Bloodline | Chapter 7 of 8

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

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PART THREE

 

A GAME OF SKILL AND STRATEGY

 

AFTERWARDS

 

Nina

 

At the worst moments, when she feels like lashing out, she knows that there’s only one man really responsible for what happened, but it’s hard not to blame those two extras from The Bill who had been sitting in the car outside. Or that tosser Thorne and his cronies, the ones who’d stuck it there twenty-four hours a day, since the day Debbie and Jason had moved in.

Working from home the way she does, the way she did, a police car on your doorstep is hardly good for business, after all.

She’d always preferred to do business from her own place, and most of the girls she knew felt the same. She felt safer inside her own four walls and in control. But she could hardly expect any of her regulars to come strolling in past a pair of boys in blue, could she, and the money wasn’t going to earn itself. So she’d had to make a few more visits to crappy hotels and dodgy flats. A few more hand-jobs in cars, parked up behind the football ground. She’d had to take a few more risks.

And she hardly ever worked in the afternoon, that was what was so stupid! She was rarely up for it, preferring to sleep in after a long night. To keep the days for herself and get slowly geared up for as many punters as she could squeeze in the next evening.

A balding, flabby businessman down from Manchester for some conference or other was the reason why she wasn’t there when it happened. Not that her being at home would have made a lot of difference. He got past those two coppers easily enough.

Sick fucker was too clever for all of them in the end.

Worst thing of all was that she’d made a promise to Debbie a week or so before it happened. Told her she’d get clean and sort herself out. Talked all sorts of shit about the three of them getting away somewhere for a couple of weeks once they’d got enough money together. One of those places that was covered up, so the weather wouldn’t matter. Somewhere with a decent club for her and Debbie to have fun in the evenings, with a swimming pool and plenty of rides and stuff to keep Jason happy.

‘Long as there’s a railway line somewhere near by,’ Debbie had said. ‘Somewhere he can blow at the trains.’

Christ…

All gone for nothing now, the promise and the plans.

She’s been pissing away almost everything she earns on gear ever since that day Anthony Garvey came. It isn’t like she needs the stuff more than she used to; she just needs to get out of it more often. She can’t face thinking straight and worrying about what the future is going to be like. But it’s getting so that however much she does, the high isn’t lasting long enough.

Some days, with some punter or other sweating away on top of her, it was like she’d justwake up, and remember what had happened, and it was all she could do to stop herself screaming and clawing at his neck. Lately, she’s found herself taking even more risks. Getting into iffy-looking cars when she knows she should step away; letting an arsehole or two get rough with her, feeling better when it hurts.

Feeling like she deserves it.

Nina stands in front of the mirror by the front door. Slapping on the last bits of make-up before she goes out to work: a head teacher who likes her to talk dirty and who has arranged to pick her up in front of the petrol station.

She checks her bag for condoms, KY and tissues, stares at herself.

Rough as fuck, she thinks, knowing that, before, she’d have said it out loud and that Debbie would have laughed. Would have told her that she looked great and that whoever handed over cash for the pleasure of her company that night should be bloody grateful.

She runs fingers through the spikes in her hair and does her best to smile at herself. Says, ‘God bless.’

Fumbling for one of the tissues in her handbag, Nina turns towards the front door.

 

TWENTY-FIVE

 

Thorne drove south towards Euston, through the skinnier end of the morning rush hour. The headache he had woken up with showed no sign of easing off, and a heated argument about Spurs’ lack of form on Five Live was not helping. Monday morning, and it felt like it.

He had spent the majority of the weekend quite happily on his own, save for an hour or two in the Grafton with Phil Hendricks, Sunday lunchtime. Louise had gone to stay with her parents for a couple of days, got back late the night before and left early in the morning.

‘She’s on the mend,’ Hendricks had said in the pub.

‘Yeah, she is.’ Thorne had spoken slowly, careful to avoid stressing the she.

‘The pair of you should get away, soon as you can.’

‘Easier said than done.’

‘You might have a chance. Now this Garvey thing isn’t quite as frantic.’

‘For you, maybe.’

Hendricks had been right, though. Everything had calmed down a little. There were five unsolved murders — six, if you factored in Chloe Sinclair — and there was still a killer to be caught, but there had certainly been a change of focus, now that the last two people on Anthony Garvey’s list had been found safe and well.

A small team of specially trained officers had spent the previous two days ‘debriefing’ Andrew Dowd and Graham Fowler. In practice, this meant explaining the threat they had been under as sensitively as possible, emphasising that they were now completely safe and talking them through their new living arrangements. This had not gone altogether smoothly, according to the reports Thorne had been sent. Neither man had been completely cooperative, with both described as ‘difficult’ on paper and ‘not quite the full shilling’ in a phone conversation Thorne had had with one of the liaison officers.

‘Understandable, I suppose.’ The officer had sounded relieved that his day was over. ‘Mums murdered, some nutter trying to do the same to them, and it looks like the pair of them are on medication, of one sort or another.’

‘Is it going to be a problem?’

‘We’ve got tasers.’

Thorne had laughed, but he had seen the havoc that grief, fear and drugs were each capable of wreaking on their own. All three were likely to be a volatile and dangerous combination.

Understandable, I suppose

He turned into a wide, newly tarmacked street behind Euston station, a little apprehensive about the conversations he was shortly to have with two men he would be meeting for the first time. He wished he had Kitson with him, or Holland. They were both better than he was when it came to putting people at their ease, his own gifts tending towards the opposite.

He pulled up behind a Volvo whose plate marked it out as a Job vehicle that would probably be a damn sight quicker than it looked. He reached for his warrant card as he jogged across the road.

Thinking: Safe, but not particularly well.

It was a bland, two-storey building comprising eight service apartments, each one self-contained and accessible only via a secure lobby. Liveried squad cars were not allowed within two streets, local uniforms were under instructions to give the place a wide berth and there were no outward indications that it was anything other than the utilitarian block it appeared to be. Though its occupants’ bills were being picked up by the Met, their movements were rather more closely monitored than the hotel at which Carol Chamberlain was staying. Cameras in every hallway relayed pictures back to the desk on the ground floor, rapid-response units were stationed near by and two plain-clothes officers remained on the premises twenty-four hours a day.

Despite the lack of an obvious police presence, nobody staying there was in any danger of being burgled.

The building had been purchased by the Police Authority to house witnesses in high-profile trials, especially those whose evidence was being given in return for immunity, or against someone who had good reason to ensure it was not given at all. During a major drugs case the year before, the place had become known as ‘Grass-up Grange’, and it had stuck, with one wag going so far as to have a guest book embossed with the name. Each apartment had been occupied back then, and a good many officers had spent long nights playing cards or collecting takeaways. But for now, Grass-up Grange had only two residents.

Thorne entered the code he had been given and pushed open the door to the lobby. The two men who had been talking near the single desk turned as he approached. One face was new to him, but Thorne recognised the other officer as a detecctive sergeant he had worked with a few years earlier.

‘Got the short straw then, did you, Brian?’

Brian Spibey was thirty or so, tall and from somewhere in the South-West. If his premature baldness upset him, he didn’t show it, and Thorne admired anyone who accepted the inevitable and got rid of what little remained, instead of endlessly teasing, gelling or, most unforgivable of all, combing over.

‘It’s not too bad,’ Spibey said. ‘There’s a pretty fair rota system, so I’m only on three overnights a week.’

‘And how are they?’ Thorne nodded upwards, to where he knew Fowler and Dowd were staying on the top floor.

‘Oh, they’re not too bad. Started hanging out together, which suits me. Saves us having to keep them entertained.’

‘They’re calmer now, then?’ Thorne asked.

‘Well, there was a bit of screaming and shouting earlier today. Fowler that was, but I think that’s just because he’s not used to being stuck in the one place. We gave him another twenty fags and he was right as rain.’

The second officer laughed. ‘Well, as right as he’s ever going to be.’

Spibey introduced his colleague as Rob Gibbons. He and Thorne shook hands.

‘You want to show me, then?’ Thorne said.

It was two flights up, the last two rooms at the end of a perfectly straight corridor. The nylon carpet was grey and all but sparking with static electricity. There was a large plastic plant at the top of the stairs and someone had thought to break up the monotony of the pale yellow walls with a few prints, the sort you picked up in Ikea for £4.99 and slapped in a clip-frame.

Thorne thought that if he had to spend any length of time here, he’d probably start screaming and shouting himself.

Spibey nodded towards the penultimate door. ‘You want some tea or anything?’

‘There’ll be some in there, won’t there?’

‘You’ll probably have to make it yourself.’ Spibey punched a four-digit code into the security lock on the door, then knocked.

‘What?’ the voice was hoarse and high pitched.

‘You decent, Graham?’ There was a grunt of assent and Spibey smirked at Thorne before he pushed open the door. ‘Give us a shout when you’re ready for the next one,’ he said.

Fowler was sitting in an armchair angled towards the window and barely seemed to register Thorne’s arrival. He was wearing jeans and an oversized sweatshirt, part of a basic wardrobe that had been provided for him, though he had clearly not been too impressed with the shoes or socks. He was smoking and there was an ashtray full of butts on a small table in front of him.

Thorne introduced himself and apologised for not having got across earlier. He sat down on the small sofa. ‘It’s all been a bit hectic. Well, I know that things have been explained to you.’

Fowler turned then and stared at Thorne. His hair was dark and down to his collar and a week or so’s growth of beard could not disguise the sunken cheeks or poor complexion. He said, ‘Yeah, they’ve been explained.’

Thorne nodded around the room and did his best to look impressed. ‘So, this isn’t too bad, is it?’

‘It’s OK.’

‘Better than where you’ve been for a while.’

‘What do you know about that?’

Thorne leaned back, did his best to keep it conversational. He could see that Fowler was jumpy, disoriented. ‘Well, I’m here to find out, but I know you’ve been living on the street for a while. I know a bit about how these things happen.’

‘Yeah?’

‘A bit.’

Fowler produced a thin smile, clearly unconvinced. He stubbed out his cigarette, leaving the butt still smouldering. Said, ‘Maybe you should move in here.’

‘Sorry?’

‘I mean, seeing as you know.’

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘Seeing as your mother was murdered when you were a child.’ He nodded, mock-serious. ‘This bloke’s probably after you as well.’

Thorne cocked his head as if it were a fair point and asked Fowler if he wanted a cup of tea. Fowler shrugged and turned towards the window, then said, ‘Yeah, all right,’ as Thorne walked across to the tiny kitchen.

By the time Thorne sat down again and put the mugs on the table, Fowler had lit another cigarette. ‘Here you go,’ Thorne said.

There was a small hum of acknowledgement. The window was open a fraction and Fowler’s eyes were fixed on the curls and strands of smoke, following each one as it drifted up and away through the gap and beyond.

‘Are you on something, Graham?’ Thorne asked.

Fowler turned slowly, after a small delay, as though the question had taken a while to reach him. ‘What do you think?’

‘We can get a doctor over.’

‘Seen one on the first day.’

‘And?’

‘He said he could get me some methadone.’

The screaming and shouting that Spibey had mentioned was now even more understandable. ‘I’ll get it organised,’ Thorne said.

‘A few beers would be good, too.’

‘That shouldn’t be a problem.’

Fowler nodded, muttered a ‘ta’, and spread his arms wide. ‘Home from bloody home,’ he said. Then he smiled, revealing that a number of teeth were missing, top and bottom. ‘Home from homeless.’

‘We’ll see what Social Services can do about finding you somewhere permanent,’ Thorne said. ‘When all this is over.’

‘No thanks, you’re OK.’

‘You want to go back on the street?’

‘I don’t like hostels much, anything like that. Too many stupid rules, and some of those places won’t even let you have a drink.’

‘That might be a good idea.’

‘All a bit late now, mate.’

Thorne knew there were others on the streets who thought the same way as Graham Fowler, who for one reason or another had an aversion to any sort of institution. He’d shared space with several when he’d been sleeping rough a few years back. Fowler’s attitude explained why they had been unable to trace him through the records of hostels and emergency shelters.

‘So, when are we talking?’ Fowler asked.

‘Sorry?’

‘“When all this is over.” When you catch him, right?’

‘Right. I don’t know.’

‘How long’s a piece of string, sort of thing?’ He nodded eagerly, without waiting for an answer. ‘Listen, pal, you just keep the methadone and the Special Brew coming, you can take as long as you bloody like.’ He laughed, then pulled up short when he saw the look on Thorne’s face. ‘Joke, mate, all right? Joke.’

‘With a bit of luck, we’ll be kicking you out of here before they get a chance to change the sheets,’ Thorne said.

Fowler stood up and tossed his cigarette butt out of the window, agitated again suddenly. ‘Why’s he doing this, anyway? Nobody’s said.’

Thorne saw no reason to keep him in the dark. If patients had a right to see their medical records, then a man deserved to know why someone wanted him dead. ‘He thinks that the man who killed your mother should not have been convicted.’

‘Garvey?’ Fowler spat the word out like abuse.

‘He believes that Raymond Garvey was not in control of his actions. That it was all because of a brain tumour, and if it had been spotted earlier, he would not have died in prison.’

Fowler shook his head, taking it in. ‘So, why not go through the courts or whatever? Why do this?’

‘Because he’s seriously disturbed.’

Fowler thought about that for a while, then lowered himself gingerly back into the chair, as though he were aching. ‘Well, when you catch him, I’ll make sure I stop by for a chat. Sounds like we might have a fair bit in common.’

Thorne realised that he had not touched his drink. He picked up the mug, drank half the lukewarm tea in one go. ‘I don’t suppose you were aware of anyone following you over the last few weeks? Anyone you didn’t recognise hanging around?’

