…’

Brigstocke gave it a few more moments, then turned away, walked across the room and switched the lights back on. ‘The forensics report came in,’ he said. ‘I haven’t had a chance to go through it properly, but they’re confirming that the celluloid fragment is a piece cut out from an X-ray.’ He continued before Thorne could ask the obvious question. ‘No, they don’t know what it is either, but there are some very decent prints on it and they’re not Emily’s. We’ve got DNA, too. Some hairs on her sweater. Might not be the killer’s, of course, but we’ve eliminated the husband, so if our sample matches the one from Catherine Burke…’

‘They’ll match,’ Thorne said.

‘Sounds like you’re counting on it.’

‘He’s got plans, this bloke,’ Thorne said. ‘It’s probably the only way we’re going to catch him.’

‘As long as we do.’

Thorne leaned back against the wall and stared at the dozens of empty chairs. Already the men and women who had just left them would be settling down at computers and picking up phones; doing everything that could reasonably be done. But Thorne was beginning to sense that real progress was going to depend on the man they were after giving them something more to work with.

‘I might be wrong,’ Thorne said. ‘It might be piss-easy. One look at the stuff these Leicester boys have got and everything could get sorted.’

‘Christ, I hope so,’ Brigstocke said.

Thorne hoped so too, but he could not shake the feeling that this was one of those cases where a break would mean another body.

 

SIX

 

Thorne picked up a takeaway from the Bengal Lancer on his way home. He hadn’t bothered phoning ahead with the order, had looked forward to the cold bottle of Kingfisher, the complimentary poppadoms and the chat with the manager while he was waiting.

Louise was slumped in front of some celebrity ice-skating programme when he got back. She seemed happy enough, a fair way into a bottle of red wine.

‘Every cloud,’ she said. She raised her glass as though she were toasting something. ‘Nice to have a drink again.’

Thorne went through to the kitchen, began dishing up the food. He shouted through to the living room, ‘You should,’ then pushed the empty cartons down into the bin.

When he turned round, Louise was standing in the doorway. ‘Should what?’

‘Should … have a drink … if you want. Relax a bit.’

‘Get pissed, you mean?’

Thorne licked sauce off his fingers, stared at her. ‘I didn’t mean anything, Lou…’

She walked back into the living room and, after a moment, he followed her with the plates. They sat on the floor with their backs against the sofa, eating off their laps. Thorne poured himself what was left of the wine; a little over half a glass.

‘Whoever killed the woman in Finchley,’ he said. ‘Looks like he’s done it before.’

Louise chewed for a few more seconds. ‘That Garvey thing you told me about?’

‘Well, that girl, yeah. She’s not his first.’

‘Shit…’

‘Right, all I need.’

She shrugged, swallowed. ‘Might be exactly what you need.’

The food was as good as always: rogan josh and a creamy mutter paneer; mushroom bhaji, pilau rice and a peshwari nan to share. Louise ate quickly, helping herself to the lion’s share of the bread. Almost done, she moved her fork slowly through the last few grains of yellow rice. ‘Sounds like you’re going to be busy.’

Thorne glanced across, searching in vain for something in her face that might give him a clue as to how she felt about it. He hedged his bets. ‘It’s a hell of a big team, so we’ll have to see.’

‘OK…’

‘Listen, shall I open some more wine?’

‘I really don’t mind.’

Thorne looked again and saw nothing to contradict what she’d said. He carried the plates back to the kitchen and fetched another bottle. They settled down on the sofa and watched TV in silence for a few minutes, Louise laughing more readily than Thorne when a former glamour model went sprawling on the ice. Once the show had finished, Thorne flicked through the channels, finally settling on a repeat of The Wild Geese, a film he had always loved. They watched Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris charging about in the African bush, the three just about believable as ageing mercenaries.

‘I talked to Phil,’ Thorne said. ‘I meant to say.’

‘Did you tell him what happened?’

‘I didn’t have to.’ Thorne waited to see if she would pick up on it, say something about having confided in Hendricks about the pregnancy. ‘He said you should call him, you know, if you want to talk.’

‘I spoke to him last night,’ she said.

‘Oh, right.’

‘He was really sweet.’

On the television, Harris was begging Burton to shoot him before he was hacked to death by the enemy, but the shouting and gunfire were little more than background noise.

‘Why did you tell him you were pregnant?’ Thorne asked. ‘I thought we’d agreed to keep it a secret.’

Louise stared into her glass. ‘I knew he’d be chuffed.’

‘We decided we wouldn’t, though, just in case this happened.’

‘Right, well, it has happened, OK? So arguing about whether I should or shouldn’t have told anyone is a bit pointless now, don’t you think?’ She shuffled along the sofa, a foot or so away from him, and lowered her voice. ‘Christ, it’s not like Phil’s going to run around announcing it.’

There were a few grains of rice and some crumbs on the carpet. Thorne inched away in the other direction and started picking them up, collecting them in his palm.

‘I honestly wouldn’t have minded if you’d told anyone,’ Louise said.

‘I did think about it.’

‘Who would you have told?’

Thorne smiled. ‘Probably Phil.’

They moved back to each other and Thorne asked if she’d mind if he turned off the TV and put a CD on. Normally she might have rolled her eyes and insisted that it was one of hers, or repeated a joke she’d heard from Holland or Hendricks about Thorne’s dubious taste in music. Tonight she was happy enough to nod and stretch out. Thorne put on a Gram Parsons anthology and returned to the sofa, lifted up Louise’s legs and slid in underneath. They listened to ‘Hearts on Fire’ and ‘Brass Buttons’, poured out what was left of the wine.

‘So, what did Phil say?’

‘Stuff you’d expect, really,’ Louise said. ‘How there’s usually a good reason for these things and how the body knows what it’s doing. Knows when there’s something wrong.’ She took a healthy slurp of wine and was struggling suddenly to keep a straight face.

‘What?’

‘He said it might well have been because the baby was going to look like you.’ She was laughing now. ‘That a miscarriage was the preferred option.’

‘Cheeky bastard.’

‘He made me laugh,’ she said, closing her eyes. ‘I needed that.’

She began to drift off soon after that and Thorne was not too far behind. He was sound asleep before ten-thirty, with Gram and Emmylou singing ‘Brand New Heartache’, the clink of cutlery from the kitchen as Elvis licked the plates clean, and Louise’s feet in his lap.

 

 

The band playing at the Rocket earlier that evening had been fantastic, easily as good as any of the so-called indie bands Alex had heard in the charts recently. They had something to say, and decent songs, and there was a bit more about them than the right kind of skinny jeans and nice arses. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the guitarist was a dead ringer for the lead singer from Razorlight…

She loved the heat and the noise; how it felt being in a crowd. She’d been soaked in sweat each time she’d gone outside for a cigarette, and shivering by the time she’d finished it. Afterwards, when the band had packed up, they’d set up some decks and the dance music had started. Some of her friends had stayed on, and were still there as far as she knew, but she’d been about ready to head home by then.

What was it Greg had said about caning it?

She pushed open the door to the flat and listened for voices.

Alex had seen her brother earlier in the bar, but only for a few minutes. Long enough for him to tell her he’d rather die than watch a band called The Bastard Thieves, and for her to clock the figure with whom he was exchanging the lingering, lustful stares. There’d been no sign of him once the gig had finished, but she wasn’t surprised.

She guessed he’d decided to get an early night.

There were lights on upstairs, but she couldn’t hear anything and wondered if perhaps she’d interrupted something. If they’d heard her coming in and were lying there in Greg’s bed, giggling and whispering to each other.

She climbed the stairs, singing softly to herself and keeping a good grip of the handrail. At the top, she threw her coat across the banister then stood there for a few moments, pissed and stupidly gleeful.

Then she crept along the corridor to Greg’s door.

There was no light coming from underneath. She pressed her ear to the flaking wood, but couldn’t hear anything: no giggles and certainly no creaking bed-springs. She reached down and slowly turned the handle. The door was locked.

Alex turned and walked back towards the kitchen, her steps not quite as gentle as she thought they were, trying to decide if she could be bothered making the cheese on toast she was suddenly craving.

She felt genuinely pleased for Greg, and hoped, even if it turned out to be no more than a one-night stand, that he at least enjoyed himself. That he took full advantage.

Her brother did not get lucky very often.

 

MY JOURNAL

 

28 September


I’m tired, of course, more or less all the time, because there’s an awful lot of rushing about, keeping all the balls in the air, but when each new challenge has been successfully met, when a tick goes next to a name, there’s a buzz which makes me forget how wiped out I am and makes every ounce of blood, sweat and tears worth it.

And there’s been plenty of all three!

I was thinking earlier about something my father said. He told me once that setting goals and achieving them had been the only thing that had got him through some of the tougher times towards the end. Reading a book all the way through, finishing a crossword, whatever. Obviously, bearing in mind his situation, they were small things, things which the rest of the world would take for granted, but they meant a hell of a lot to him at that time. These goals I’ve set for myself are rather grander, I can see that. A bit more difficult to set up and pull off. But, Christ, the feeling when it all comes together is like nothing on earth. After it’s done — even though I’m already thinking about the other places I need to be and the people I need to be when I get there — I just feel so fired-up and full of it. So desperate to get back and get the words down, to describe how it all went, that I’m scribbling away on these pages before I’ve even bothered to wash off the blood.



‘Journal’, not ‘diary’, and that’s deliberate. A collection of thoughts and ideas and reflections on this weird bloody world. How we end up where we are. Something to be read one day and hopefully enjoyed. Not just what I had for breakfast or watched on TV or any of that.



The brother and sister thing could not have gone a lot better. Students have it pretty bloody easy, if you ask me. I know they moan about paying back loans and all that, but most of them seem happy enough to spend every night in the bar getting wasted. It’s an easier life than most, I reckon. Actually, the brother wasn’t much of a party animal, not like some of them, but after a while it wasn’t the drink he was coming back for anyway.

He wasn’t hard to tempt!

I could see straight away what he’d be attracted to. Just holding the stare for a few seconds longer than normal. The whole ‘bit of rough’ thing. By the time he plucked up the courage to come over and say anything, it was a done deal and we were on the way back to his place quickly enough after that.

The sister had made breakfast for the two of us. I found the tray outside his door afterwards. That was sweet, I have to admit. She knocked first, then I heard the door open and the slap of her bare feet on the stripped floorboards.

He was face down and I was lying across the bed, naked but with the sheet covering the things she didn’t need to see. I knew she’d stopped, was taking it all in, trying to make sense of what she was seeing, work out what had happened. It was really hard to stay still, to control my breathing as much as I needed to.

I heard her say her brother’s name and ‘Oh my God’ a few times. Whisper it.

She went to her brother first and touched him, his shoulder or arm. I heard her breath catch and she started to cry and, when I knew she was looking down at me, I opened my eyes.

Bang! Like a dead man coming back to life.

I stared straight up into her baby blues, all wet and big as saucers. She opened her mouth to scream then, sucked in a nice big breath, but my hand was on her neck quick enough to squeeze and stop it.

By the time I was out of the bedroom the tea was cold and I didn’t take more than a bite or two of the toast. I was enjoying the thought of them getting all worked up about DNA from the spit and teeth marks in the toast, all that.

None of it will matter in the end.

 

SEVEN

 

Like all other officers, Thorne was told not to leave important documentation in plain view when he was away from the office. Ancillary staff were instructed not to interfere with workstations while cleaning. However, as neither party adhered particularly closely to best practice, Thorne spent the first half hour of his Monday morning at Becke House searching for several vital scraps of barely intelligible scribble, then carefully reorganising his desktop into the shambolic clutter of paper that passed for a filing system, albeit one that collapsed if someone left a window open.

Or shut the door too quickly.

‘Shit!’

‘Sorry,’ Kitson said. She walked to her desk, smiling as she watched Thorne bend down to pick up the papers that had been blown to the floor. ‘I don’t know, maybe if you used staples or paperclips?’ She eased off her jacket and dropped her handbag, then continued as though addressing a young child or a very stupid dog. ‘Or went completely crazy and typed things up. On. Your. Computer.’

Thorne groaned as he straightened up and again as he dropped back into his chair. ‘You’re a bloody genius,’ he said.

‘It’s just common sense.’ Kitson took the lid from the takeaway coffee she had brought in with her, spooned the froth into her mouth. ‘Unfortunately, most men aren’t exactly blessed with too much of that.’

‘Oh, right,’ Thorne said. ‘Are we talking about me or Ian?’ The name was as much as Thorne knew about the boyfriend Kitson had been seeing for several months, but after her much-discussed fall from grace, he could hardly blame her for keeping her private life as private as possible. ‘Poor sod screwed up over the weekend, did he?’ Her smile told Thorne he was right on the money.

‘I’m just saying, if women ran things…’

‘Be better, would it?’

‘…the world wouldn’t be in such bloody chaos.’

‘Except once a month,’ Thorne said. ‘When things would go extremely tits up.’

Kitson’s smile widened around the plastic spoon. ‘How was your Sunday, smart-arse?’

Thorne had spent most of the previous day alone, which had suited him well enough. Louise had driven down to see her parents in Sussex and although Thorne got on perfectly well with both of them, she hadn’t bothered to ask if he wanted to come along. If Hendricks was right, and Louise had told her mum about the pregnancy, she probably preferred to be on her own when she broke the news that there no longer was one.

He had not seen the need to ask.

He had made himself a toasted ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, then watched Spurs grind out a piss-poor goalless draw against Manchester City. Louise got home just before he had the chance to be bored all over again by Match of the Day 2 and they spent what was left of the evening arguing about when she was going back to work.

She had rung her office from the hospital that first afternoon, telling them she had a stomach bug, and had decided that four days off sick was more than enough. Thorne disagreed, said he thought she needed longer. Louise told him that it was her body and her decision to make, that she felt as fine as she was ever fucking-well going to, and that she was going back first thing on Monday.

Thorne had left an hour earlier than usual this morning, to beat the traffic and to avoid a repeat of the argument. He looked up at the clock on the wall above Kitson’s desk. Louise would be getting to Scotland Yard, where the Kidnap Unit was based, around now.

My body, my decision…’

He dropped his eyes, nodded at Kitson. ‘My Sunday was pretty quiet,’ he said.

 

 

Once the team had gathered for the morning briefing, it quickly became apparent that others connected to the twin inquiries had been considerably busier than Tom Thorne over the previous thirty-six hours.

‘We’ve been able to match the DNA sample gathered from beneath the fingernails of Catherine Burke in Leicester to that taken from hairs on Emily Walker’s clothing. So we’re now officially looking for the same individual in connection with both of these murders.’ Russell Brigstocke took a moment, looked from face to face.

Said, ‘One killer.’

Karim moved his fist from beneath his chin and raised a finger. ‘Are we releasing this?’ he asked.

‘Not yet,’ Brigstocke said.

‘And we know the Leicester lot won’t, do we?’

‘They know they’re not supposed to.’ Brigstocke shrugged. ‘Look, an inquiry like this means there’s obviously double the chance of something being leaked. Some idiot in uniform out to impress a reporter he’s trying to get into bed, whatever.’ He raised his hands to quiet the predictable reaction. ‘So, all we can do is try to keep the lid on at our end. We all know how the press works, how mental things can get if they catch a sniff of a serial killer.’ He scanned the faces again, pausing for a second or two when he reached Thorne’s, before carrying on.

Thorne knew that Brigstocke was at least half right. The tabloids would certainly go to town. While the broadsheets would use the phrase sparingly and probably use inverted commas, the red-tops would show no such restraint. Same with TV: the BBC would at least want to be seen to avoid sensationalism, while for the likes of Sky News and Channel Five those two words would become something of a mantra.

He also knew very well why Brigstocke had sought him out to push home his point. He guessed that, were he to Google his own name, he would find it cropping up on more than one of those websites he had come across the previous week. His name, alongside those of the men and women he had hunted.

Palmer. Nicklin. Bishop.

One who took the lives of strangers because he was afraid not to; a man who got others to murder for him; a killer whose unluckiest victim did not die at all…

Thorne’s mind was yanked back from its wandering as the lights went out and an image appeared on the screen.

‘The FSS in Leicester sent us the fragment of X-ray found on Catherine Burke’s body.’ Brigstocke pointed up at the screen. ‘And we can see how it fits alongside the piece that Emily Walker was holding.’ The small black pieces of celluloid had been blown up, and though it was still not clear what had been X-rayed, the magnification clearly showed where the full-sized image had been cut — a jagged line that almost disappeared when they were pushed together. ‘The fact that the killer left these for us to find would indicate that he wants us to piece them together. Although, as yet, we’re none the wiser about these.’ He pointed to a barely legible series of letters and numbers that ran in three lines along the top of each piece, then nodded to the back of the room.

The slide changed and an image appeared showing the conjoined sequence of letters and numbers magnified still further:

VEY48
ADD
PHONY

‘Write them down,’ Brigstocke said. He watched as eyes dropped to notebooks all around the room. ‘Now, there are obviously pieces missing on either side…’

Next to Thorne, Kitson scribbled and mumbled, ‘Like a jigsaw puzzle.’

‘Except we don’t have a box with the picture on,’ Thorne said.