Fowler shook his head. ‘Sorry. I’m not very observant at the best of times.’

‘Anybody asking after you?’

‘Not as far as I know. You could ask some of the boys, if you can find them. Strangers are pretty easy to spot. There’s a … look, on the street, you know?’

‘Can you give me any names?’

‘I can tell you where to try and find them.’

Thorne had known that was the best he was likely to get. When it came to those dossing down or shooting up in the shadows every night, there was no such thing as a full name and address. ‘That’d be good, thanks.’

‘Say hello from me, will you?’ Fowler said. ‘Tell them I’ve won the Lottery.’

Thorne assured Fowler that he would. He stared at the uneven grin, the slightest of tremors around the mouth, and thought that, as far as luck went, the good sort was clearly something that happened to other people.

A few minutes later, he was in the corridor outside, waving at one of the CCTV cameras mounted on the wall. He was on the verge of marching back downstairs and mouthing off about security when he heard Brian Spibey’s distinctive burr echoing in the lobby beneath him.

‘I’m coming, all right, I can bloody see you! Just I’ve got a bugger of a sudoku going here…’

 

TWENTY-SIX

 

Andrew Dowd’s apartment was much the same as Graham Fowler’s — bland and comfortable — and though Dowd himself seemed a little more at ease than his neighbour, and was certainly better dressed, in khakis and an open-necked shirt, in another respect his appearance was equally shocking.

‘You look … different,’ Thorne said, remembering the photo Dowd’s wife had provided and which the newspapers had printed the previous Friday.

‘This?’ Dowd shrugged and ran a hand across his shaved head. Thorne noticed the expensive watch around his wrist. ‘Lots of things are different,’ he said. ‘Lots of changes.’

‘Not just a walking holiday, then?’

‘I did plenty of walking.’

Thorne nodded, leaned back on a sofa identical to the one he had been sitting on a few minutes earlier. ‘I’ve always fancied going up there myself.’

‘It’s nice.’

‘A good place to get away?’

‘I needed to get my head straight.’

‘Well, you can certainly see more of it,’ Thorne said.

Dowd smiled, showing a few more teeth than Graham Fowler had.

When Thorne arrived, Dowd had been reading a newspaper, with the radio on in the background. Where Fowler had been jumpy and mercurial, Andrew Dowd appeared relaxed and resigned to his situation, but Thorne guessed there was plenty going on beneath the surface. Shaving his head might just have been a radical grooming decision, but coupled with what Thorne had gleaned about his troubled domestic situation, he was pretty sure that the man had suffered some kind of nervous breakdown.

Not one of Anthony Garvey’s victims, but still one of Raymond’s.

‘Apart from just checking to see how you’re getting on,’ Thorne said, ‘I wanted a word about your wife.’

‘Well, “bitch” is usually the first one that springs to mind,’ Dowd said. ‘But I’ve got plenty more.’

Thorne summoned a smile to accompany the thin one Dowd had flashed before he’d spoken. ‘We want to go and see her.’

Dowd’s face darkened for a second or two. ‘Good luck. Make sure you take some garlic and a wooden stake.’

Plenty going on beneath the surface

Having spoken to the officers who had escorted him back from Kendal, Thorne was not surprised by Dowd’s attitude towards his wife, but the venom was startling none the less; more so, as he spoke so calmly, without losing his temper.

‘He didn’t even want to see her,’ one officer had said. ‘Just told us to take him straight to the station.’

Dowd had been adamant that he wanted no contact with his wife. That he would not go home with them to pick up some clothes and that he definitely did not want her informed of the address where he would be staying. He even went so far as to say that, if he’d had his way, she would not have been informed that he’d been found in the first place.

‘It might have done her some good to worry,’ he’d said. ‘And I would have had something to keep myself amused.’

Now, Dowd sat back and closed his eyes, apparently uninterested. But curiosity got the better of him after a minute or two. ‘Why do you want to see Sarah?’

‘Obviously, you know we’re looking for a man who calls himself Anthony Garvey.’

‘I should hope so.’

‘We think he got close in some way or another to the people he’s killed so far.’ Thorne stopped, saw that Dowd had picked up on the final two words. ‘To the people he killed.’

‘Slip of the tongue?’ Dowd said.

Thorne pressed on, feeling himself redden a little. ‘We’re fairly sure he was known to them. Probably no more than casually, but known. That he put time into making sure they would be relaxed around him, let him into their homes, whatever.’

‘How did he do that?’

‘We know he picked one of them up in a bar,’ Thorne said. ‘He may have got to know another through the hospital where she worked. We’re still putting all that together, if I’m honest, but we’re pretty sure he gets involved in their lives somehow.’

‘You think he’s involved in mine?’

‘Well, it might be that he just hadn’t got round to you yet—’

‘Jesus

‘But yes, it’s possible. Can you think of anyone who you might have met in the last few weeks?’

‘I’ve met lots of people,’ Dowd said. ‘When I was up at the Lakes there were other walkers, people in pubs.’ He raised his hands, like it was a stupid question. ‘We meet people all the time. Don’t you?’

‘OK, someone you might have seen a few times. A new neighbour, maybe. A window cleaner.’

Dowd thought for a few seconds. ‘There’s this bloke Sarah found who comes round once a week to wash the cars. He’s got one of those little vans with a generator in it, you know?’

‘Since when?’

‘A couple of months now, I think.’

‘What’s his name?’

‘I barely spoke to him, to be honest,’ Dowd said. ‘You’d be better off asking Sarah.’

‘Like I said, we were planning on talking to her anyway.’

Dowd grunted and looked away, drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. The sky outside Graham Fowler’s window had been clear, but glancing out of this one, Thorne could see that a blanket of grey cloud was slowly moving to darken the day.

‘What’s the problem with you and your wife, Andrew?’ Thorne asked. When Dowd looked up sharply, he said, ‘Look, I won’t even try to pretend it’s got anything to do with the case, but…’

Dowd began fingering the collar of his shirt. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. ‘There’s no point me kidding you. I’m not the easiest person in the world to live with, all right?’

‘You and me both,’ Thorne said.

‘I’m on a fair few tablets which don’t help matters. Been on all sorts, more or less since I was a kid.’

Thorne remembered the relevant chapter from one of the books he’d been reading. Since Raymond Garvey caved your mother’s head in, he thought. Since he dumped her on a patch of waste ground behind a bus station in Ealing.

‘But Sarah knows how to push all my buttons. She’s a bloody expert at it. It’s like she enjoys pushing them … pushing one in particular. You know how some women just get off on winding you up? Sometimes, I think it’s the only time she actually feels anything, feels properly alive. Like she thinks her life’s shit and the only way she can get her blood pumping is to push and push and push until she gets a reaction. Until she forces me to push back. Well, I’m sick of pushing. I just need to get to a place where she can’t reach me, do you understand? Not just in my head, I mean.’

Thorne nodded, guessing that he was the first person Dowd had ever said this to, but that he’d been rehearsing it. He suddenly had a vision of the man tramping around the Lakes all day, working out what he’d say to his wife when he had the chance. Getting pissed in the pub each night, trying to forget why he was there. Going back to some damp B&B and reaching for the scissors and the razor.

‘One button in particular, you said.’

‘Kids,’ Dowd said quickly. ‘She wanted them and I absolutely didn’t.’

Thorne blinked. ‘Tricky.’

‘Oh, yes. A few days before I buggered off she got pissed and started talking about finding someone who did want them.’ He folded his arms and dropped his head back. ‘Maybe that bloke who washes the cars would oblige. A couple of quick squirts…’

‘Sorry,’ Thorne said. He wasn’t, not particularly, but it felt like the right thing to say.

When he stood up to leave, Thorne saw Dowd’s confident mask slip a little, saw something like disappointment that the conversation was over. There was fear in his eyes, too, as he followed Thorne towards the door.

‘You will catch this bloke, right?’

‘We’ll do our best.’

Dowd nodded fast. ‘’Course, yeah, sorry. So, talk to Sarah. See if it leads anywhere. You know, this car-washer business.’

‘I’ll let you know how we get on,’ Thorne said.

When Thorne was reaching for the door, Dowd stepped close to him. Said, ‘Why would anyone want to bring kids into a world like this? A sick world.’

Certainly a weird one, Thorne thought a little later, as he walked back to the car. When one man asks you to pass on his regards to his mates in the soup queue while another has nothing to say to his own wife.

 

 

‘How do people get like that?’ Louise asked. ‘Why would they stay together for that long if they hate each other so much?’

‘Easier than being on their own, maybe?’

‘No…’

‘Or it’s like he said and some people just enjoy conflict. Doesn’t light my candle, but what do I know?’ Thorne had told her about his conversation with Andrew Dowd, about the dysfunctional nature of his marriage. He had not bothered mentioning the central disagreement that Dowd claimed lay at the heart of it. That one button in particular.

Louise shook her head. ‘If it doesn’t work, you should get out.’

‘I’ll bear that in mind.’

‘Good. Because if you start pissing me off, I’ll just trade you in for a younger model.’

Thorne was on the sofa with a beer. He had been looking through his copy of Nick Maier’s book on the Garvey killings, rereading those sections that dealt with the deaths of Andrew Dowd’s and Graham Fowler’s mothers, and the harrowing chapter that detailed the murder of Frances Walsh, the mother of Simon. Her body was the third to be discovered, though it was later determined that she had been the first victim.

A spot of light entertainment after dinner.

Louise lay on the floor, making a fuss of Elvis, moving a finger back and forth under the cat’s chin. Elvis closed her eyes and stretched her neck towards her new best friend. Thorne watched, thinking that Elvis was rarely that affectionate with him. She had been owned by a woman before Thorne got her — albeit one who didn’t know the cat was a she — so perhaps that was the reason. Or maybe it was something to do with pheromones, whatever they were. Or maybe the cat just enjoyed winding him up.

‘Seriously, though,’ Louise said, ‘life’s too short.’

Thorne glanced down at the cover of the book on the sofa next to him. He wasn’t arguing.

‘That’s one of the things that strikes you when something like this happens. You know, losing the baby. At first you think you’ve been unlucky, but you can look at it the other way too, start to appreciate what you’ve got.’

Thorne nodded, felt that lump in his chest.

‘You OK?’

He picked up the book again. ‘Just thinking about this stuff, sorry.’

‘That’s another thing,’ Louise said. ‘Since it happened, work doesn’t seem to have as much effect on me. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve had more important things to think about, or if it’s just not getting to me in the same way. Do you know what I mean?’

She said something else after that, lying there stroking the cat, but Thorne caught only half of it. It was hard to follow a train of thought with the Garveys rattling around inside his head.

Father and son.

According to Maier’s book, the detective leading the investigation had described the murders as some of the nastiest he had ever had to deal with. He talked about the level of violence meted out, how it must have been motivated by an incomprehensible level of hatred.

One powerful bloody tumour, Thorne thought.

It might not have been hatred that was motivating the son, but his killings had been every bit as brutal, and Thorne’s desire to find him and put him away was the equal of anything he had felt in many years.

Louise was talking softly now, to Thorne or the cat.

Anthony Garvey might have seen the newspapers, but there was no way he could know that both Fowler and Dowd had been found, or that Debbie Mitchell was safely tucked away. He would still be out there somewhere; searching, growing increasingly frustrated. That might just give me the edge over him, Thorne thought.

Louise sat up, pulled Elvis on to her lap. ‘This cat loves me,’ she said.

Thorne smiled and put down the book.

Or it might just make him more desperate.

 

TWENTY-SEVEN

 

H.M.P. Whitemoor

 

‘The ex-police officer again, was it?’

‘What?’

‘Your face?’

‘I fell.’

‘Right…’

‘Seriously, I had some sort of fit and I hit my head on the bunk as I went down. I’ve got to go and have a few tests. Some kind of scan.’

‘What, like an epileptic fit or something?’

‘Could be, yeah. Could be all sorts. I’ve had a couple before—’

‘What?’

‘But this was the first time I got hurt. Good job really or they might not have picked it up.’

‘Christ.’

‘I’m OK, really.’

‘Why didn’t you say?’

‘I didn’t want to worry you.’

‘What about the headaches, though? Do you get headaches with epilepsy?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘I’ll go online and have a look.’

‘I can do it myself, we’ve got access to all that. Thanks, though.’

‘We can both do it. Doesn’t hurt to get as much information as possible.’

‘OK.’

‘It’s set off by flashing lights and stuff, isn’t it, epilepsy? Strobes and whatever.’

‘Should be fine, then. Not too many of those in here.’

‘It’s good news, when you think about it.’

‘What is?’

‘They’ll have to move you to a hospital, maybe permanently. Got to be better than this.’

‘I don’t know how that works.’

‘I bet the food’s a damn sight better, and there won’t be any nutcases hanging about with home-made blades.’

‘Let’s see what happens.’

‘Might turn out to be a stroke of luck, you never know.’

‘How’s things with you?’

‘I’m fine, same as always.’

‘What about work?’

‘Just bits and pieces really. I’m great though, honestly.’

‘You need to find something permanent, sort yourself out a bit. It’s all right messing about when you’re a teenager, but you should really think about getting settled.’

‘I don’t see why.’

‘Don’t you want a steady job and a family and all that?’

‘I’ve got family.’

‘Not just me.’

‘Look, I haven’t found anything I want to do yet, that’s all. There’s plenty of time.’

‘Listen, I’ve got more time than you have, OK, smart-arse? It tends to drag a bit when you’ve got sod all to do but dig the governor’s vegetable patch and take degrees you’ll never use. Goes by in a flash out there though, trust me.’

‘I know, don’t nag. I’ll find something.’

‘I was talking to one of the other lads, and he told me you might be able to come along when I go for these tests. You know, as a relative.’