‘Right, let’s crack on.’ Brigstocke took one last look at the screen. ‘But if anyone fancies doing some major arse-licking and spending every minute of their spare time trying to figure that out for us, I’ll be extremely grateful.’

‘Better than a bloody sudoku,’ Karim said.

Brigstocke smiled. ‘Not that anyone’s going to have any spare time, you understand.’

As exaggerated groans broke out either side of him, Thorne stared, unblinking, at the picture. The sequence of numbers and letters.

As yet, we’re none the wiser…’

He imagined the killer working with nail scissors, his face creased in concentration. Pictured him later sweating and bloodstained, carefully laying each piece into a victim’s palm and folding the dead fingers around it.

There are obviously pieces missing…’

Thorne stared at the gaps.

 

 

Half an hour later, when the team had dispersed, Thorne and Kitson wandered across to Brigstocke’s office for a less formal briefing. For the DCI, daily sessions like this were a chance to catch up with senior members of his team and talk about ways to take the inquiry forward. To air grievances, or talk through ideas someone might be too embarrassed to suggest in a larger meeting. A year or two earlier, the cigarettes would have come out; before that, back in the days of Cortinas and fitting up Irishmen, the secret stash of Scotch or vodka.

When Thorne and Kitson arrived, the door to Brigstocke’s office was open. He was on the phone, but as soon as he saw them, he beckoned them inside and motioned for Kitson to shut the door.

Thorne saw the expression on Brigstocke’s face and did not bother to sit down. He had a good idea what was being talked about when the DCI said, ‘You’re sure, because this one sounds different.’ He knew, by the time Brigstocke was talking about pieces of plastic and press blackouts.

Thorne exchanged a look with Kitson, and waited.

Brigstocke hung up and let out a heartfelt groan on a long, tired breath.

‘Another piece of the jigsaw?’ Thorne asked.

The blood had still not returned to Russell Brigstocke’s face. ‘Two of them,’ he said.

 

EIGHT

 

The bodies of Gregory and Alexandra Macken, aged twenty and eighteen, had been discovered just after 9.30 a.m. by the landlord of their rented flat in Holloway — an Iranian named Dariush — who had come round to fix a leaking radiator. They were informally identified by the elderly woman in the flat downstairs, who claimed to have heard them coming home on Saturday, two nights earlier, but had not seen them since.

‘They came back at different times, and there were definitely two male voices earlier on.’ She was very insistent about that, while also making it clear that she didn’t like to stick her nose into other people’s business. Later, when she was tearful, she said, ‘Nicer than your average students.’ She made sure the uniformed officer wrote that down. ‘Didn’t make a racket and always said hello. Even fed my cat when I went to stay with my sister.’

Both victims were found dead in the larger of the flat’s two bedrooms. Gregory was discovered naked on the bed, while his sister, who was wearing pyjamas and a dressing-gown, was found on the floor. Both had slivers of dark plastic in their hands, and head wounds that were clearly visible through blood-spattered plastic bags.

Within an hour, the CSI team had set to work. A uniformed WPC from the local station did her best to comfort Mr Dariush in preparation for taking his statement, while a family liaison officer was sent to talk to the next of kin and inform them that they would be required to identify the bodies formally the following day.

If they felt up to it…

‘I never understand why anyone would choose to do that,’ Thorne said. ‘I mean, most of us have to do it at one time or another, but why would you sign up for a job where all you do is deal with other people’s misery? Where you have to … absorb it?’

‘Because you’re empathetic?’

‘Because you’re what?’

‘You give a toss.’

‘All the time, though?’ Thorne shook his head and swallowed a mouthful of coffee. ‘I’d rather face somebody with a gun.’

‘You should think about retraining,’ Hendricks said. ‘The dead ones are no bother at all.’

It was almost six o’clock. After more than seven hours at the crime scene, Thorne and Hendricks had left the flat as evening fell and walked the few hundred yards to a coffee bar on the Hornsey Road, to kill time while they waited for the bodies to be brought out.

‘How much longer has the brother been dead?’

They had taken a corner table without needing to discuss it, both well used to staying as far away from other customers as possible whenever they found themselves in a bar or restaurant and there was shop to be talked.

‘Ten, twelve hours, maybe,’ Hendricks said. ‘The sister’s been dead around a day, so he would have been killed more like thirty-six hours ago.’

‘So, Saturday night and Sunday morning?’

Hendricks nodded and took a slurp of tea. ‘Good film that. When Albert Finney was still gorgeous.’

‘You think he’s gay?’ Thorne asked.

‘Albert Finney?’

Thorne ignored his friend and waited. He had been thinking about what the downstairs neighbour had said and was working out a timeline. The girl had not been killed because she had interrupted someone in the act of murdering her brother.

The killer had waited for her.

‘Look, I’ll be able to tell you if anything sexual went on tomorrow,’ Hendricks said. ‘Who did what to who, and for how long. Macken was definitely gay, if that helps.’

‘Gaydar work on corpses, does it?’

‘He had Armistead Maupin and Edmund White on his bookshelves and Rufus Wainwright on his CD player.’

Thorne had heard of Rufus Wainwright. ‘I’ll take your word for it.’

‘The killer might well be gay too,’ Hendricks said. ‘But if you ask me, he’s whatever he needs to be. Does whatever he has to do to get through the front door.’

‘Then whatever he has to do once he’s inside.’ Thorne finished his coffee, spoke as much to himself as Hendricks: ‘He … adapts.’

‘I’m not sure we’ll ever know exactly what happened,’ Hendricks said. ‘How he got the girl in there, whether he was hiding. But this time he brought two plastic bags with him.’

‘Two bags, but just one blunt instrument,’ Thorne said. They had found a heavy glass bowl by the side of the bed. There was hardened candle-wax in the bottom of it and what looked like brain-matter and dried blood caked across the underside. ‘He plans things carefully and he thinks on his feet.’

Hendricks nodded. ‘He’s good at this.’

A waitress came over and asked if they would like more drinks. Hendricks said that he was fine, but Thorne ordered another coffee, happy enough to sit there for a while.

‘What does he do for twelve hours?’ he asked.

‘What does who do?’

‘Our man, after he’s killed the boy.’

‘Maybe he sleeps,’ Hendricks said. ‘Reads a book. Has a wank.’ He shrugged. ‘I know what it looks like inside these nutters’ heads, but don’t ask me what goes on in there.’

Thorne leaned back in his chair. ‘Has a wank?’

Hendricks grinned. ‘A lot of these are sexual, right?’

Some were, certainly, but Thorne had already decided that these killings were not sexually motivated, and not only because of a lack of evidence. A violent death was never treated as something ordinary, but when it was about sex or revenge or money, there could at least be some level of understanding. When it was about none of these things was when it got scary.

And Thorne was starting to feel afraid.

They both started at the sudden banging on the window, turned and saw a drunk who had tottered past once already, pressing his big red face against the glass. Thorne looked away but Hendricks began to smile and waved at the man. The waitress, who was hovering at a nearby table, apologised and moved towards the door, but the drunk, having blown one final kiss at his new best friend, was already lurching away along the pavement.

Thorne stared across the table.

Hendricks grinned and turned up his palms. ‘Like I said, empathy…’

There was another knock at the window, and this time Thorne turned to see Dave Holland on his way in. Thorne tried to finish his coffee quickly as Holland reached the table. ‘They bringing them out, then?’

‘No, but you might want to get back over there anyway,’ Holland said. ‘Martin Macken’s arrived and he’s kicking up a fuss.’ He looked at the coffee in Thorne’s hand as though he could have done with a strong one himself. ‘The father.’

The road had been sealed off to traffic, causing considerable congestion in the surrounding streets, which was exacerbated by drivers slowing down at either end of the road to rubberneck. Had there been a match at the Emirates Stadium, a huge area of north London could easily have been reduced to gridlock.

Outside the Mackens’ flat the street was nose-to-tail with police and CSI vehicles, so the blue Saab driven by the family liaison officer had pulled up opposite, between the generator lorry and a small catering van dispensing sandwiches and hot drinks.

Thorne figured that the Saab was the car he was looking for, as that was where the noise was coming from. As he and the others neared it, he could see a young, plain-clothes officer and several others in uniforms trying to mollify a man who was screaming and fighting to get across the road.

The man he guessed was Martin Macken.

Twenty feet from the car, Thorne took Hendricks to one side and told him to get back inside the flat and delay the removal of the bodies. As Hendricks walked quickly across the road, Thorne introduced himself to Martin Macken and said how sorry he was.

Macken could not possibly have heard over the terrible noise he was making and, after trying again, Thorne could do no more than stand by and wait for him to draw breath or drop dead with the effort. The man was fifty or so and had clearly looked after himself, but now he was coming apart in front of Thorne’s eyes. Hair that would normally have been kept neatly swept back was flying back and forth across his face as he raged and the tendons were rigid in his neck. His lips were thin and white, spittle-flecked. His eyes darted, wild and bloodshot, as he strained towards the house opposite and howled for his children.

‘Please, Mr Macken…’

Suddenly, he seemed distracted by movement at the front door and stopped struggling. Thorne gave the nod and moved forward, while the officers, each of whom had been staring at his own shoes while using the minimum of force to restrain the man, stepped back.

‘I’m Detective Inspector Thorne, Mr Macken.’

Red-faced and breathing heavily, Macken pointed at the figure moving to the front door of the house where his children had lived. ‘Who’s that?’

Thorne swallowed as he watched Hendricks disappear inside. That’s the man who’ll be cutting up your children in the morning. ‘It’s just one of the team, sir. Everyone’s doing all that they can.’

Macken’s gaze moved to the first-floor windows, a moan rising from the back of his throat. The men in uniform tensed, as though he might try to rush across the road at any moment. When it became clear that he would not, the liaison officer, a Scottish DS named Adam Strang, moved up to Thorne’s shoulder.

‘I tried to tell him to stay where he was,’ Strang said, ‘That we wouldn’t need him until tomorrow, but he wasn’t having any of it. He just marched out of the house and went and sat in the back of the car. I had to go back in and switch the lights off…’

Thorne nodded his understanding and took another step closer to Macken. ‘Why don’t you get back in the car, sir?’

Without taking his eyes from the window, Macken shook his head.

‘Don’t you think you’d be better off at home?’

‘I want to see my kids.’ The man’s voice was low and hoarse, well-educated.

‘I’m afraid that’s not possible just yet.’ Thorne put a hand on his arm. ‘Why not let us take you back to…’ He looked around.

‘Kingston,’ Strang said.

‘Someone can stay with you and … your wife, is it?’ From the corner of his eye, Thorne saw Strang shaking his head, but it was too late.

Macken snapped his head round and stared hard at Thorne. His mouth fell open as though a dreadful image had suddenly been recalled and there was something desperate in his eyes; a plea, a prayer. ‘Not after Liz,’ he said. ‘Not after what happened to Elizabeth.’

Thorne looked at Strang.

‘Mr Macken’s wife, I think, sir.’ Strang lowered his voice. ‘He’s been banging on about this all the way from Kingston.’

‘Jesus, no. Jesus, Jesus…’

‘Is your wife all right, Mr Macken?’

‘Partner, not wife. We never saw the need to get married.’

‘What happened to her?’

‘Liz was killed,’ Macken said, simple and sad. ‘Fifteen years ago. Murdered, like her children.’

Thorne had felt it begin as soon as he’d asked the question and seen the look on Macken’s face. The tingle, feathering the skin at the nape of his neck, starting to spread before Macken had even finished speaking.

Somewhere behind him, he heard Holland mutter, ‘Bloody hell-fire. ’

The fact that they had never married explained why ‘Macken’ had not registered with Thorne earlier in the day; the children’s surname taken from their father and not shared with their dead mother. Now, he remembered the seven names on the list of Raymond Garvey’s victims: ‘Elizabeth O’Connor’ had been third from the top.

Thorne spoke her killer’s name quietly, and could only watch as Martin Macken’s face collapsed in on itself and he fell back, moaning, against the side of the car. ‘Jesus … Jesus … Jesus…’

Thorne was already reaching for his phone and walking away fast, aware of Strang calling after him, asking what he should do about Mr Macken. Scrolling through the phone’s contact list, he marched past Holland, told him he’d better get in touch with his girlfriend to let her know he was going to be home very late.

Then Holland was shouting after him as well.

It was easy enough getting through to the Incident Room in Leicester, but it took some cajoling, then a minute or two’s concentrated shouting and swearing, to get Paul Brewer’s home number.

‘In a hurry to arrange that drink?’ Brewer asked.

‘I’m coming up to Leicester tonight,’ Thorne said. ‘And I want to talk to Catherine Burke’s boyfriend. I need you to sort that out for me.’

‘Sort it out?’

‘Make sure he knows I’m coming. Make sure he stays in, and waits up.’

‘Christ, is this about Catherine’s mother?’ It sounded as though Brewer were suppressing a yawn. ‘I told you, I already spoke to him about that.’

‘I know you did, Paul,’ Thorne said. ‘The problem is, he lied.’

 

NINE

 

There was a FOR SALE sign outside the two-bedroom flat that Jamie Paice had, until three weeks before, shared with Catherine Burke. Thorne was staring at it as the door was opened and a young man in jeans and a Leicester City shirt began ranting about how late it was, and how he couldn’t see what was so important. How he was really sick of answering questions when he’d only just buried his girlfriend.

Thorne introduced himself and Holland. Said, ‘Coffee would be nice.’

They followed Paice upstairs, and while he went straight on into a small kitchen, Thorne and Holland turned into a living room dominated by a black leather sofa and matching armchairs. A blonde woman in her twenties sat cradling a bottle of beer in front of a large plasma television. After a brief staring contest, she reluctantly turned off the TV and introduced herself as Dawn Turner.

‘I’m just a friend,’ she said, without being asked. ‘I was a friend of Catherine.’

Thorne nodded. She was wearing a cap-sleeved T-shirt that did her no favours, with a transparent bra-strap visible on each shoulder. It was sweltering in the room. Thorne and Holland took off their jackets and sat down on the sofa.

‘It’s been really hard for Jamie,’ Turner said. She put her bottle down by the side of her chair. ‘Last few weeks.’

‘I’ll bet,’ Thorne said.

They had made good time getting out of London and even with Thorne keeping the BMW at a well-behaved seventy-five all the way, they had hit the outskirts of Leicester within an hour and a half of leaving Holloway. It was pushing ten o’clock by the time Jamie Paice sauntered into the living room with two mugs of coffee and fresh beers for himself and his ‘friend’. He dropped into the armchair he took a good, long look at his watch.

‘I’m doing you a favour here, to be honest,’ Paice said. ‘So this better be important. Doesn’t look like you’re here to tell me you’ve found the fucker who killed Cath.’

Thorne smiled, as though he simply hadn’t heard him. ‘Selling the place, Jamie?’

Paice looked across at Turner and shook his head in disbelief. ‘That what you came all this way to ask me? You want to make an offer?’

‘Just interested. I saw the sign.’

‘We were planning to sell anyway. Me and Cath had looked at a few places already when she was killed.’

‘The police thought that might have had something to do with what happened,’ Turner said. ‘They reckoned whoever killed her might have come round pretending to look at the flat. I think they checked with the estate agents and that.’

‘I’m sure they did,’ Thorne said.

Holland shuffled to the edge of the sofa and looked at Paice. He nodded towards Turner. ‘Did you ask your friend round when you knew we were coming?’ he asked.

‘Why would I do that?’

‘A bit of moral support.’

Paice said nothing, took a swig from his bottle.

‘So, she was here anyway?’

‘Brewer said there was something you wanted to talk to me about.’ Paice leaned back in his chair and spread his arms. ‘Can we get on with it?’

‘You were shopping in town when Catherine was killed,’ Holland said.

‘Christ, are we going through this again?’

‘Looking for a computer game you wanted, that’s what you said. But you didn’t buy anything in the end.’

‘It’s not what I said. It’s what happened.’

‘This is stupid,’ Turner said. ‘The police checked all that an’ all. Went to the shops Jamie went into.’

‘We could always check again,’ Thorne said.

‘Do what you bloody like,’ Paice said. ‘Maybe I should be talking to a solicitor, check out how much I can sue you bastards for.’

‘A solicitor might be a good idea,’ Holland said.

‘What?’ Paice suddenly looked furious and began rocking slowly in the chair, his knuckles whitening around the neck of his beer bottle.

‘It’s all right, Jamie.’ Looking daggers at Holland as she went, Turner moved across and sat down on the arm of Paice’s chair. She laid a hand on his shoulder and told him that he needed to calm down; that getting worked up wouldn’t do any good, or bring Catherine back.

‘She’s telling the truth,’ Holland said. ‘And it’s about time you did.’

Thorne had been happy to sit there and let Holland get stuck into Jamie Paice. They knew very well that his alibi checked out, and they had not driven a hundred miles because they thought he’d killed Catherine Burke or anyone else. But for some reason he had lied to Paul Brewer, they felt sure about that, and in these situations it always paid to put the subject firmly on the back foot.

Holland had made a good job of it, and not for the first time. Thorne had told him once, a year or so back, how impressed he had been. Holland had laughed, then told Thorne that when it came to making people feel uncomfortable, he’d learned from the master. ‘I don’t mean watching you in interview rooms or anything,’ Holland had said, enjoying himself. ‘Just, you know, how you are with people … all the time.’