‘Yeah, ’course.’

‘You don’t have to. Just it’s nice to have a friendly face around when you’re lying there handcuffed to a hospital bed. Never been a fan of hospitals at the best of times.’

‘You don’t have to worry about this.’

‘I’m bricking it, if I’m honest.’

‘I’ll be there, all right? You listening?’

‘That’d be good.’

 

TWENTY-EIGHT

 

Only a decade earlier, Shoreditch had been a run-down commercial district; but like its neighbour Hoxton, it had undergone a rapid and radical period of gentrification. Recent years had seen the appearance of seven-figure loft accommodation, private member’s clubs, and even an urban golf tournament during which businessmen and media types could dress up in ridiculous clothes and knock specially designed balls around. Young writers set their novels there, and independent movies were shot on the streets. Taxi drivers were no longer reluctant to make journeys there after dark, and they had no shortage of business. While decades of grime had been sand-blasted from Victorian buildings, new developments had sprung up to house bars and nightclubs, with office space for consultancy firms and sleek advertising agencies, such as the one where Andrew Dowd’s wife was a director.

She kept Thorne waiting for fifteen minutes, but he was content to drink coffee in the small, crowded bar and watch the world go by; specifically the hordes of immaculately dressed young women with which the streets around Hoxton Square seemed unnaturally blessed. When Sarah Dowd finally appeared to add to their number, she was at pains to point out that she had only ten minutes. With an accounts meeting scheduled for later that afternoon, she could allow herself no more than thirty minutes for lunch.

Thorne might have said that he was fairly busy himself. Or pointed out that she seemed in a hurry to do everything except apologise for being late. ‘I’ll try not to keep you,’ he said.

She ordered a chicken Caesar salad and a bottle of mineral water. ‘Sorry I wasn’t able to see you at the house,’ she said. ‘I don’t get back until late, most nights, and we’re having some work done, so the place is a bit of a state.’

‘Not a problem,’ Thorne said. ‘Must be a nightmare having builders in.’

‘Oh, God. You haven’t done it?’

‘Nothing major. If I want anything to do with cowboys, I’ll watch a Western.’

‘It’s just a small extension…’

Thorne hadn’t enquired, but he nodded anyway and asked when the work had begun. If the builders had been on site for a month or two, it might be significant. Plenty of contractors were happy to take on casual labourers for the heavy work, which would have been as good a way as any for Anthony Garvey to gain access to his target.

‘They started last week,’ she said. ‘Hell of a mess, but it helped take my mind off Andrew being missing, to be honest. Can you understand that?’

Thorne said that he could.

‘I’d been starting to worry that it would all be finished before he was found. If he was found.’

‘Well, you can stop worrying.’

‘Can I?’

Her food arrived and Thorne watched her begin to eat; precise movements of her fork, a sip of water every two or three mouthfuls. He tried to imagine her and her newly shorn husband dining together in the new extension on their already large house in Clapham. Sarah’s salary on top of what Andrew made as an investment manager, expensive holidays twice a year, private healthcare and a nice car each. They were the typical young professional couple who had it all, Thorne thought.

Except for a marriage that worked.

When she put down her fork suddenly, Thorne could not tell if she had lost her appetite or if that was as much as she normally ate. Had it been anything other than salad, he might have asked if he could help her out.

‘When the police called to tell me he’d been found, they said he didn’t want to see me. Well, they were a little more discreet than that, some rubbish about procedure, but I got the message.’

She looked very serious, but Thorne got the impression that she was not the sort of person who smiled a great deal anyway. He had certainly seen no evidence of it so far. ‘Obviously that’s none of our business,’ he said. ‘Our job was just to find him and keep him safe.’

She continued as though she had not heard him. ‘Then, when they came round to collect his clothes, they wouldn’t tell me where he was.’ She tucked a strand of immaculately styled blonde hair behind her ear. ‘I mean, is he even in London?’

‘He’s … in London,’ Thorne said. ‘I’m sure you understand that it’s best to keep the exact location secret. Bearing in mind the nature of the inquiry.’ It sounded convincing enough as he said it, but he could see that she was not taken in.

She pushed the remnants of the salad around the plate. ‘I didn’t know things were quite that bad,’ she said. ‘We’d been arguing, you must know that much.’

‘Like I said, not our business.’

‘He’s making it your business though, isn’t he?’

‘Your husband’s been under a lot of stress, I know that much. Maybe he thinks it’s better for both of you if he just … cuts himself off a bit right now. It makes a lot of sense actually, considering that there has been a serious threat.’

‘I don’t know if you’re a good detective or not,’ she said. ‘But you’re pretty good at bullshit.’

‘It’s a vital part of the job.’

‘Ever thought of working in advertising?’

Thorne caught the first hint of a smile. ‘I’m sure the money’s a damn sight better,’ he said.

She shrugged. ‘It’s bloody stressful.’

Thorne had to struggle not to laugh. A waitress appeared and asked if Sarah had finished. She picked up her plate and handed it over without looking at the girl. The suggestion of a dessert menu was waved away, and it was only then that Thorne noticed just how thin Sarah Dowd’s arms were, the bones sharp at her wrist.

‘Andrew was telling me about a man you had working for you,’ Thorne said. ‘Someone who came to the house to clean the cars?’

She nodded. ‘Tony.’

Thorne felt a prickle at the nape of his neck. ‘Do you know his second name?’ He asked, knowing that it would certainly not be Garvey, not when he was working for someone to whom the name would be so recognisable.

‘He was always just “Tony”,’ Sarah said. ‘I never asked.’

‘Tell me about him.’

‘He just turned up at the house one day touting for business. I told him what we were already paying, he offered to do it cheaper and he did a bloody good job. He had all the equipment in his van — a jet-wash thing, a vacuum, etcetera. Why are you so interested?’ A second after she’d asked the question, her face changed; a pale wash of realisation. ‘You think this could be the man who wants to kill Andrew?’

Thorne reached down for his briefcase and took out copies of the three E-fits, based on the various descriptions they had been given thus far. ‘Could any of these be him?’

She studied the pictures, then lightly tapped a finger against the middle one. ‘This one isn’t a million miles away, I suppose. But he was a bit fatter in the face and he wore glasses. A lot of stubble too, like he was growing a beard.’

Thorne put the pictures away, thinking how easy it was to change your appearance. You did not need to be a master of disguise. A beard grown or shaved off. A haircut, a hat, glasses. Factor in the average person’s powers of observation and recall and almost anyone could hide in plain sight.

‘Did he ever come into the house?’

She seemed to become nervous suddenly, as though she were being accused of something. ‘I made him cups of tea, we chatted about this and that … yes.’

‘How long was this going on for?’

‘He probably came eight or nine times, so I suppose a couple of months?’

‘Then he stopped coming?’

She nodded, getting it. ‘Around the time Andrew went off. I tried calling the number I had for him, but it wasn’t in service.’ She reddened. ‘I remember I was pissed off because I had to drive to the garage to wash the car.’

‘Can you let me have the number?’ Thorne knew that it had almost certainly been a pay-as-you-go phone and all but untraceable, but it was worth checking.

‘He seemed like a nice enough guy,’ she said. ‘Down to earth. Just a … regular bloke.’

‘What did you talk to him about, when he was in the house?’

‘I don’t know.’ She sounded tetchy now. ‘Holidays, jobs, we just nattered for ten minutes at a time while he drank his tea.’

‘Did he ask you any questions?’

‘Well, you do when you’re having a conversation, don’t you? Nothing out of the ordinary, though.’

‘Nothing about your routines, your domestic set-up?’

‘No, nothing specific, but he was probably there enough to get a … sense of everything.’

‘Right.’

‘I never said anything … told him anything.’

‘You wouldn’t have needed to,’ Thorne said. Everything he’d learned so far about Anthony Garvey pointed towards a man who was content to watch and listen, until the time was right. ‘Was Andrew ever there when he came?’

She thought for a few seconds. ‘A couple of times, I think. He usually came on a Saturday.’ She began to play with her napkin. ‘I remember he was there once when we had a major bust-up. I hate it, you know, airing your dirty linen, but Andrew’s never shy about speaking his mind when other people are around. He doesn’t even notice them most of the time, but if he does, it’s like he enjoys having an audience.’ She took a breath and it caught slightly, and she ignored the strand of hair that fell back across her face. ‘We were screaming at each other and swearing, and I remember it spilling out into the front porch and seeing Tony outside working on the cars.’ She paused for a moment or two. ‘I remember him glancing up and me smiling at him like an idiot, as if to say everything was fine. Like this was all perfectly normal.’

Thorne watched her squeezing the napkin, thinking that if Andrew Dowd’s version of events was to be believed, a row such as the one she was describing had become perfectly normal. Thinking, as she looked at her watch, then made noises about having to go, that he liked her far more than he had ten minutes earlier, especially when he considered what the rows between her and her husband had been about.

‘It’s all right,’ Thorne said. ‘You didn’t do anything wrong.’

He ordered another coffee and stayed for ten minutes or so after Sarah Dowd had left. Thinking that the background music — salsa, was it? — was actually pretty good and that, what with his newly discovered appreciation for classical music, perhaps his taste was broadening a little. He wondered if one day he might even grow to like jazz, then decided that was probably pushing it.

Thinking for the most part about a killer who was perhaps the most meticulous, the most organised, he had ever tried to catch.

Had Anthony Garvey ever planned to let Nicholas Maier write his book, or had that been no more than a scheme to extort the money he needed? When did he first draw up his list of victims? How early in their relationship had he decided that Chloe Sinclair was expendable?

Wondering, as he stared at the passers-by, what plans Anthony Garvey was making now, with three of those on his list still alive and well, and with no way to reach them.

On his way out, Thorne was almost knocked flat by a man who then glared at him for daring to be in the way. Thorne said, ‘Sorry,’ then wished he hadn’t — the typical English response. He winced at the rib-tickling slogan on the man’s T-shirt: IF FOUND, PLEASE RETURN TO THE PUB.

Walking back to where he had parked the BMW, Thorne decided that if a prick like that was lost, then those who knew him would surely be praying he stayed that way, or that anyone who found him left him exactly where he was.

 

TWENTY-NINE

 

‘I don’t know how you can stand the smell.’

‘What?’

‘It’s like … dried piss and damp, and you’re right up close to them.’

‘You’ve obviously not been to a post-mortem yet,’ Kitson said.

Trainee Detective Constable Bridges looked away to hide his embarrassment. He had been assigned to Kitson for the evening, and she could see that he was no more thrilled with the arrangement than she was. It was sensible, though. A night-time trawl around the West End’s less glamorous locations was unpredictable, and all six feet three of TDC Bridges was there as back-up as much as anything. Even though Yvonne Kitson could handle herself if it came to it, she supposed that the occasional stupid comment was a small price to pay for feeling safe; and, green around the gills as her companion might have been, he had at least been smart enough to stay back when she was talking to anyone.

That bit of the assignment obviously suited him.

They had already covered Leicester Square and the small streets off Piccadilly Circus, and both were grateful for the mild weather. Kitson had shown pictures of Graham Fowler to anyone who looked as though they might be sleeping rough, and she was ready to produce an E-fit of Anthony Garvey if she got lucky. Thus far, the E-fit had stayed in her bag.

Having spoken to Tom Thorne and picked his brains about life on the streets, Kitson had not expected to strike lucky immediately. The population of rough sleepers around the West End was thankfully not huge, but it was fragmented into distinct cliques — the drinkers, the addicts, those with mental-health issues — and big enough for many of its members to be strangers to one another.

‘You shouldn’t have to look too hard, though,’ Thorne had told her. ‘People can move on quite quickly, or just disappear, but there’s a hard core who’ve been knocking around for years.’

Bridges was not quite so optimistic, or understanding. ‘Even if some of them have seen this bloke,’ he had said after the first hour, ‘most of them are too out of it to remember.’

They walked down to Trafalgar Square and along to Charing Cross station. An old man with an East European accent, a thin blanket wrapped around his shoulders, shook his head at Fowler’s picture, though he was clearly finding it hard to focus. He pointed Kitson further up the Strand, where a soup run would shortly be taking place. ‘Be many types around there,’ he said.

Kitson thanked him, though the location was on the list that Fowler had provided anyway, and pressed a couple of quid into his hand.

‘You can probably claim that back on expenses,’ Bridges said, as they walked. ‘You know, as part of the inquiry.’

Kitson ignored him.

The van pulled up just after nine-thirty in a quiet street behind Somerset House, between a small park and the grand building that housed the headquarters of American Tobacco. About two dozen men and women had been waiting, and they moved forward quickly to form a queue as soon as the serving hatch was lowered and the smell began to drift across the road.

Like the man at Charing Cross had said: many types.

Several customers took their soup or coffee and immediately drifted away, but others remained, standing alone and looking as though they preferred it that way, or gathered in small groups on either side of the road. The first few people Kitson approached shook their heads, not interested or unfamiliar with Graham Fowler’s face, it was hard to tell the difference. One man just stared at her and the woman next to him told her to piss off. Much as she wanted to do just that, Kitson persevered until she finally got a positive response from a Scotsman named Bobby who was standing on the edge of a group near the railings that ran alongside the park. He nodded enthusiastically between slurps of tea and jabbed a finger at the picture. ‘Aye, I know that bloke.’

‘You sure? His name’s Graham Fowler.’

Bobby shrugged and peered again at the photo. He could have been anywhere between forty and sixty. ‘Graham, is it?’

‘Graham Fowler.’

More nodding. ‘Aye, I know that bloke.’

Others in the group moved across then, and two more men said that they recognised Fowler, too.