‘You were asked how Catherine’s mother had died,’ Thorne said. He waited until Paice was looking at him. ‘And you talked a lot of rubbish.’

‘When Brewer rang and asked, you mean?’ Paice seemed genuinely confused. Turner was squeezing his shoulder, trying to say something, but he wouldn’t let her speak. ‘I told him. I don’t understand.’

‘You said Catherine’s mother died of cancer.’

‘Right, same as her dad. He died a few years ago, stomach cancer I think, and her mum died when Cath was a kid. I’m not sure what sort—’

‘Why are you lying?’

‘I’m not. She died of cancer.’

‘No,’ Thorne said. ‘She didn’t.’ He was as certain as he could be that Catherine Burke’s mother had been murdered fifteen years before, just as the mothers of Emily Walker and Alex and Greg Macken had been. There was nobody named Burke on the list of victims that was folded in Thorne’s pocket, but nor was there a Macken or a Walker. There were any number of reasons why the surnames of parent and child might not match, but the link between the four most recent murder victims could no longer be in any doubt.

‘This is mental,’ Paice said. He shifted forward, trying to get up, but was pressed gently back into his chair.

‘It’s true, Jamie,’ Turner said. ‘Cath’s mum was murdered by a man named Raymond Garvey.’

Paice looked up at her, and as soon as he had placed the name, he began shaking his head. ‘You’re kidding? He killed loads, didn’t he?’

‘Seven,’ Turner said. She looked at Thorne, received a small nod of confirmation. ‘Cath’s mum was the third or fourth, I think.’

Paice took a long pull on his bottle, held the beer in his mouth for a few seconds before swallowing. ‘So, why didn’t she tell me? Why was there this made-up cancer story?’

‘She just got sick of it,’ Turner said. ‘People wanting to know what it was like. I mean, what did they think it was like?’ She was talking to Holland and Thorne as much as to Paice now, tearing pieces of the label from her beer bottle, balling them up in her palm. ‘She used to get pestered by people writing books about it and making TV documentaries. There was even one bloke she used to go out with who she reckoned … got off on it. Sickos, you know? So, a few years ago she just decided she’d had enough. Changed her name, moved to a different side of the city and never talked about it to anyone. I’d known Cath since we were at school, but I was the only one she still spoke to who knew what had happened when she was a kid. Apart from me, nobody had a clue. Nobody at work. Not Jamie.’

Thorne looked at Paice. ‘How long had the two of you been together?’

Paice looked shell-shocked. ‘A year and a half.’ He moved the bottle towards his mouth, stared at it. ‘Christ…’

‘Why “Burke”,’ Holland asked.

Turner lobbed the rolled-up pieces of the label into a wicker wastepaper basket in the corner. ‘It was her mum’s maiden name,’ she said. ‘She never really had anything of her mum’s after she died. Her dad drank quite a bit afterwards, and ended up flogging anything he could find to pay for it. Her mum’s name was about the only thing of hers that Cath could keep.’

Thorne knew they were just about done. He glanced down towards his jacket, which he had dropped on to the floor by the side of the sofa. ‘How old was she when it happened?’

‘Eleven,’ Turner said. ‘Our first year at big school.’ She closed her eyes for five seconds … ten, then stood up and moved back to her own chair. ‘It really messed her up. For ever, you know?’

‘The drugs, right?’

‘Well, who wouldn’t?’

Reaching for the jacket, Thorne saw the eyes of the man in the armchair drift down to his feet and knew that Jamie Paice had been more than happy to keep his girlfriend company; to get out of it with her on whatever pills Catherine had managed to smuggle out of the hospital.

‘Garvey killed Catherine’s mum while she was sunbathing,’ Turner said. ‘Climbed over a fence and battered her to death in broad daylight. ’ She looked at what was left in her bottle, then finished it quickly. ‘Catherine found her in the garden when she came home from school.’

 

 

Fifteen minutes later, a mile or so from the M1, Holland said, ‘Should be back by midnight with a bit of luck.’

‘I think it’s probably best if we stay over,’ Thorne said.

‘What?’

‘Have a couple of drinks, get our heads down, then head back first thing.’

Holland looked less than thrilled. ‘I didn’t warn Sophie.’

‘Well, we’re both in the same boat.’ Thorne slowed down and began studying the road-signs. ‘We passed a place on the way in. Be handy for the motorway in the morning.’

‘Shit … I haven’t got any overnight stuff.’

‘We can get you a toothbrush from somewhere,’ Thorne said. ‘And don’t tell me you’ve never worn the same pair of pants two days running. ’

‘It’s mad though,’ Holland said. ‘We’re only an hour and a bit away from home.’

‘I’m tired.’

‘I’m happy to drive, if you want to sleep.’

‘I want to stay over,’ Thorne said.

 

 

It was somewhere between a Travelodge and a borstal, with wood-effect plastic on every available surface, pan-pipe music coming from speakers too high up to rip off the wall and a worrying smell in the lobby. They checked in fast and tried not to breathe too much. Thorne did his best to be pleasant and jokey, failing to elicit a smile from the woman behind the desk, then as neither he nor Holland could face seeing his room without at least one drink inside them, they moved straight from the sumptuous reception area into what passed for a bar.

It wasn’t yet eleven o’clock but the place — half a dozen tables and some artificial plants — was virtually empty. Two middle-aged men in suits were huddled at a table by the door and a woman in her early thirties sat at one end of the bar, flicking through a magazine. There was no sign of any staff.

‘Joint’s jumping,’ Holland said.

After a few minutes, a balding bundle of fun in a plum-coloured waistcoat materialised behind the bar and Thorne bought the drinks: a glass of Blossom Hill for himself and a pint of Stella for Holland. He asked about ordering some sandwiches and was told that the kitchen was short staffed. They carried their drinks to a table in the corner, Thorne grabbing half-eaten bowls of peanuts from the three adjacent tables before he sat down.

‘They’re covered in piss,’ Holland said.

Thorne already had a mouthful of nuts and was brushing the salt from his hands. He looked across and grunted, ‘What?’

Holland nodded down at the bowl. ‘From people who go to the bog and don’t wash their hands. I saw a thing on Oprah where they did these tests and found traces of piss in bowls of peanuts and pretzels, stuff they leave out on bars.’

Thorne shrugged. ‘I’m hungry.’

Holland helped himself to a handful. ‘Just telling you,’ he said.

The piped music had changed to what was probably Michael Bolton, but could also have been a large animal in great pain. The wine went down easily enough, though, and Thorne enjoyed the banter when Holland commented on the fact that he was drinking rosé. Thorne informed him that Louise had started buying it, that according to an article he’d seen, it was now extremely trendy.

‘Extremely gay,’ Holland said.

Thorne might have said something about that kind of comment upsetting Phil Hendricks, were it not exactly what Hendricks would have said himself. Instead, he pushed his empty glass across the table and reminded Holland it was his round. A few minutes later, Holland returned from the bar with another glass of wine, half a lager and four packets of piss-free crisps.

‘Don’t you feel a bit guilty?’ Holland asked. ‘About Paice, I mean. He obviously didn’t know about the Garvey thing.’

‘I don’t know about “obviously”.’

‘Did you see his face?’

Thorne took a few seconds. ‘Maybe he and his new girlfriend cooked that story up.’

‘Why would they do that?’

‘Buggered if I know.’

‘Well, they deserve Oscars if they did.’ Holland downed what was left of his pint and poured the half into the empty glass. ‘Anyway, who says she’s his girlfriend?’

‘It was the first thing I thought, I suppose,’ Thorne said. ‘As soon as I walked in.’

Holland shook his head. ‘Never occurred to me. Some people have got nasty, suspicious minds.’

‘Difficult not to.’

‘That make you a good copper, you reckon?’ Holland smiled, but it didn’t sound as though he was joking. ‘Or a bad one?’

‘Probably just one who’s been doing it too long,’ Thorne said.

Holland leaned forward to see if there were any crisps left, but all the packets were empty. ‘So, how long was it before you stopped giving people the benefit of the doubt?’ he asked.

‘That’s the jury’s job, not mine,’ Thorne said.

‘Seriously.’

‘I don’t think I ever did … ever do.’ Thorne took a mouthful of wine. It was a little sweeter than the one Louise bought from Sainsbury’s. ‘If you start off assuming that everyone’s a twat, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. ’ He glanced towards the bar and saw the woman looking in their direction. He smiled, then turned back to Holland. ‘All right, I suppose I do feel a bit guilty,’ he said. ‘And stupid, for thinking this business with Jamie Paice might have been important.’

‘It might have been,’ Holland said. He held up his glass. ‘And right now we’d be toasting our success with something a bit more expensive. ’ He swilled the beer around, stared into it. ‘We’ve got to chase up everything, right, even if it is stupid, until we get lucky or this bloke makes a mistake.’

‘I’m hoping he’s already made one,’ Thorne said. ‘I don’t want to see any more pieces of that X-ray.’

A few minutes later, Holland asked, ‘So, why are we really here?’

‘I’m not with you.’

‘Sitting in this shit-hole instead of being at home in our own beds.’ The look on Holland’s face made it clear he was expecting to hear about how Thorne was in the doghouse with Louise, or trying to avoid some tedious dinner with her family and friends. Hoping to hear something he could laugh at or sympathise with; shaking his head in disbelief at the silly shit their girlfriends put them through. ‘It’s fine,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to say.’

Thorne was struggling to answer the question. There was some reason for his reluctance to go home that he could not quite articulate, but which nevertheless made him feel horribly guilty. He would not have felt comfortable sharing it with Holland, or anyone else, even if he had been able to find the right words. ‘I told you,’ he said, happy to exaggerate the perfectly timed yawn. ‘I’m just knackered.’

‘Fair enough.’ Holland stood up and said that he was ready to turn in.

They arranged to meet for breakfast at seven. Holland said he would set the alarm on his phone. Then, instead of walking with Holland towards the lifts, Thorne contradicted himself by announcing that he was staying up for one more: ‘It’ll help me sleep.’

‘Have a couple,’ Holland said. ‘You’ll sleep like a baby.’

Thorne could guess where it was going, but just smiled, letting Holland get to the punchline.

‘You’ll wake up crying because you’ve pissed yourself.’

Thorne walked to the bar and ordered another glass of wine. The woman sitting a few stools along put down her magazine. ‘Your mate abandoned you, has he?’

‘I’ve got a dirty, suspicious mind, apparently,’ Thorne said. He nodded towards the optics. ‘You want one?’

The woman thanked him and moved across. She asked for a rum and Coke and when she spoke it was obvious that it was not going to be her first. She was pale, with shoulder-length dark hair, and wore a cream denim jacket over a shortish brown skirt. The barman in the plum-coloured waistcoat, whose name tag said TREVOR, set about pouring the drinks and raised his eyebrows at Thorne when the woman wasn’t looking.

‘I’m Angie,’ she said.

Thorne shook the woman’s outstretched hand and felt himself redden a little as he told her his name.

‘What business you in then, Tom?’

‘I sell nuts,’ Thorne said. ‘Crisps, nuts … I’m basically a snack salesman.’

She nodded, smiling slightly, as though she wasn’t sure whether to believe him. When the barman had put down the drinks she picked up her glass and waited until he’d moved away. ‘Listen, Tom, it’s almost midnight, and we can sit here getting hammered if you want. Or we could just take these up to your room.’

She did not take her eyes from his as she sipped her drink. Now Thorne felt himself really redden. He could also feel the blood moving to other parts of his body and was grateful that he was sitting down.

He had called Louise earlier from the car-park, at the same time as Holland was speaking to Sophie. She’d said she had no problem with him staying over; had even sounded slightly annoyed that he would think she might have. She’d said that she’d be happy to get an early night and when he’d asked how her first day back had been, she’d told him it was fine; that he had been worrying for nothing.

‘I’ve … got a girlfriend,’ Thorne said. He nodded, like it was self-explanatory, but the woman just stared, as though waiting for him to elaborate. He was trying to swallow, dry-mouthed, thinking that he didn’t really fancy her very much and wondering how he would be reacting if he did. ‘You know, otherwise…’

The woman raised her hands and spun slowly away on her stool. ‘Not a problem.’

Thorne was still nodding like an idiot. She’d said it the same way that Louise had: casual and frosty. He opened his wallet and took out a ten-pound note to pay for the drinks; turned when he heard the woman cursing.

She pointed to the warrant card, shaking her head. ‘I can normally spot you bastards a mile away.’

From the corner of his eye, Thorne could see Trevor smirking as he dried glasses at the end of the bar. Realising now that the woman’s proposition had been a purely commercial one, Thorne did his best not to look overly shocked.

‘Don’t worry about it, love,’ he said. ‘I’m not local, and if it makes you feel any better, I think my professional radar’s working about as well as yours.’ He listened to the music for a few seconds, drumming his fingers on the bar, then he raised his glass. ‘Cheers, Angie.’

‘It’s Mary, actually.’

‘Slow night, Mary?’

‘Cata-fucking-tonic,’ she said.

 

TEN

 

They hit the rush hour coming out of Leicester, ran into the tail end of another as soon as they got within commuting distance of London, and the drizzle didn’t help. When Brigstocke called just before ten, they were still twenty miles from the city, and still regretting the hideously greasy breakfast they’d eaten two hours earlier.

‘Should have just had the muesli,’ Holland said.

Thorne turned down the radio. ‘And you take the piss out of rosé?’ He pressed the button on his phone that activated the loudspeaker, and passed it to Holland. It was the closest he came to hands-free.

‘How did it go with Paice?’ Brigstocke asked.

‘Nothing to get excited about,’ Thorne said. ‘Catherine Burke never told him about her mum, that’s all.’

‘Worth checking though,’ Brigstocke said. ‘Providing your expenses claims aren’t too stupid.’

‘There might be a claim later on for food poisoning,’ Holland said.

Brigstocke told them that Hendricks was due to perform the first of the Macken post-mortems later that morning, and that, as they had already confirmed a DNA match, he’d asked FSS to prioritise the examination of the two newest X-ray fragments, to see if they could get any more information.

‘Every chance, I reckon,’ Thorne said. ‘He’s leaving them for us to find, so he must want us to know what they are.’

‘Or waste our time trying to find out,’ Holland added.

Another phone had started ringing in the background and there was a hiatus while Brigstocke answered it; then a minute or two of muffled conversation over the loudspeaker.

‘Is that what you think?’ Holland turned to Thorne. ‘He’s leaving them for us. It’s not … ritualistic?’

Before Thorne could say that he had no idea, he was distracted by the car behind. ‘Look at this idiot up my arse,’ he said. He stared hard into his rear-view, stepping on the brake a few times until he thought the driver behind had got the message.

Brigstocke was back on the line, asking them how far away they were, then telling them not to bother coming into the office. ‘Get yourselves straight down to the Holloway Road,’ he said. He explained that they had done a door-to-door across some of the university accommodation first thing and managed to track down a few of the students who had been at the Rocket Club on Saturday night. ‘We may as well save ourselves some time and interview them all together.’

‘Makes sense,’ Thorne said. It would also be a chance to see the last place where anyone, save for their killer, had seen Greg or Alex Macken alive.

Brigstocke had an even stronger reason. ‘Several of them say they saw the brother talking to a man in the bar who he may have left with later on.’

‘Sounds promising,’ Holland said.

‘Well, I don’t know how sober any of them were, but between them, there’s a chance of getting a proper description. With luck … we might do even better than that.’

Thorne looked at Holland. ‘Cameras.’

‘Smart-arse,’ Brigstocke said. ‘Yeah, Yvonne’s going down to see if there’s any decent CCTV.’

‘Probably have to wade through hours of students throwing up on the stairs and shagging in dark corners,’ Holland said.

Thorne laughed. ‘I’m sure there’ll be plenty of volunteers.’

‘I think I’ll save that footage for myself,’ Brigstocke said, before he hung up. ‘Keep it to show the wife when my eldest starts banging on about going to university.’

A few miles further on, the traffic thickened approaching the turn-off for the M25 and Thorne had to take the BMW down into first gear. He smacked the wheel harder than he might in time to the song on the radio.

‘Why don’t we shoot up the hard shoulder?’ Holland asked.

Thorne explained that they would be through the jam quickly enough once they got past the junction. That the students weren’t going anywhere, and that he didn’t really fancy getting done by one of the cameras and spending weeks writing letters to prove that he was on legitimate police business.

‘Just an idea,’ Holland said.

Thorne checked his mirror and eased the car into the inside lane, thinking about it, knocking the wipers up a notch as the rain grew heavier. Coming down in needles suddenly, from a sky the colour of wet cement.

 

 

Bearing in mind what they looked like now, pale and half dressed with hair like shit, Thorne could barely imagine how the students sitting in front of him had looked when uniformed coppers had banged on their doors at seven-thirty that morning. Even as he thought it, watching while Holland took down their names, Thorne could hear Louise making some crack about him turning into his father. Back before his dad had died, of course, and before the Alzheimer’s had really kicked in. Back when the old man could still string a sentence together without upsetting too many people.