‘He’s all right, he is,’ Bobby continued. ‘Had a go at some arsehole who gobbed at me, down by the river.’

Another man said he would have punched the arsehole, but agreed that Graham, if that was his name, was a decent sort.

‘Not seen him for a few nights,’ Bobby said.

Bobby’s friend nodded at Kitson. ‘Why d’you think they’re going round showing everyone his picture? He’s dead as mutton, mate. Probably been done over by that arsehole who gobbed at you.’

‘That right?’ Bobby asked.

‘He’s fine,’ Kitson said. ‘He’s just staying with friends.’ She quickly dug out the E-fit. ‘We’re more interested in this man.’

‘Bloody terrible photo,’ Bobby said.

Kitson laughed along with everyone else. ‘Do any of you remember seeing him, probably hanging around whenever Graham was there?’

Bobby shook his head, but then another member of the group said, ‘Seen someone with the same eyes. Hair’s all wrong but the eyes are spot on. I thought he looked a bit mental, so I stayed well clear.’

‘When was this?’

‘Two weeks ago, maybe. Right here, waiting for the van.’

One of the others agreed and said he’d spoken to the man with the small, dark eyes. Kitson asked if he could remember the conversation.

‘He was just asking about where various places were, you know … shelters and day centres, what times they opened. All that.’ He took a sip of his coffee. ‘Said he was new, just getting to know the ropes, so I put him straight. Well, we was all new to this once weren’t we, so you try and be helpful. And it doesn’t bother me if they’ve got a screw or two loose.’

‘Graham was here, was he?’

‘Yeah, far as I remember.’ He finished his drink and turned to head back to the van for more. ‘Yeah, Graham was probably knocking around somewhere.’

‘You sure he’s not dead?’ Bobby asked.

Kitson thanked everyone and put away the pictures. She was turning to leave when a man she had not spotted before came marching across the road in her direction. He was probably mid-twenties, skinny as a stick, with bad skin and dirty-blond hair teased into sharp spikes. His walk was oddly purposeful, and the fact that he was grinning was probably the only reason why Bridges did not step forward to meet him.

‘I know one of your lot,’ he said.

Kitson was wary. ‘Oh yes?’

‘We did a job together once, as it goes. I helped him catch a bloke. You can ask him about it.’

‘What’s his name?’

‘Thorne.’ He stared at her, waiting for some sign of recognition and seeing none. ‘Been a few years, like, but you don’t forget stuff like that. We’re talking seriously heavy business.’ He stepped a little closer. ‘You know him?’

‘Yeah, I know him.’

The grin grew wider and Kitson got a good look at what few teeth the boy had left, brown against grey gums. She could almost smell the rot. A junkie’s mouth.

‘Tell him Spike says hello, yeah? He’ll know who you mean.’ He began rooting in the pockets of his jacket and eventually produced a packet of cigarettes. ‘Tell him to take care.’

Walking away, Bridges was keen to know what the boy had been talking about, but Kitson ignored the question, talking instead about what Bobby and the others had told her. She said they should be pleased with a good night’s work: ‘It puts Garvey here. Tells us a bit more about the way he does things.’

Bridges looked unconvinced. ‘Doesn’t help us catch him, though, does it? Not really sure of the point.’

‘It’s called building a case, all right? Helps us put him away when we do catch him.’

‘If you say so.’

Kitson picked up her speed and moved a step or two ahead of the TDC. The lad was probably able to handle himself, and if she’d been interested she might have said he wasn’t bad looking, but she couldn’t help feeling she’d got herself lumbered with the superintendent’s idiot son.

Bridges grumbled behind her. ‘It all takes so bloody long.’

‘You want a job that’s quick and easy,’ Kitson said, ‘you made a very bad career choice.’

 

 

‘I thought he’d be back by now, to be honest.’ Louise took another look at her watch and pulled up her legs. ‘I knew he was going to be late, but it’s usually before this. Maybe there’s been a break in the case.’

Hendricks was sitting at the other end of the sofa. ‘He’ll call if something’s happened,’ he said. He reached down for the wine bottle and poured each of them another glass. ‘This is a bloody awful case, Lou.’

‘Why does he always get the bad ones?’

‘They seem to suit him.’

‘Maybe I should be worried about that,’ Louise said. ‘If he’s going to be the father of my child.’

‘Don’t worry. With any luck, the kid’ll get your looks and your personality. ’

‘Right, and his bloody taste in music.’

They were talking over an album Hendricks had dug out from the back of a cupboard, a CD he’d left at the flat one time or another, something they both knew Thorne would have hated.

‘I’ve got to say, I was amazed he had it in him at all.’

‘He was sound asleep at the time,’ Louise said. ‘I just helped myself.’

Hendricks laughed for a few seconds longer than he might have done with fewer glasses of wine inside him. Said, ‘So you are going to try again?’

‘We’ve not talked about it, and maybe not yet … but I want to, yeah.’

Hendricks drank, holding the wine in his mouth for a few seconds before swallowing. ‘Funny, I remember sitting here a couple of years ago … well, lying here actually, because I was staying over while I was getting the damp sorted in my flat. I was upset, because I really wanted a kid back then and the bloke I was with at the time wasn’t keen, so…’

Louise shuffled across and let a hand drop on to Hendricks’ knee. ‘I remember telling him about seeing this … exhibition on children’s mortuary facilities, this special room all done up to look like a kid’s bedroom. I’d seen a kid in there and it was like being kicked in the stomach. Anyway, I was telling him all this and suddenly I was just lying here, crying like a girl. No offence.’

‘None taken.’

Hendricks took another swig, emptied the glass. ‘Silly soft sod.’

‘You’d still like to have a child, though?’ Louise asked. ‘“Back then”, you said.’

‘Yeah, ’course I would. But now it’s just like … if it happens, it happens, you know? There’s no point getting worked up about it.’

‘That’s how I feel, I think. I say that — if we get pregnant again I’ll probably be going up the wall — but I reckon I’m less stressed about the whole idea now.’

‘That’s good,’ Hendricks said. ‘I mean, stress can have a lot to do with … you know.’

‘How was Tom? When you got upset?’

‘Awkward.’

Louise nodded, half smiling. ‘That’s how he’s been about this. Like he doesn’t know what to say. Or he wants to say something but he doesn’t know how to get it out.’

‘He’ll get there in the end.’

‘Yeah, that’s him,’ Louise said. ‘Awkward. And only happy when he’s got some awful murder case to get his teeth into.’

‘I don’t know about happy.’

‘OK then, comfortable.’

Hendricks thought, said, ‘Yeah, that’s about right.’

And they sat there and carried on drinking, comfortable enough with one another to say nothing for a while.

 

 

Thorne had rounded off a longish day with a quick one in the Oak, which had turned into a couple once Brigstocke and a few of the other lads had turned up. He had not meant to stay quite so long, but was glad he did, knowing now, as he drove back towards Kentish Town, that he had needed to let off a little steam.

It was better for everyone concerned.

He reached across to the passenger seat for his mobile, deciding to compound the fact that he was almost certainly over the limit by committing a second offence. If he were stopped, it would be by one of only two kinds of copper. There were those who would call him all sorts of silly beggar and look the other way and those who did their job properly and would gleefully do him without turning a hair.

He reckoned that fifty-fifty was pretty good odds.

‘Are you hands free?’ Kitson asked.

‘What do you think?’

‘I think that if anyone ever asks, I should deny having this conversation. ’

‘Where are you?’

‘At home,’ Kitson said. ‘Got back about ten minutes ago to a kitchen that looks like a bomb-site and a bloke who’s pissed off because he’s had two kids giving him grief all evening.’

Kitson had already left Becke House for her evening shift when Thorne had returned from his meeting with Sarah Dowd. He had spent the rest of the day being reasonably constructive between long bouts of window-watching. Trying to put together a rough picture of Anthony Garvey’s movements in recent weeks, and asking himself why he’d let Kitson handle the rough-sleeper lead while he had been content to drink coffee and do marriage-guidance duty in Shoreditch.

Now, he asked Kitson how things had panned out in the West End.

‘Aside from having to work with a tosspot of a trainee, pretty well.’ She told him about the sighting of a man who was almost certainly Anthony Garvey, who in all likelihood had been following Graham Fowler, waiting to pick his moment.

‘I was wondering how he does it,’ Thorne said. ‘Pick his moment I mean.’

‘Maybe he wants to do them in a particular order.’

‘I thought about that, but he’s not doing them in the same order their mothers were murdered.’

‘No point trying to second guess a nutcase,’ Kitson said.

Thorne said that she was probably right. He’d wasted too much time trying to do that in the past.

‘Oh, and I bumped into a friend of yours.’

‘Not too many of those about,’ Thorne said.

‘Bloke called Spike. Told me to say hello to you.’

Thorne feathered the brake of the BMW as his memory fired a series of unwelcome images into his mind: a network of tunnels; a couple making love inside a coffin-sized cardboard box; a syringe blooming with blood. ‘Was there a woman with him?’ he asked.

‘Not that I could see,’ Kitson said. ‘He looked pretty far gone, to be honest.’

Thorne thought about Spike and a woman named One-Day Caroline, who had loved each other and the drug that was killing them so fiercely. If Caroline had managed to get off the streets — and he hoped that was why she was no longer around — staying away from the one person who might drag her back on to them was probably a good idea. There had been a child as well, a boy. Thorne squeezed the steering wheel, willing himself to remember the name.

‘I’ll catch up with you tomorrow, then,’ Kitson said, breaking the silence.

He knew this was why he had been happy to let somebody else interview the rough sleepers. He had no desire to revisit a period of his life that had been so out of kilter, both personally and professionally. No need to step back into the shadows.

‘Right. Tomorrow.’ He jumped a red light at the Archway roundabout, still buzzing with the drink and with those images from his past, and wondering who he was trying to fool. Asking himself if his life now — professionally and personally — was really any better than it had been back then.

He cracked the window to let in some cold air, silently wished Spike well and drove on.

‘Tom …?’

Robbie. The kid’s name was Robbie.

 

THIRTY

 

Malcolm Reece, the man whose name had been provided by Raymond Garvey’s ex-wife, still worked for British Telecom, though, in the three decades since Jenny Duggan had first met him, he had risen from being an engineer to a service installation manager. He was based in a small office on an ugly industrial park in Staines, a Thames-side town in the London commuter belt that looked as depressing as it sounded.

He was decidedly frosty from the moment Chamberlain walked in.

‘Look, I’ve already spoken to the police once.’

‘I know,’ Chamberlain said.

‘Told them where I was on whatever dates … bloody ridiculous.’

Officers had spoken to Reece a fortnight earlier, as soon as the Garvey connection to the killings had been established. He had been eliminated from their enquiries almost immediately, but the record of the interview meant that Chamberlain had been able to track him down very quickly. ‘I’m actually here to talk to you about something else,’ she said.

Reece looked up from his desk, his head almost perfectly framed by a large year planner on the wall behind him. ‘Well, I haven’t got all day, so…’

‘Some of the fun and games you and Ray Garvey got up to, thirty-odd years ago.’

‘Fun and games?’

‘I spoke to his ex-wife. She told me the two of you were quite a pair back then.’

‘I don’t know about that.’

‘Right couple of likely lads, she said.’

Reece leaned back in his chair, and gradually a smile that said, ‘It’s a fair cop’ spread across his doughy features. Chamberlain smiled back, suitably conspiratorial. Although looking at him now, the only thing Malcolm Reece seemed likely to do was burst the buttons on his pale blue nylon shirt or drop dead from heart failure.

Chamberlain put him somewhere in his mid-fifties, maybe a year or two younger than she was, and it was hard to envisage him as the man whom Jenny Duggan had described as never going short of female company. He was bloated and jowly, with glasses perched halfway down a drinker’s nose. He had kept his hair, but it was grey and wiry, the kind she remembered her father having.

‘Blimey, you’re going back a fair way,’ Reece said. ‘And there was a bit more about me then, if you know what I mean.’

Chamberlain nodded, thinking: I doubt that.

‘I was single, for a start.’

‘Ray Garvey wasn’t, though, was he?’

‘Neither were a lot of the girls,’ Reece said. ‘Didn’t seem to matter much to anyone, though.’ He took off his glasses and leaned forward. ‘Look, it wasn’t like there were orgies every day, anything like that. We were lucky, that’s all. A lot of the girls in the office back then were very attractive and they didn’t mind a bit of flirting. We were in our twenties, for God’s sake. Come on, you must have been the same.’

Chamberlain reddened a little, in spite of herself.

‘I mean, that’s all it was most of the time, harmless flirting. Every so often you’d have a drink and things might go a bit further, but it was just a bit of fun at work, you know? These days, you as much as tell a woman she looks nice and you get slapped with a, what do you call it … sexual harassment charge.’

Thinking that she’d like to slap him in a way that would be rather more painful, Chamberlain told him that she sympathised, that things were even worse in the police force. ‘So, you and Ray put it about a bit, then?’

‘Well, like you said, Ray was married, so he had to be more careful.’ He unfastened his top button and loosened his tie, enjoying himself. ‘I was probably more of a naughty boy than he was. I told you though, some of those girls didn’t need a lot of encouragement.’ He grinned. ‘A couple of gin and tonics was usually more than enough.’

‘Can you remember any names?’

‘The girls, you mean?’

‘Sounds like it might be a long list.’

‘Bloody hell, now you’re asking.’

‘Come on,’ Chamberlain said, smiling, still playing the game. ‘I know what you blokes are like. You can’t remember to put the bins out, but you can remember the name of every girl you ever copped off with.’

‘Well…’

‘Ray, I’m talking about.’

Reece looked disappointed. Eventually, he said, ‘I suppose he had a few over the years.’

‘Anyone special?’