Louise had never met Thorne’s father, but she knew enough about the man to enjoy teasing Thorne about how much his habits and attitudes were now becoming like those of his dad. Thorne tried fighting his corner, but could never muster a great deal of conviction.

A few weeks before, she’d said, ‘It’ll probably get even worse, now that you’re actually going to be a sodding dad!’

‘Greg doesn’t come in here much, not normally.’ The speaker was a young woman with blonde hair cut very short and a ring through her bottom lip that Phil Hendricks would have been proud of. ‘Don’t think I saw him in here at all last term.’

‘I saw him once.’ A tall, skinny boy with a scrubby beard. ‘Didn’t look like he was enjoying himself much.’

There were nods and murmurs of agreement from the rest of the group. Seven of them were gathered in a corner of the main bar at the Rocket Club: four girls and three boys. A few stared into takeaway coffees and three of them passed a large bottle of water between them. The place stank of beer and the uncarpeted area of the floor around the bar itself was sticky with it.

‘Greg preferred to stay at home and study,’ Holland said. ‘That it?’

The skinny boy shrugged. ‘Yeah, he worked pretty hard, but he wasn’t mental about it or anything. I think he just hated the music in here.’

‘He liked jazz,’ the blonde girl said. ‘Weird Scandinavian stuff. We used to take the piss ’cause it sounded so shit.’

Thorne tried to hide a smile. A taste in music that others thought dubious was something he and Greg Macken had obviously shared. ‘So, why was he here on Saturday?’

‘And the Saturday before that,’ the boy said. ‘Been in here a few times, since the start of term.’

‘Right. So what was different?’

There were a few seconds of silence, save for some slightly awkward shifting of feet and slurpings of coffee. An overweight Asian girl with a purple streak through her hair smiled sadly as she reached forward for the bottle of water. ‘He had the hots for this bloke,’ she said.

‘The man some of you saw him talking to?’

A few of them nodded.

Thorne well understood the hesitation. It was strange how the stuff of everyday gossip became something far harder to discuss when the person it concerned had been murdered. ‘You saw him in here with the same bloke before last Saturday?’ he asked.

The Asian girl said that she had. ‘I think he came in the first couple of times to keep an eye on his sister, you know? Then he saw this guy he fancied, so he kept coming back.’

‘You saw them talking before?’

‘No, not talking. Not until Saturday.’

‘What happened on Saturday?’

‘I think it just took Greg that long to pluck up the courage.’

‘He wasn’t exactly … confident.’ The girl with the lip-ring started to cry. The boy with the beard moved his chair closer and draped an arm around her shoulders. ‘Probably needed to get a few drinks inside him first.’

Thorne nodded. Gay or straight, eighteen or eighty, he knew how that worked. But whatever shyness had held Greg Macken back until Saturday evening, Thorne was struck by just how confident his killer had been. Happy enough to stalk his victim, then wait for him to make the first move.

‘Was Greg drunk, do you think?’ Holland asked. ‘By the time he left?’

The Asian girl shook her head. ‘A bit of Dutch courage, but that’s about it. I spoke to him half an hour before I noticed he’d gone and he sounded fine.’ Her head dropped. ‘He was … excited.’

The post-mortem would tell them how much Greg Macken had drunk on the night he died. Thorne was also interested to see what the toxicology report had to say. It had been suggested that the killer might have slipped something into Macken’s drink — Rohypnol or liquid ecstasy maybe — though Thorne wondered, if that were the case, why the killer had felt the need to smash Macken’s head in before bringing out the plastic bag.

‘So, did anyone see them leave together?’

The blonde girl said that she couldn’t swear to it. ‘But, you know, Greg wasn’t here and neither was the bloke he’d been talking to.’

‘I saw them by the door,’ the skinny boy said. ‘Next time I looked, they’d gone, so I just assumed…’

Thorne held up a hand to let them know that it didn’t matter too much. If the CCTV panned out, it wouldn’t matter at all. ‘Tell me about this bloke,’ he said.

‘He was older than most of the people in here,’ the Asian girl said. ‘Thirty-ish, I reckon.’

Thorne asked if that was unusual, and the students explained that anyone could pay to come in on nights when there were bands playing. Besides, there were always a few mature students around.

‘He looked … sure of himself,’ the blonde girl said.

The skinny boy agreed. ‘I thought he looked like a right cocky sod, to be honest.’

The Asian girl said he’d seemed relaxed, happy even, and eventually admitted — though she couldn’t look anywhere but at the floor as she did — that if Greg hadn’t been so obviously interested, she might have made a move herself.

The students began to give a more detailed physical description; the three who had got the best look at the man edged closer to the table as Holland took notes. While they argued about the colour of the man’s shirt and how far off the collar his hair had been, Thorne took a seat next to a girl who had not spoken at all.

She had long dark hair and wore a sensible coat. She looked about fourteen.

‘I take it you didn’t see much,’ Thorne said.

‘I wasn’t here,’ the girl said. Her voice was quiet, Home Counties. ‘I’m a friend of Alex. We were next door watching the band.’ As soon as she’d said the name, her lip had begun to tremble and Thorne was reaching into the pocket of his leather jacket for tissues. The girl beat him to it, pressing a crumpled wad into the corner of each eye and speaking through delicate, childlike sobs. ‘We were supposed to be having lunch on Sunday,’ she said. ‘A bit optimistic, considering how hammered we both were by the time we’d left, but that was the plan. A big Sunday roast in some pub somewhere. Alex could have eaten for England, you know?’ She dropped her hands into her lap, squeezed the tissue between them. ‘I felt so rough the next day that I never even got round to calling her.’

‘Come on,’ Thorne said. He didn’t bother telling her that any such call would have gone unanswered.

‘Then, you know, she didn’t come in on Monday morning. I never spoke to her again.’ Her hands moved back to her face, and when she finally took away the sodden lump of tissue there was a shiny string of snot between her nose and her fingers. She kept very still as Thorne leaned across and wiped it away.

Once a consensus of sorts had been reached on the description, the students were allowed to go, with a reminder for them to get in touch should they remember anything else. As they trooped slowly out, they passed Yvonne Kitson on her way in, and Thorne saw her entrance earn more than a casual backward glance from the skinny boy with the scraggy beard. Kitson saw it too, and did not seem displeased.

‘Careful,’ Holland said. ‘That’s only a notch above kiddie-fiddling.’

‘Is it?’ Kitson’s face was the picture of innocence. ‘So neither of you fancied the blonde?’

Neither of them said anything.

Kitson smiled and sat down. ‘Right, we’ve got no cameras in the bar, unfortunately, but they’re on all the staircases, in the main lobby and at the front door. So, we should have something to go through by late afternoon.’ She reached into her handbag and began reapplying lipstick. ‘Did we get a decent description?’

‘We got one,’ Thorne said. ‘Different from the one the Leicester boys were given, and different from the one we got from Emily Walker’s neighbour.’

‘So, they’re all unreliable.’

‘That’s always a possibility.’

‘Or we’ve got someone who makes an effort to change his appearance. ’

Holland looked from one DI to the other. ‘What’s that all about, then? Part of the kick he’s getting, do you reckon?’ He shook his head as though he were answering his own question. ‘Maybe it’s one of those multiple-personalities things.’

‘No chance.’ Kitson shook her head and dropped the lipstick back in her bag. ‘Let his defence team try that kind of cobblers on when the time comes. He probably just enjoys pissing us about.’

‘Fine with me.’ Thorne picked up the empty cups from the floor and placed them on the table. ‘They’re usually the ones who get careless. ’

‘Like Garvey,’ Holland said. ‘He slipped up eventually.’

‘Yeah, but there were seven bodies by then,’ Kitson said.

Thorne stood, dug into his pocket for the car keys. Said, ‘This one’s more than halfway to that already.’

 

ELEVEN

 

Louise had sent him a text when he was halfway between Leicester and London: drive safe. you might still be pissed! Thorne had called at lunchtime, after they’d wrapped things up at the Rocket, but she was busy and a little brisk on the phone. Another text arrived just before five, as he and Holland were walking into Brigstocke’s office to review the CCTV footage: sorry about earlier. another takeaway 2nite? can’t be arsed 2 cook. early night? Taking his seat next to Brigstocke, Thorne sent back a smiley face that almost matched his own.

It was the best he had felt all day…

While Thorne had been in Leicester talking to Jamie Paice and in Holloway interviewing students, the team had been following those lines of enquiry that had become pressing since the link between the victims had been determined beyond all doubt. All checks thus far had eliminated any of Raymond Garvey’s former friends and established that he had no living male relatives, with an elderly uncle in a care home in Essex the only blood relative of any kind that anyone had been able to trace.