Reece thought about it. ‘Maybe one girl, worked as a secretary. A little bit older than he was, if I remember, and married. Yeah, he was seeing her for a while on the quiet.’

‘Name?’

‘Sandra.’ He closed his eyes and fished for a surname. When it came to him, he snapped his fingers and pointed at Chamberlain, delighted with himself. ‘Phipps!’ He shook his head. ‘Bloody hell … Sandra Phipps.’

Chamberlain noted down the name and stood to go.

‘That all finished when she left, though,’ Reece said. ‘She moved away, I think. In fact, there were a few rumours flying about at the time.’

‘Rumours about what?’

‘Well, Ray didn’t say much, but I know one or two people thought she might have been up the duff.’

Chamberlain nodded, as though the information were of no more than minor interest.

‘You on the train?’ Reece asked.

She said that she was, and when he offered her a lift to the station she lied and told him that she had pre-ordered a taxi. Reece walked her out of the building and up close, pushing through the swing doors, she noticed that he smelled quite good. As he told her how nice it had been to meet her, Chamberlain thought, just for a second or two, that she could understand what those girls had seen in him thirty years earlier. It was only momentary, though. Walking away, she decided that back then British Telecom must have had a policy of employing young women with particularly poor eyesight or very low self-esteem.

She called Tom Thorne and talked him through the interview, told him that she might finally have a name for Anthony Garvey’s mother. He said it would be good to catch up in person and they arranged to meet later on at Chamberlain’s hotel.

‘I’ll see you about seven unless anything comes up,’ he said.

Then, she called Jack.

Listening to the phone ring out, imagining her husband turning off the TV and taking his sweet time strolling into the hall, she remembered how she had blushed when Reece had asked what she had been like in her twenties. When Jack finally answered, she snapped at him.

‘What’s up with you?’ he asked.

She had blushed not because she had put herself around back then, but because she had not.

 

 

Andrew Dowd turned from the window of Graham Fowler’s apartment. ‘You think we’re the only ones? The last ones?’

Fowler was sitting on the sofa, a can of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. On the table in front of him were the remnants of several previous beers and many previous cigarettes. He shook his head. ‘There’s at least one more,’ he said. ‘Those two coppers were talking about it.’

‘I wonder why he isn’t staying here.’

‘She,’ Fowler said. ‘I heard one of them mention a name.’ He put down his can. ‘Fuck, you think she’s already dead?’

Dowd shook his head and resumed looking out of the window. After half a minute he said, ‘What if they don’t get him?’

‘I can put up with this for a while,’ Fowler said.

‘I mean ever.’ Dowd walked across and dropped down into the small armchair. ‘They’ll give it a couple of months and then, if they haven’t got him, it’ll just fizzle out. They’ll have other fish to fry.’

‘You reckon?’

‘How can we go back to a normal life?’

‘Some of us never had one, mate.’

‘OK, any life, then.’ Dowd sounded irritated suddenly, or perhaps it was just nervousness. ‘They’ll have to protect us somehow … set us up somewhere else. New identities, maybe.’

‘Like those blokes who blow the whistle on the mafia,’ Fowler said. ‘That doesn’t sound too bad, tell you the truth.’

Dowd shook his head again, then let out a laugh as he picked up the coffee he had been drinking a few minutes before. ‘You’re just about the most optimistic bastard I’ve ever come across,’ he said. ‘Especially considering you’ve got every right to think life is shit.’

Fowler raised his can in a salute. ‘Things can only get better, pal.’

‘Let’s hope so,’ Dowd said. ‘You reckon that bloke Thorne’s up to much?’

‘Seemed like it,’ Fowler said. He leaned forward to stub out his cigarette. ‘There’s not a fat lot we can do about it either way, is there?’

They sat for a while, the silence broken only by the noises of the block — the water moving through the central-heating system, the low hum of a generator — and the grumble of the traffic moving along the Euston Road. Fowler took a fresh cigarette from his pack and rolled it between his fingers.

‘Did you think about her a lot when you were growing up?’ he asked. ‘Your mum?’

Dowd swallowed, then sniffed. ‘For ages I just pretended she was still around. My imaginary mum. I wrote her long letters telling her how I did at school, all that. It got better, eventually. What about you?’

Fowler smiled. ‘I think I just went from being one sort of mess to another,’ he said. ‘I felt it every day, you know? Felt like everyone knew what had happened, that they were looking at me like I was some kind of freak. I got into a shit-load of fights at school. They used up all their sympathy in the end and threw me out.’ He narrowed his eyes, remembering, the cigarette still unlit between his fingers. ‘Even after I got married, had kids, it was still … difficult, so I found things to help me forget about it, you know?’ He nodded towards the empty cans on the table. ‘Only problem is, those things tend to ruin your life ever so slightly, and you end up replacing one kind of grief with another.’ He scrabbled for the lighter. ‘Christ, I’m rambling.’

‘It’s fine.’

‘Sorry…’

‘You ever see your wife or kids?’

Fowler shook his head and pointed at Dowd through the thick fug of smoke. ‘Listen, you want to make sure you don’t lose yours, mate.’

‘Already lost her,’ Dowd said. ‘In all the ways that count.’

‘Don’t be daft.’

‘I’m serious. I’m taking a leaf out of your book and thinking positive. Making a fresh start once all this is sorted.’ He got to his feet quickly and clapped his hands together. ‘Right, I’m making more coffee and I think you should have one.’

Fowler laughed and said thanks. He watched Dowd disappear into the small kitchen, then said, ‘I really do think that copper’s OK, you know, Andy. Thorne.’

After a second or two, Dowd shouted back, ‘He might need to be better than that.’

 

 

As soon as the video had finished, Jason wanted to watch it again, same as always. He tugged at Debbie’s arm until she handed over the remote, grinning at the noise of the tape rewinding and settling back down in front of the screen.

Debbie could not bear to sit through it again. She knew every word by heart, every moment when Jason would turn and blow at her, imitating the puff-puff of each and every train. She got up and walked out into the hall, thinking that she could happily throttle Ringo Starr, and that Thomas the Fucking Tank Engine was in serious need of a derailment.

Nina came out of her bedroom just as the theme music kicked in next door. ‘I can’t believe he hasn’t worn that bloody video out by now.’

It’s wearing me out,’ Debbie said. ‘I’ll tell you that much.’

‘He loves it though.’

‘Yeah, I know … best fifty pence I ever spent. That car-boot fair up in Barnet, remember?’ She watched Nina checking her make-up in the hall mirror. ‘You going out?’

‘Got to work, darling.’

‘You don’t have to. I was thinking, why don’t I start giving you something towards the rent?’

‘Don’t be stupid.’

‘No, I should.’

‘Where from?’

Debbie closed the lounge door. Jason would not be able to understand what they were saying, but he was sensitive to tone of voice, and easily upset by any falling-out. ‘I’ll find it.’

‘Not as easy as I can,’ Nina said. ‘I’ve got three lined up tonight and one always pays me a bit extra.’ She looked at Debbie in the mirror. ‘You all right on your own? You’re not worried are you?’

‘No.’

‘Those coppers are still sitting out there and you can always ring Thorne if you’re nervous.’

‘I’m fine.’

Nina nodded. ‘I need the money, Debs. You know?’

When Nina had gone, Debbie remained in the hall for a few minutes, doing her best to tune out the sounds from Jason’s video in the next room. She would put him to bed as soon as it had finished, and once the screaming and playing up were done with, she’d get an early night herself. It was better than sitting up and fretting, waiting for Nina to get home.

There was no way she could tell her friend how frightened she was. She’d decided years before that the only way to keep it together was never to let anyone see how scared she was. No man, however handy he might be with his fists, not any of those pinch-faced bitches from Social Services, and certainly not Jason. Ever since the police had first come knocking with their serious faces, warning her, she’d been thinking about what it might be like to be separated from him. Not just for a few weeks, but for ever. She watched him sleeping, or stared at the back of his head as he knelt in front of the TV screen, and it made her want to be sick.

She got up and pressed her ear to the lounge door, held back the tears as she listened to her son puff-puffing and humming to himself. I’m the Fat Controller, she thought, and Thomas wouldn’t know what to do without him.

The Fat Controller can’t be shit-scared.

 

THIRTY-ONE

 

When Thorne entered the lobby of Grass-up Grange, DS Rob Gibbons was sitting behind the desk, reading a paperback. Thorne glanced at the cover: some fantasy rubbish.

‘Dragons and hobbits, all that kind of stuff?’ he asked.

Gibbons smiled, clearly unimpressed. ‘Not really.’

‘Where’s Spibey?’

‘Upstairs with the Gruesome Twosome,’ Gibbons said.

Walking up, Thorne wondered which of the stock answers he could give to Fowler and Dowd when they asked the inevitable question about how the inquiry was going. It was a reasonable question, all things considered, but such conversations were never easy.

Have you found the man who killed our mum/dad/brother/sister?

Why is this taking so long?

When are you going to catch him?

We’re doing our best. We’re making progress. There have been several significant developments. Whichever version of ‘no’ and ‘I don’t know’ he trotted out, Thorne was always left feeling slightly grubby. He’d talked about it to Louise more than once, and they’d agreed that there was nothing that could be done about it, and besides, wasn’t it better to give people who were grieving something to hope for? Perhaps, but it didn’t make lying to them any easier.

Any day when a case moved in the right direction was a good one, but they were few and far between, and the really good days, when an arrest — the right arrest — was made, gave hen’s teeth and rocking-horse shit a run for their money. Even then, of course, the possibility of a great day lay with the courts. A less than foolproof legal system meant that the best anyone could do at that stage was cross their fingers, move on to the next case and try not to worry.

‘If they screw up,’ Hendricks had said once, ‘it doesn’t mean you did.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Thorne had said. Because it wasn’t tricksy barristers or incompetent judges who had to face the toughest question of the lot, was it?

How could that happen?

Thorne stepped on to the top-floor landing. He could hear laughter coming from Graham Fowler’s apartment.

So, any chance we might get out of here soon, that you might catch this bloke? You know, the one who’s trying to kill us. Not for the first time, Thorne resolved to be as honest as possible, knowing that when the time came he would probably bottle it.

Forensically, they had about all they were ever going to get, and the phone number provided by Sarah Dowd had proved to be as useless as Thorne had feared. Her information, together with the sightings reported by Yvonne Kitson, was helping to put the picture together, but no more than that. Looking at it from almost any angle, Kitson’s grumbling sidekick might have had a point.

Thorne walked along the corridor, past the open doors of the vacant apartments. Each one looked clean and ready, should it be needed, and there was the faintest tang of new paint. Thorne wondered if Grass-up Grange was expecting a particularly fussy gangland informant, and then — for no good reason — if it was true that the Queen thought the world smelled of fresh paint. Hers was certainly a sweeter-smelling world than the one he and Phil Hendricks lived in.

The poor old soul did have a lot of waving to do though…

He knocked on the door of Fowler’s apartment. Said, ‘Brian, it’s Tom Thorne.’ Spibey gave him the four-digit entry code and Thorne walked in to find him at a table with Fowler and Dowd, a scattering of poker chips just visible between the takeaway cartons and beer cans. The room stank of curry and cigarettes.

Spibey, who was seated with his back to the door, held up his cards so that only Thorne could see. He was holding two kings and a jack. ‘Three-card brag. Fancy a few hands?’

Thorne said that he couldn’t as he was only stopping by on his way to an appointment.

‘Go on,’ Dowd said. ‘You might change my luck, help me get some money back off this jammy bastard.’

‘Pure skill,’ Spibey said.

‘Where’s all the money come from anyway?’

Fowler nodded at Dowd. ‘Well, I came in here with about forty-six pence, but Andy’s subbed me.’

‘And I’m the only one losing,’ Dowd said.

Fowler slowly pumped his arms in the air, began tunelessly singing ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. It was clear that the empty cans were down to him.

Dowd looked at Thorne, shaking his head. ‘Like I told you, it’s a sick world.’

Thorne asked if everything was OK, and Spibey told him it was. Fowler and Dowd nodded their agreement, the two of them sitting there as if it were the most ordinary situation imaginable.

Neither seemed inclined to ask Thorne any difficult questions.

‘Go on then, sod off,’ Spibey said. ‘I’m about to clean these two out.’

‘Oh right, your pair of kings.’

Fowler and Dowd threw their hands down immediately.

‘Bloody hell!’ Spibey said.

Thorne grinned. ‘I’ll phone later tonight,’ he said. ‘OK?’ He would call Debbie Mitchell too, last thing.

Spibey caught up with him at the door. ‘Listen, Tom, I just thought this would take their minds off things, you know? Any problem?’

‘Not as far as I can see,’ Thorne said. Both men had been far more relaxed than the last time he had seen them, and a few hours’ harmless gambling had certainly got Thorne himself off the hook. If it worked with men whose lives had been targeted, he wondered if the chance of a quick flutter might be the key to diluting those awkward moments with desperate relatives.

I’m so confident that we’ll catch the man who killed your husband/wife/hamster that I’ll give you ten to one against us catching him. Stick a tenner on and it’s a win-win

He decided to bring up the idea next time he saw Trevor Jesmond. See if the twat thought he was joking.

 

 

‘Have you eaten?’

Thorne suddenly felt guilty. ‘I grabbed a burger on the way over. Sorry. I thought you’d have had something.’

‘I can grab a sandwich later,’ Chamberlain said. ‘It’s fine.’ She held up her glass of wine. ‘I’ll probably need something to soak this up.’