They talked through possibilities, while Kitson set up her equipment. ‘So, some kind of copycat then?’ she suggested.

‘They’re not copies,’ Holland said. ‘Not exactly. Garvey bludgeoned all his victims to death.’

‘You know what I mean, Dave.’

‘All killed outside as well.’

‘Some twisted, fucking … homage then, whatever you want to call it.’

‘Yeah, feasible, I suppose. I mean, it’s easy enough to find out who all Garvey’s victims were.’

‘It’s a piece of piss,’ Kitson had said. ‘There were at least two documentaries and there’s loads of books out there.’

Kitson and Holland had looked at Brigstocke. Brigstocke looked at Thorne.

‘Maybe,’ Thorne had said.

He had seen plenty of these books, their garish jackets — black and blood-red the favoured colours — jumping out at him on that first trawl through the websites devoted to Raymond Garvey and others like him. He had already returned to one such site and ordered a couple of the less sensational volumes. Could it really be that simple, though? Was the man responsible for four brutal and meticulously planned murders just some wannabe psycho looking to emulate one of his heroes? A killer trying to inspire a few garish jackets of his own. ‘Maybe…’

Now, they were going to get their first look at him.

Kitson had spent the afternoon transferring the tapes from the Rocket Club on to DVD; trawling through hours of footage; highlighting any clips that might be useful; and finally burning them on to a separate disc. With Thorne and Brigstocke ready to watch, she picked up the remote from the trolley on which she’d wheeled in the TV and DVD player.

‘Right, we’ve got three clips of Greg Macken and the man he picked up in the bar of the Rocket Club on Saturday evening.’

‘I think Greg was the one getting picked up,’ Thorne said.

‘Either way.’

‘You don’t look overly thrilled,’ Brigstocke said.

Kitson pressed the button and moved to one side. ‘See for yourself.’

The footage was black and white, silent, with a time code running across the top of the screen.

‘It’s a pretty good picture,’ Holland said.

‘They’ve just had all their equipment upgraded,’ Kitson said. ‘The picture’s not the problem.’

They were looking along a corridor, with the edge of a staircase on the left-hand side of the screen and a stone banister spiralling down out of the frame.

‘These are the main stairs down from the bar on the first floor,’ Kitson said. A group of four girls came towards the camera, heads nodding, enjoying themselves. ‘Obviously there’s music coming from the room where the band were performing. The girls turned on to the stairs and disappeared out of shot. ‘Here we go.’

They watched as Greg Macken and another man moved out of the shadows at the far end of the corridor and walked straight towards the camera. Thorne could not make out the faces, but he could see that Macken’s companion was talking. Macken laughed at something the other man said. Thorne moved his chair towards the screen in anticipation of his first good look at the killer.

‘Don’t get too excited,’ Kitson said.

At that moment the man let his head drop, then turned away from the camera.

‘Fuck…’

‘Gets worse,’ Kitson said.

The image froze, then jumped to a shot of the building’s lobby: a wide expanse of grey stone with stairs running up on either side towards the coffee shop, the dining halls and the upstairs bars.

‘We pick them up coming into the lobby five minutes after we last saw them.’

‘Where were they for five minutes?’ Brigstocke asked.

‘Maybe one of them needed the toilet. A quick snog? Who knows? Here they come…’

The slight figure of Greg Macken and his taller, better-built friend appeared at the bottom of the right-hand staircase and began walking towards the camera. The man had dark hair, wore jeans and a denim jacket, but Thorne still could not make out the face in any detail. As they reached the point where the features were becoming clearer, the man put a hand on Macken’s shoulder. He leaned in to whisper something, then angled his face away from the camera.

‘He knows where all the cameras are,’ Thorne said.

Kitson nodded as she moved on to the final clip. The camera above the main entrance picked up the couple as they stepped outside, almost immediately after the previous camera had lost them. This time the face was already turned from view, and stayed like that until the man was some distance away. The last image, which Kitson left frozen on the screen, was a nice, clean shot of the back of his head as he and Macken walked away along the pavement.

Kitson tossed the remote back down on top of the trolley.

Brigstocke got up and moved to the chair behind his desk. ‘He’d been in there quite a few times, that’s what some of the students said, right?’

‘Right,’ Thorne said. ‘Letting Macken get a good look at him while he got a good look at where all the security cameras are.’

‘Why go to all that trouble?’ Holland said. ‘We know he’s changed his appearance anyway.’

Thorne thought Holland was probably right, but they could not be certain. As Kitson had suggested earlier, the discrepancies in the witness statements could simply be down to the normal lack of reliability when it came to stranger-stranger descriptions. The fact was that very few people could commit a stranger’s appearance to memory, to the extent that some coppers did not even bother noting such things down. Thorne himself had lost count of the number of times a heavy-set six-footer had turned out to be a short-arse who’d need to run around in the shower to get wet.

But whatever the reasons, the three descriptions they had tallied in only two respects: the man was in his late twenties or early thirties and was six feet tall. ‘He knows he’s been seen,’ Thorne said. ‘And I don’t think he’s too worried about that. Getting caught on camera’s something else, though. He doesn’t want to take that risk.’

‘It’s probably a ten-minute walk from the Rocket back to the Mackens’ flat,’ Kitson said. ‘We might have got him on three or four more cameras between the two.’

Brigstocke told her to chase it up, as it was his job to do. Kitson said she already was, even though, based on what they’d just seen, it would probably be a waste of time.

Thorne shook his head, said he knew it would be. He stared at the screen. ‘I think we can forget what I said about him getting careless.’

There was a knock and Sam Karim put his head around the door, waving a slip of paper. ‘The FSS have been on,’ he said. ‘They’ve put the bits of X-ray from the Mackens together with the other two.’

Thorne stuck his hand out for the piece of paper.

‘They’re getting a proper scan organised,’ Karim said, handing it over. ‘They’ll email that across in an hour or so, but meantime they said they’d fax over what they’ve got already and we can call if we’ve got any questions.’

Thorne grunted a ‘thanks’ as he squeezed past Karim into the corridor, then turned towards the Incident Room. A minute later, when he had reached the corner of the room where the fax machine sat, he called the FSS lab in Victoria and asked for the doctor whose name Karim had scribbled down.

‘Bloody hell, that was fast, I haven’t even sent it yet.’ Doctor Clive Kelly asked Thorne to hold on. After a rustle of papers and some slightly tetchy muttering Thorne heard a series of tell-tale beeps. Then the doctor came back on the line: ‘Right, it’s on the way.’

‘I’m standing over the fax machine,’ Thorne said.

‘Not that I could tell you where it is while it’s on the way,’ Kelly said. ‘These things are a mystery to me.’

The fax machine hummed into life and a sheet of paper started to appear. ‘You’re supposed to be the scientist,’ Thorne said.

Kelly laughed. ‘Not my speciality,’ he said. ‘You give me a document and I’ll tell you where the paper came from and when the ink was produced and, if I’m having a good day, I might even tell you how many times the bloke who wrote it scratched his arse. But me putting that document on a machine and pressing a button and you taking it out of another machine in a room miles away … that’s just bloody witchcraft.’

As soon as the fax had been received, Thorne took the sheet from the tray and stared down at the new and extended sequence of letters and numbers:

VEY48
ADD597-86/09
SYMPHONY

Said, ‘What am I looking at?’

‘Let’s start at the bottom,’ Kelly said. ‘That’s the easy bit. “Symphony” is just a type of MRI scanner. It’s basically the name of the machine that did the X-ray. It’s not strictly speaking an X-ray, of course, as it uses magnetic resonance as opposed to radiation, but—’

‘X-ray of what?’

‘Still can’t tell you that, I’m afraid. But we know where it was done. See the second line?’

‘I’m looking…’

‘We thought the numbers might be some Health Service reference or other, and it turns out to be the area code for Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust. And the three letters — ADD — that’s the hospital itself.’ Kelly waited, as though expecting Thorne to start guessing.

‘Right …?’

‘Addenbrooke’s.’

‘In Cambridge?’

‘Easy when you know the answer, isn’t it? There isn’t too much more we can tell you, I’m afraid.’

Thorne said it was OK, that he didn’t really need any more. At forty or so miles away, it was not the nearest hospital to Her Majesty’s Prison Whitemoor, but Addenbrooke’s had a worldwide reputation when it came to neurosurgery. Now Thorne knew exactly what kind of X-ray the pieces of plastic had been cut from.

‘That first line’s still got us all racking our brains,’ Kelly said.

VEY48

Thorne thanked Kelly for his help, then said, ‘I think “48” is probably the age of the patient when the X-ray was done.’

Easy when you know the answer.

‘And “VEY” are the last three letters of his name.’

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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