The bar of the hotel in Bloomsbury was nice enough, but no bigger than a large sitting room, so Thorne and Chamberlain, once they’d got beyond the chit-chat, had needed to keep their voices down. The other occupants, a pair of blousy Midlands girls on the lash, were showing no such discretion. Thorne had twice come close to marching across and letting them know he had no interest in their jobs or boyfriends and suggesting that they might like to take their Bacardi Breezers somewhere else.

‘You’re turning into a miserable old git,’ Chamberlain said.

‘I was always a miserable git,’ Thorne said. ‘I just used to be younger.’

‘You think it’s the Job?’

‘Not really.’

‘That you’d be any less miserable if you worked in Currys?’

‘Christ, no.’

‘Well then.’

‘A week of that and I’d hang myself with one of their reasonably priced extension leads.’

‘So, cheer up,’ Chamberlain said.

She refilled their glasses then picked up the bar menu, tapping her fingers against it in time to the quasi-Celtic folk drivel being piped from the speakers in the ceiling. The girls at the next table laughed and Thorne thought about asking if he could have the drivel turned up a little.

‘You think there’s anything in what this bloke Reece told you?’

‘If it had been himself he was talking about, I’d probably have thought he was full of it. But it sounded … convincing.’

‘A convincing rumour.’

‘Got to be worth checking out though.’

Thorne knew that, as the inquiry stood, a call claiming that Anthony Garvey was the bastard son of Lord Lucan would be worth checking out. ‘So, tell me about this woman,’ he said.

Chamberlain inched forward in her chair. This was what she was being paid for. ‘Sandra Phipps. Well, Phipps as was. She’s been married twice since then. She lives out near Reading somewhere.’

Something rang the faintest of bells with Thorne.

‘What?’

For a second or two he almost nailed it, but the noise from the adjoining table made it difficult to concentrate. ‘Nothing. When are you going to see her?’

‘Tomorrow.’

‘She know you’re coming?’

‘I thought it might be best if I just turned up,’ Chamberlain said. ‘If she is Anthony Garvey’s mother, I’d rather not give her any time to think about it, cook up false alibis.’

Thorne agreed that it was a good idea. He knew how easily the bond between a parent and their child could breed credulity and twist into denial. It was hard to condemn unconditional love, even when it bordered on stupidity, but if it came close to a perversion of justice, a line had to be drawn.

He remembered a woman who had flown at him a few years back, after her son had been jailed for kicking an Asian shopkeeper to death. He’d held her at arm’s length until she’d been restrained. Stood there with gobbets of spit running down his shirt, wondering if the woman hated him as much as she hated herself.

And he remembered Chloe Sinclair’s mother and the father of Greg and Alex Macken. A different sort of unconditional love.

He knew where his sympathies lay.

‘You want me to come with you?’ he asked.

‘Right,’ Chamberlain said. ‘I do all the donkey work and you step in at the finish.’

‘Not at all.’

‘You don’t think I’m up to it?’

‘No, I mean … yes, ’course I do. I just thought you might want some company.’ Thorne shook his head. ‘Bloody hell, you’re turning into a touchy old git.’

Chamberlain emptied her glass. ‘Less of the “old”, you cheeky sod.’

‘Pardon me.’ Thorne finished his own wine and sat back for a few moments. He noticed that one of the Midlands girls, despite the grating voice, was not unattractive. He thought about Louise and quickly turned his attention back to Chamberlain. ‘’Course, even if this woman is Garvey’s mother, she might well have no idea where he is.’

‘Or he might be popping round every Sunday with a bunch of flowers. We don’t know, do we? At the very least we might get a real name.’

‘True.’

‘Maybe more.’

‘God, I hope so.’

‘This one’s wound you up, hasn’t it?’ Chamberlain asked.

Thorne took a few seconds to gather his thoughts, which weren’t coming quite as quickly or cleanly as usual. ‘The weird thing is that I’m almost grateful for it. Just when you think you might be getting … desensitised to this stuff, some freak like Garvey comes along and you find there’s a bit of you that’s still … Shit, can’t think of the word.’

‘I know what you’re saying.’

‘And there’s other things … things at home or whatever. They change the way you react to people. Make you angrier, sadder. Jack all your reactions up a few notches so you can’t switch off quite so easily.’

‘What things?’

‘It doesn’t matter.’ Thorne shook his head. ‘I’m talking shite, that’s all.’

Chamberlain waited, but Thorne waved the subject away as though it weren’t worth their time and effort. The music had dropped in tempo, like Clannad on Mogadon. They watched the barman flirting with the two girls as he gathered up their empties.

‘Are you driving?’ Chamberlain asked. She held up the spent wine bottle to let Thorne see how much they’d put away.

‘Well, I was.’ Thorne had driven home the previous night when he shouldn’t have, but aside from being a little further over the limit now than he had been then, he didn’t feel like calling it a night just yet. ‘Getting a cab shouldn’t be a problem, though.’

‘Shall we get another bottle, then?’

He had parked in an NCP, which meant that, on top of the taxi fare, he would probably need to take out a second mortgage if he was going to pick the car up the next morning. He could always try claiming it on expenses. ‘Might as well,’ he said. ‘If you’re going to order some food anyway.’

‘We could just go up to my room, if you like.’

‘Steady, Carol.’

‘Behave yourself.’ Chamberlain smiled, enjoying it. ‘I’ve got a couple of bottles up there, that’s all, so it’s free and it’s a damn sight nicer than this rubbish. I can always ring down for a sandwich.’

They gathered their stuff together and moved towards the lifts. Thorne made sure his voice was raised as he walked, not altogether steadily, past the table at which the Midlands girls were sitting. ‘Why do women keep asking me to go up to their hotel rooms with them?’ he said.

Chamberlain shrugged. ‘It’s a mystery to me.’

A minute or so later, Thorne was grinning as the lift doors closed. ‘Mind you, the last one did want me to pay for it.’

 

THIRTY-TWO

 

Thorne perched on the end of the bed while Chamberlain sat in the small chair next to the window. The wine, from plastic bathroom glasses, went down easily enough, though it was hard to say if it was really any better than what they’d been drinking in the bar. Thorne was rapidly reaching the point where he could not have distinguished between Merlot and meths.

The first few glasses were taken up with chat about the case, but it seemed like small talk. They had said all that needed saying downstairs and both had been in the Job long enough to know that speculation was ultimately pointless, even when it was all you had left.

‘I’ll call as soon as I’ve spoken to Sandra Phipps,’ Chamberlain said. ‘If she does turn out to be Garvey’s mother, I’m guessing you’ll want a few words yourself.’

Thorne nodded, that faraway bell ringing again.

‘And if she isn’t, do you want me to go back to Malcolm Reece, see if there’s anyone else he can think of?’

‘Might as well,’ Thorne said.

‘Actually, I think he took rather a shine to me.’

‘Why wouldn’t he?’ Thorne spread his arms wide. ‘Attractive and mature lady, still got both her own hips. You have still got both your hips, haven’t you?’

‘Both fists as well,’ Chamberlain said. ‘And you should watch it, because I reckon you’ve drunk more than I have, so your reflexes are probably buggered.’

‘I wouldn’t fancy my chances stone-cold sober,’ Thorne said.

‘Long as you know.’

Thorne had thought about asking if there was any music, if he could turn on the radio, maybe, but he’d stopped himself. Fuzzy-headed as he was, he was still thinking clearly enough to sense that it might not be … appropriate, or at the very least that the connotations might be embarrassing, for one or other of them. The silences grew longer, or seemed to, broken only by the sound of yawns no longer stifled, and once by the laughter and muted conversation of people entering the room next door. For ten minutes, while Chamberlain talked about life in Worthing, Thorne sat in dread, waiting for those tell-tale bedtime noises to start coming through the walls. Would he and Chamberlain sit there mortified, he wondered, raising their voices and pretending they could hear nothing? Or would they piss themselves like naughty children and hold their plastic glasses to the wall? He poured himself another drink, concluding that, should it come to it, alcohol would clearly be the deciding factor.

With two and a bit bottles accounted for between them, Chamberlain said, ‘I told you how grateful I was for this, didn’t I?’

‘Yes, and you didn’t have to.’

‘I meant it, and you know it’s not just about the money.’

‘A chance to stay in a hotel, whatever … I know.’

‘I needed the break, Tom,’ Chamberlain said. ‘We both know the cancer’s coming back and I know Jack’s only trying to make the best of things, but we’re just drifting along, bored and talking rubbish like a pair of stupid teenagers.’

‘But it’s better to be … positive, surely?’

She shook her head, adamant. ‘The pretending’s doing my head in, tell you the truth. He’s doing my head in.’

Thorne took a deep breath. He was finding it increasingly hard to put the words in the right order. ‘I don’t quite know what you—’

‘I’m not saying I want to leave, anything like that.’

‘OK, because I thought you meant—’

‘It’s just that I want to slap him silly sometimes.’

Thorne was about to laugh, but Chamberlain cut him off.

‘Does that sound horrible?’

Thorne could manage no more than a shrug, a puff of boozy breath.

‘We were walking the dog the other week,’ Chamberlain said, ‘and obviously Jack needs to stop quite a bit and catch his breath. I just have to stand and wait, you know, listening to him wheezing and watching the dog disappear until he’s ready to carry on. So I was standing there this one day, thinking, I can run, you know? I can still run.’ She smiled sadly at Thorne. ‘Still got two good knees as well…’

Thorne returned the smile.

‘God knows where it came from, but I thought, I could just go, right now, turn away from him and leg it all the way up the beach until he couldn’t see me any more. Sprint up the beach for the hell of it, just because I still can, you know? And for a few seconds I stood there next to him, fighting the urge to do it. Listening to the wind and the dog barking somewhere, and the air through his lungs like sandpaper.

‘Now you’re thinking, Stupid, selfish cow, right?’

‘No,’ Thorne said.

She brought her glass to her mouth and tipped, but it was already empty.

Thorne could feel the pulse ticking in his temple as his eyes drifted away from her, finally settling on the card on top of the television: a menu of the various channels and pay-movies that were available. He scanned the titles, doing his best to focus, with trivial thoughts bubbling up through the gloop of more serious concerns that slopped inside his skull.

Would the Met pick up the tab for the movies?

Was Carol the sort to watch the dirty ones?

He turned to see Chamberlain unscrewing the cap from the wine bottle and said, ‘I think I should phone for a cab.’

Chamberlain nodded and cleared her throat. ‘I’ll do it.’ She sounded unnaturally bright suddenly, as though she were trying to distance herself from what she had just confessed. She reached for her handbag and pulled out her mobile. ‘Louise be waiting up, will she?’ She smiled, starting to dial. ‘You should think yourself lucky—’

‘We lost a baby,’ Thorne said.

After a few seconds, Chamberlain put down the phone and moved across to sit next to him. ‘I’m sorry. I knew there was something.’

It came out quickly, the words tumbling from him, and when Thorne had finished, he watched Chamberlain stand and walk to the bathroom, saw her return a few seconds later with a wad of tissues in her hand.

‘Here you go.’

It was only as he took them that Thorne realised he was crying and he spoke in rapid breaths, screwing the tissues up in his fist; each small sob clearing his head a little, lifting his heart. ‘Thing is … there was this sort of numbness when we got the news, and I knew Louise was feeling the same thing. But just for a minute or two I didn’t feel like it was necessarily a bad thing. I felt … pleased, you know, because I was off the hook.’ He smiled, sickly and self-mocking. ‘Because maybe, deep down, I hadn’t been sure I was ready to take it all on. Very grown up, eh?’ He shook his head when he saw Chamberlain about to say something. ‘It was just a gut reaction, I know that, like laughing when you get bad news, but it’s all I’ve been able to think about since. Every hour spent on this stupid fucking case. Seeing how cut up Lou’s been, how she’s just got on with things so that I don’t feel bad and … pretending. Carrying this stone in my chest.’

After a few seconds that felt like minutes, Thorne heard Chamberlain say, ‘What about now?’

‘I want it,’ Thorne said. ‘Not just for Louise, I swear. I want her to feel better, course I do, but … for me.’ The laugh burst from him on a bigger sob. ‘I mean, you’re never really ready, are you?’

Chamberlain was already holding his hand, and now she lifted it and squeezed it between both of hers. ‘Sometimes, I think about Jack not being here and I don’t feel quite as bad as I know I should. I feel “off the hook”, too.’ She nodded when Thorne glanced up. ‘Those stones in your chest are more common than you think, Tom.’

‘Christ,’ Thorne said. ‘Look at us…’

There was still a little more crying to be done, and comforting. Then Thorne found himself craving sleep, and thinking about his father as he closed his eyes and laid his head on Carol Chamberlain’s shoulder.

 

 

 

MY JOURNAL

 

15 October


It isn’t easy to kill someone.

People are not wasps or spiders to be swatted or stepped on without a second thought. It gets easier, that’s for sure, same as anything else, but if I’ve made it sound like the moment itself is anything less than hugely stressful, then I’ve done something wrong. Before I began all this, back when the idea was starting to take shape, there were times when I wanted to talk to my father about it. About what it felt like. But it never seemed like the time was right and, if I’m honest, it was always a bad idea. I knew he didn’t want to talk about it, about what he’d done; and besides, it was not something he was ever in control of, so I’m not sure he would have been a lot of help. I mean, it wasn’t like I was going into the family dry-cleaning business, or that he was an ex-footballer with tips to pass on…

We did talk a lot, though, about all sorts of stuff, and he did help me more than he’ll ever know. I learned that wasting time is stupid. Believe me, that’s a lesson you take on board from someone who’s got a lot of it on their hands. I learned, same as he did, that you get judged by what you do, whatever the reason for doing it. And I learned that life is short.

Yeah, ironic I know, that last one, bearing in mind that I’ve done my bit to shorten more than a few! I suppose I’m really talking about getting things done when you’ve got the chance. Not wanting to grow old while you bang your head against legal brick walls. Not letting it grind you down, the getting laughed at or being told you’re obsessed and that maybe you can come back when you’ve got some ‘proper medical evidence’.

Life is short and sometimes you have to make your point another way. You make an impact or you don’t, simple as that.



It’s funny now, living so cheap. I remember that arsehole Maier one time, saying, ‘We’re going to make a fortune.’ I could almost hear him smacking his lips down the phone, spending the money in his head. And I could hear how shocked he was when I told him I wasn’t that interested. I needed enough money, that goes without saying — it’s cost a fair old bit putting all this together. But I swear, I never wanted any more than that. Once this is finished, I’d be fine just settling down somewhere quiet. Sitting behind a till, clearing up in the park, whatever. I know that’s not going to happen, not without a major change of plan, but it’s something I’ve thought about, that’s all. I would be genuinely happy without very much.



So, onwards and upwards, I suppose. It’s been very strange, sitting around on my backside all day, knowing they’re waiting for me to do something. The police and the press and maybe even those who know they’re still on the list. The last of them, clock-watching and shitting their pants, however reassuring Detective Inspector Thorne and his friends are trying to be. Some bit of me must be enjoying it, though, because I’ve been ready to round things off for a few days now. Maybe I’ve been enjoying their uncertainty a little more than is right and proper of me.

Best not keep them waiting any more.

I don’t suppose I’ll see the miserable old sod again, but I should set about giving my old mate the newsagent a few more headlines.

I wonder if the Sun’s got a typeface big enough?

 

THIRTY-THREE

 

When Thorne stepped out of the shower, Louise was standing in the bathroom. She was wearing a T-shirt under the thin, linen robe she’d bought in Greece. She handed him a towel and sat down on the lid of the laundry basket.

‘Early start,’ she said.

‘I’ve got to go into town, pick up the car.’

‘After such a late night, I mean.’

‘I had a few drinks after the shift,’ Thorne said. He could just remember heaving himself into a dodgy-looking minicab in the early hours. Getting increasingly annoyed as he was forced to give the driver directions. Trying to stay awake.

‘I know.’ Louise stood up and walked to the basin, stared at herself in the mirror, opening her eyes wide. ‘I woke up in the night and I could smell it on you.’ She turned and watched Thorne drying himself. ‘You feeling all right?’

Thorne nodded. ‘OK … surprisingly.’ He could not remember ever having drunk so much and feeling so well on it, and was grateful he had been on white, rather than red, wine. There was a headache, and it felt like one of those that would grumble on for a while yet, but in spite of it he was looking forward to the day ahead, the days and weeks. He could remember everything he had told Carol Chamberlain the night before. There was a twinge of embarrassment to go with the bad head, but no more than that. Their conversation might well turn out to be something else they never mentioned again, but he was hugely glad that he had said what needed saying.

He rubbed the towel across his chest. The stone had gone.

‘You want me to do you some breakfast?’ Louise asked. ‘A bit of scrambled egg or something?’

‘Just some tea. I’m a bit pushed.’

‘It’ll be ready by the time you’re dressed.’ She walked out, calling back as she moved towards the kitchen, ‘You can eat it in five minutes.’

‘Thanks.’ He called after her: ‘Lou…’

‘What?’ After a few seconds, she reappeared in the bathroom doorway.

Thorne had wrapped the towel around his waist, and stood there with his toothbrush dangling from his fist. ‘What that woman said, about not feeling better until your due date…’

Louise pushed her hands into the pockets of her robe.

‘It’s probably crap anyway,’ he said. ‘But even if it’s not, it wouldn’t apply if you were pregnant again before then, would it?’

She looked at him for a few seconds. ‘No…’

‘Well, then?’

She nodded, like it was no big deal, but her face told a different story. ‘We could always skip the scrambled eggs,’ she said.

‘I certainly don’t have time for that.’

‘You sure? It doesn’t take that long normally.’

 

 

An hour later, he was leaving Russell Square Tube station and a few minutes after that, he was walking past Chamberlain’s hotel. He thought about calling her, then decided it was probably a bad idea. It wasn’t eight o’clock yet, and although he had no idea what time she was planning to pay Sandra Phipps a visit, he guessed she had as much to sleep off as he had. He would talk to her later.

He handed over £27.50 at the NCP, making sure to check his change and ask for a receipt. The cashier was brisk and seemed disinclined to chat, which suited Thorne perfectly, a grunt of thanks being about all either man could manage.

‘I think I prefer you a bit hung over,’ Louise had said. ‘It’s a lot quieter.’

Thorne smiled, remembering the look on her face as he’d closed the front door, and wondered about stopping somewhere for breakfast, seeing as he’d never got his scrambled eggs. He tuned the car’s radio into Magic FM, turning up an old Willie Nelson track that he liked as he steered the BMW out of the car-park’s gloom and into an unexpectedly bright October day.

A day that would grow considerably darker as it wore on, as Thorne learned exactly what Anthony Garvey was planning. As he saw a son outstrip his father.

A day on which more people would die.

 

 

When Debbie heard the phone ring, she was busy in the kitchen trying to feed Jason. Before she had a chance to reach it, she heard Nina clattering into the hall, swearing and complaining about being woken so early.

Debbie had already been up an hour or more, but she knew that her friend had been working until late and shouted, ‘Sorry!’ as she struggled to clear up the mess Jason had made. She listened, wiping up egg and juice and toast crumbs. Once she heard Nina start shouting, it did not take long to work out who was calling.

‘Yeah, right, but does it have to be so bloody early? … No, we’ve all been murdered in our fucking beds, what do you think?’

Nina was still grumbling and shaking her head when she walked into the kitchen. She switched on the kettle and sat down at the table opposite Jason. He grinned at her and got the flicker of a smile in return.

‘Thorne’s only doing his job,’ Debbie said.

Nina pulled faces at Jason as she spoke. ‘If he’d been doing it properly, there wouldn’t still be a police car outside the front door.’

‘He seems an OK bloke, though.’

‘I know what coppers are like,’ Nina said. ‘I’ve done plenty in my time.’ She got up to make the tea. ‘Come to think of it, I wonder if either of those two out there fancy a quick one.’

They both laughed and Jason laughed in turn. Debbie finished wiping the surfaces and finally sat down. Nina dropped a couple of slices of bread in the toaster, sniffed the milk.

‘Listen, I’ve got a job on this afternoon, is that all right?’

‘Does that mean you can take the night off?’

‘Maybe. I’ve done this bloke a few times, that’s the thing. He always calls me whenever he’s down from Manchester, and he always gives me a bit extra, so…’

‘You’d be stupid not to,’ Debbie said.

‘I need to start putting a bit aside as well, you know, if we’re going to get away.’ Nina bent down and nuzzled the back of Jason’s neck. ‘You want to go on holiday, sweetheart?’

Debbie smiled, knowing very well where every penny would be going, and said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’

‘We should get some brochures,’ Nina said. ‘I’ll pick some up on the way back from this bloke’s hotel. You fancy Majorca?’

Debbie nodded. ‘Be good if you could give it a miss tonight, though. We can have a night in front of the box. I’ll make us spaghetti Bolognese or something.’

 

 

Brian Spibey was on the breakfast run. He’d dropped off a bacon and egg McMuffin at Fowler’s apartment and was on his way along the corridor with coffee and an almond croissant for Andrew Dowd. The smells were making him hungry, and he was keen to get stuck into the bacon sandwich he’d bought for himself that was getting cold down in the lobby. It was funny, he thought, how everyone liked different things for breakfast. That hobbit-fancier Gibbons had been peeling the lid off some poxy pot of muesli when Spibey had headed upstairs.

Thorne had called while Spibey was queuing in McDonald’s. He’d apologised for not phoning the night before as promised, explained that he’d been stuck in a meeting until late. Spibey had reassured him that everything was fine, that their guests were alive and kicking, and had tried to sound jokey when he’d told Thorne that there was no need to check up every five minutes.

‘I’ve been doing this a bit longer than you have,’ he’d said.

Thorne had sounded jokey enough himself. ‘I doubt that, Brian, but you certainly look as though you have.’

Cheeky sod.

He wasn’t sure that Thorne had altogether approved when he’d walked in on their card school. Funny, he’d never had Thorne down as any kind of stickler, and it would be a bit rich, bearing in mind some of the stories Spibey had heard about him over the years. Yes, by rights, he and Gibbons should both be sitting downstairs, glued to the security monitors, but Spibey liked to think he had got to know the two men in his charge pretty well and that he knew the best way to keep them relaxed and happy. They both had good reason to be stressed out, after all, and neither was the type for praying or settling down with a good book, he was sure about that much.

He entered the code for Dowd’s apartment, knocked and waited. ‘Grub’s up, Andy.’

Dowd opened the door and took the cup and paper bag.

‘They better find this bloke soon,’ Spibey said, ‘else you two are going to end up as a right pair of fat bastards. Me an’ all, come to that.’

Dowd didn’t seem to see the funny side and shook his head. ‘I don’t think Graham could put weight on even if he wanted to. The drugs have screwed up his metabolism.’

‘Right, fair enough,’ Spibey said, after a few seconds. ‘I’ll leave you to it.’ He took a few steps away, then turned as Dowd was about to close the door. ‘Listen, you up for another game of cards a bit later? Only Graham said he fancied it.’

Dowd had already bitten into his croissant. ‘Yeah, why not? Least he’s got some money to play with now.’

‘I’ll have that back, don’t you worry,’ Spibey said.

‘We’ll see.’

‘I’m telling you mate, I feel lucky.’

‘Well, you’re the only one round here who does,’ Dowd said.

 

THIRTY-FOUR

 

Her train arrived in Reading just before midday. A simple check of the voters’ register had revealed that Sandra Phipps — as she had been called thirty years previously — was not working, and Chamberlain guessed that lunchtime would be as good a time as any to catch her at home. If there was nobody in, she would find some way to kill an hour or two, perhaps see what Reading had to offer in the way of retail therapy, and try again later.

How threatening could a middle-aged woman carrying a couple of shopping bags be?

Waiting on the platform at Paddington, Chamberlain had been aware that this was the place where Anthony Garvey had collected the cash to fund his killing spree. Also where he had disposed of Chloe Sinclair’s body. She did not know if it was an ill omen or a good one, but she had focused instead on the possibilities of the day ahead: a positive outcome to the interview; the breakthrough she hoped she would be able to pass on to Tom Thorne.

Looking through her notes on the train, she had been unable to stop thinking about their session the night before. She wondered how the state he had been in — might still be in — had affected his ability to handle the inquiry. Had it weighed him down or fired him up? She knew that personal problems usually had an impact one way or the other, and remembered a spell of a few months, twenty years earlier, when she and Jack had been going through a rocky patch. Afterwards, to satisfy her curiosity, she had checked and been amazed to see that her arrest record had been better than ever.

She hoped it worked out the same way for Thorne.

It was a short trip from Reading station to Caversham, a small district a few minutes to the north of the town on the other side of the Thames. The taxi, whose driver gave a running commentary throughout the journey, crossed a large and ornate bridge into an area that looked more like the centre of a chocolate-box English village than a commuter suburb. He finally pulled up — as per Chamberlain’s instructions — a hundred yards or so short of a tidy-looking terraced house set back from the road and within spitting distance of the river.

Walking up to the house, Chamberlain could see rowing boats and steamers moored on both sides of the river, and a pair of swans treading water in mid-stream while a group of kids threw bread from the far bank, trying to spin the slices, like frisbees.

‘Got him, right in the neck,’ one of them shouted.

‘See if you can do it again…’

Chamberlain had already decided that, should the worst happen, she would move, a little nearer to London maybe, and that this was the kind of place she would choose. She loved being near the water, and though this stretch of river had a little less character, it was probably a damn sight cleaner than the English Channel.

And some of the people here were under fifty.

The door was opened by a surly-looking girl, aged fourteen or so, who stared at Chamberlain, careful not to open the door too far. Chamberlain remembered her notes. This would be Nicola, Sandra’s daughter by her third husband, who would be at work as manager of the local Tesco’s. Chamberlain toyed with freaking out the sour-faced little cow by using her name, but instead she just produced her photo ID and asked the girl if her mother was at home.

After a few seconds, the girl backed away from the door, then pushed it until it was almost closed again before disappearing. While Chamberlain waited, hearing the girl’s footsteps on the stairs followed by a muffled conversation, she started to believe that this was all going to work out the way everybody wanted. She wondered if the girl knew anything about a half-brother twice her age, a serial killer who might well have babysat her.

The woman apologised as she yanked the door wide. ‘Sorry … she’s not very chatty at the best of times,’ she said. ‘And she doesn’t like to see me upset.’

‘Oh, right. Is everything OK?’

The woman cocked her head. ‘I don’t understand. She said you were police.’

‘I’m working with the police, yes, but—’

‘So, you haven’t come about…’ The woman gave a small shake of her head, seeing the confusion on Chamberlain’s face. ‘Sorry, I just presumed. We’ve had a death in the family and I thought that’s why you were here.’

‘Oh … I’m sorry,’ Chamberlain said. ‘What happened?’

The woman leaned her head against the edge of the door. ‘One of those things, love. Poor bugger was in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s all, ran into some nutter. We weren’t exactly close, if I’m honest, but still, it’s a shock.’

Chamberlain waited.

‘My nephew,’ the woman said, nodding. ‘Not even thirty! God only knows when they’ll let me bury him, mind you.’

Chamberlain cleared her throat and the woman’s eyes flashed to hers. ‘Well, apologies if this is an awkward time, but I actually wanted to have a word with you about Raymond Garvey.’

The woman blinked and slowly straightened.

‘A name from the past, I know,’ Chamberlain said. ‘And this is probably a bit out of the blue.’

‘Well, yes and no.’

‘Sorry?’

The smile was somewhere between relief and resignation, and it remained in place as Sandra Phipps took a step back into her dimly lit hallway. ‘I’d better make us both a drink,’ she said.

 

 

Gibbons brought up sandwiches and cold drinks for lunch, moaning about being a glorified waiter and looking horrified when Spibey invited him to join the game. Before he left, he pointed out that at least one of them needed to stay on duty downstairs. ‘You know, do the job we’re being paid for.’

Now that one is a stickler, Spibey thought.

After an hour or so, Dowd was well ahead, with several well-organised stacks of chips in front of him, and was even able to sub Fowler, who had lost heavily early on to both the other players. Taking the last game into account, Spibey was still down overall, and was keen to exert a little more pressure. Luck was one thing, he thought, but he was far and away the most experienced player at the table. On top of which — he smiled to himself — neither of them was exactly playing with a full deck.

‘Just to remind you,’ he said. ‘Brag is different to poker and a run beats a flush. You both clear about that?’

Fowler laughed and tossed a few more chips into the pot. ‘Yeah, fine, but I don’t believe you’ve got either.’

‘Mind games,’ Dowd said. ‘It’s the sort of crap they pull on people in interview rooms.’ He pushed enough chips across the table to match Spibey’s bet. ‘Call…’

Spibey nodded thoughtfully, but was unable to contain a broad grin as he laid down ace-king-queen. The grin became a chuckle as Fowler and Dowd groaned in disbelief and threw away their hands. Spibey gathered in the chips. ‘You’ve got coppers all wrong,’ he said. ‘We’re the honest ones.’

Dowd had collected the cards and was already shuffling. ‘So, tell us honestly then, do you normally catch this kind of killer?’

‘Nothing normal about this bloke.’

‘Do you?’

Spibey was stacking his winnings. ‘Look, I’m just on babysitting duty. I don’t really know the ins and outs of it.’

‘Come on…’

‘You’d be better off talking to Thorne.’

‘Would he be honest?’

‘Probably not.’

‘You going to deal or not?’ Fowler snapped.

Dowd raised an eyebrow at Spibey. ‘How long since you had your medicine, Graham?’

Fowler stared for a few seconds, unblinking across the table, then calmly reached for his cigarettes. ‘I’m having all that, mate.’ He pointed at Spibey’s stack. ‘Every last chip.’

‘Easy to say when you’re not playing with your own money,’ Dowd said.

‘You’ll get it back.’

‘What, you going to sell a few Big Issues?’

Fowler smiled, his mood appearing to change again suddenly. ‘When they set us up with these new identities, they’ll have to give us a bit of cash, won’t they? Something to get us started.’

‘Look, it’s all academic,’ Spibey said. ‘Because you won’t be winning jack-shit.’ He reached for his cards. ‘I’m telling you, I’ve hit a lucky streak.’

Fowler lit his cigarette. ‘It’ll change,’ he said.

 

THIRTY-FIVE

 

Sandra Phipps was not a short woman, but she still showed every pound of the excess weight she carried. Round-faced and having done nothing to disguise the grey in her hair, she moved slowly, ushering Chamberlain into a small, overheated living room. ‘You’re welcome to have tea,’ she said. Her voice was flat and there was the hint of a wheeze in her breathing. ‘But I think I might need something a bit stronger, so…’

‘Tea’s fine for me,’ Chamberlain said.

‘It’s a bit early in the day, but what the hell.’

The woman hovered in the doorway, as though she were waiting for Chamberlain to change her mind. Chamberlain smiled, saw a flash of what might have been fear in Sandra Phipps’ eyes and, for the first time since she’d accepted Tom Thorne’s offer to get involved in the investigation, began to feel excited.

‘You sure?’

‘I’m sure,’ Chamberlain said.

While she waited for Sandra to return, Chamberlain sat in a well-worn but comfortable armchair and took in the room. The tops of the television, sideboard and corner cupboard were cluttered with knick-knacks and photographs. A TV listings magazine lay open on the sofa and a chick-lit paperback was on the small table next to it. A tropical-fish tank had been built into an alcove, its gentle bubbling just audible above the frantic bass-line that had begun to bleed down from an upstairs room. There was certainly no sign that this was a family in mourning: no flowers or sympathy cards on display. The daughter had been wearing black, but even with her limited knowledge of teenagers, Chamberlain guessed it was probably the colour Nicola Phipps chose to wear most of the time anyway. The scowl was probably a permanent feature, too.

When Sandra returned — with a mug of tea and a half-empty bottle of wine — there were a few minutes of chit-chat, each woman getting comfortable in her own way. Sandra was horrified, she said, at how unsafe the streets had become in recent years. Chamberlain told her she agreed, and made the right noises when Sandra complained about the extortionate cost of funerals.

Then, Chamberlain got down to it.

She had found it hard to gauge the other woman’s reaction to the mention of the name ‘Raymond Garvey’. A long-distant ex-boyfriend was one thing, but when he also happened to be a notorious mass murderer, there were few precedents. Sandra’s reaction to the name ‘Malcolm Reece’ was a little easier to read.

‘They were a right pair,’ Sandra said, laughing. ‘Him and Ray, swanning around like they were God’s gift.’

‘Sounds like a few of you fell for it.’

‘Yeah, well.’ She shrugged. ‘Young and stupid, I suppose.’

‘How long were you and Ray an item?’

‘I don’t think we were ever “an item”. We were both married, so…’

‘OK. For how long were the pair of you sneaking into the stationery cupboard for a quick one?’

Sandra smiled, reddening a little. ‘There was a hotel room once in a while. The odd weekend away.’

Chamberlain waited.

‘Six months or so, I suppose, on and off. Until he met my younger sister.’ She smiled again, cold this time, then took a drink. ‘Frances.’

‘He started seeing your sister?’

Another shrug. ‘She was prettier than me.’

‘Malcolm Reece said something about a baby.’

If Sandra heard what Chamberlain had said, she chose to ignore it. ‘They kept their affair even quieter than me and Ray did,’ she said. ‘I only found out by accident and, to be honest, I didn’t really want to know too much about it. I was jealous, I suppose, and pissed off with my sister. We didn’t talk to each other for quite a while.’

Chamberlain said she could understand.

‘I even gave Malcolm Reece a bunk-up once or twice, stupid cow that I was. Trying to get my own back at Ray, I suppose.’

‘So, what about this baby?’

‘Not mine,’ Sandra said.

‘Your sister’s?’

Sandra took her time, then nodded. ‘A little boy. Frances and Ray had already broken up for a while by that time. I think Ray’s wife was starting to cotton on.’

Chamberlain grunted agreement. She remembered Jenny Duggan telling her she’d always known about Garvey’s other women.

‘Took her long enough, mind you.’ Sandra drained her glass. ‘You OK?’

Chamberlain stared at Sandra Phipps, suddenly stunned by the echo of a coin dropping hard. ‘Frances?’

Sandra nodded again, and seemed to be wondering what had taken Chamberlain quite so long. ‘Frances Walsh. The stupid thing is, we never really made up properly.’

Chamberlain blinked, pictured the pages of notes she’d been studying on the train: a list of Anthony Garvey’s victims and a list of the women, long since murdered, who had given birth to them. ‘Frances Walsh was Ray Garvey’s third victim,’ she said.

Sandra shook her head. ‘First victim. They found her third, but she was the first to be killed.’ She leaned forward and picked up the wine bottle. ‘You sure you don’t want one of these?’

Chamberlain shook her head.

Sandra said, ‘Suit yourself,’ and began to top up her glass.

 

 

Hendricks breathed heavily for a few seconds then spoke, nice and slowly, in the huskiest voice he could muster. ‘What are you wearing?’

‘You must be really bored.’

‘Bloody hell, how much more miserable could you sound?’

‘Give me another hour or so,’ Thorne said.

When the lack of progress on a case cast heavy shadows across every brick, rippled black in each pane of its dirty glass, Becke House could quickly turn a good mood bad and a bad mood ugly. Thorne had been more than halfway there, sitting in his office and trying in vain to recapture a little of the morning’s optimism, when Hendricks had called.

‘Fancy a beer or six later?’

‘Tricky,’ Hendricks said. ‘I’m in Gothenburg.’

‘Right. Shit.’ Thorne had completely forgotten about his friend’s seminar. Analysis of something or other.

‘You had your chance, mate.’

‘How’s it going?’

‘Well, I’d been hoping for wall-to-wall Vikings and bars full of men who look like Freddie Ljungberg.’

‘I was talking about the seminar.’

‘Equally disappointing.’

‘So, these men…’

‘More like Freddie Krueger.’

Thorne laughed, remembering the last time he had done so, and thought about describing his conversation with Louise that morning, perhaps even telling Hendricks about the one he’d had with Carol Chamberlain the night before.

He never got the chance.

‘I’m guessing there’s no joy on Garvey, then?’

‘Well, he hasn’t killed anyone else, not as far as we know, anyway, so it’s not like things are any worse.’

‘I was thinking about the one in the canal.’

‘Walsh?’

‘Right. Remember you asked me why I thought he’d attacked him from the front? Why it was so much more brutal?’

‘You said something about him getting cocky or angry.’ Thorne tucked the phone between his chin and shoulder, began sorting through the mass of unread paper on his desk. ‘Being in a hurry, maybe.’

‘Maybe.’

Thorne heard something in the silence. ‘What?’

‘What if he wasn’t in a hurry?’ Hendricks asked. ‘What if he deliberately took the trouble to make the victim unrecognisable? There’s still been no formal ID, has there?’

‘No, but—’

‘Can we get a DNA sample from that aunt, do you think? Make sure.’

‘We know who he is, Phil. The stuff in his pocket?’

‘Who the hell carries an old driving licence around? An old letter?’

‘Maybe someone who’s off his face on God knows what and is trying to hang on to who he was.’ Thorne balled up a sheaf of papers he no longer needed, tossed it at the waste-paper bin. Missed. ‘Walsh was virtually living on the street, as far as we can tell.’

‘I was thinking about that, too,’ Hendricks said. ‘The drugs that showed up in the body weren’t what I’d expected.’

Thorne told Hendricks to hang on while he found the relevant file on his computer and called up the toxicology report. He opened the document, said, ‘OK.’

‘I mean, where does the average dosser get hold of antidepressants?’

Thorne looked through the report. Alcohol had been found — beer and whisky — and a partially digested final meal, chips and a pie of some description. He scrolled down and studied the list of drugs, traces of which had been found in Simon Walsh’s body. Diazepam, Prozac, Wellbutrin. ‘You can get hold of anything,’ Thorne said.

‘Isn’t it normally smack and Special Brew?’

‘There comes a time when you’ll take whatever you can get your hands on, mate.’ Thorne remembered the boy called Spike, his eyes glazing over and starting to close even before the needle had slipped from his vein and clattered to the pavement. ‘I remember one bloke who got off shooting up cider.’

There was a pause, then Hendricks said, ‘Sorry. Spending too much time sitting in hotel rooms thinking.’

‘Just thinking?’

‘Well, I have to admit you get a better class of porn on the in-room movie system.’

Thorne laughed again and glanced up to see Sam Karim standing in the doorway. Karim asked if Thorne was speaking to Hendricks, then if he could have a quick word.

‘Hang on, Sam wants you…’

Thorne handed over the receiver and rose from his desk. He thought about Simon Walsh’s face, what had been left of it. Listened as Karim asked Hendricks if he’d seen a moose yet, and if he would mind bringing him back some duty-free cigarettes.

 

 

Fowler was drunk.

He struggled to focus, swiping wildly at the ash that dropped from his cigarette on to the table, as he told Spibey, a little louder than was necessary, that he’d been right about the policeman’s lucky streak coming to an end.

‘Brag’s not a game of luck,’ Spibey said. ‘It’s a game of skill and strategy.’

Dowd laughed. Said, ‘Where are all the chips?’

‘Yeah,’ Fowler said, triumphant. ‘Where are all the fucking chips?’ He clapped his hands and pointed theatrically at the large piles of chips in front of himself and Dowd, then at the few that remained in front of the policeman.

Shuffling the cards, Spibey just about managed a weak smile, but he knew that Fowler was right. Since lunchtime he hadn’t seen a hand, or, if he had, he’d run hard into a better one. He’d watched as Fowler and Dowd had struck lucky time and again and his stack had dwindled to almost nothing.

‘You’d better ask your mate downstairs if he can pop out to a cash-point for you,’ Dowd said.

Fowler cackled, said, ‘cashpoint’ and knocked a pile of his chips to the floor as he leaned across to high-five his friend.

‘Fuck’s sake,’ Spibey muttered.

Fowler bent to retrieve his chips while Dowd told Spibey he should just deal the next hand.

Spibey doled out the cards and was delighted to see that he was holding an ace and two queens, a premium three-card brag hand. He raised big and Dowd quickly folded, but Fowler was content to play blind, which enabled him to call the bet with only half what Spibey had staked. Spibey was all-in and turned over his cards. He watched as Fowler snuck a peek at his hand then began to laugh before sliding them face down across the table to Dowd.

Dowd shook his head and shrugged. ‘Not your day, Officer,’ before showing Spibey the 7-8-9 that Fowler had been holding.

Spibey slammed the flat of his hand on the table and Fowler had to lurch forward to stop his beer can toppling over.

‘Sorry,’ Spibey said. ‘But that’s just ridiculous.’

Dowd nodded. ‘It’s a bad beat.’

‘Bad?’

‘I need a piss,’ Fowler said, dragging the chips towards him.

Dowd pushed back his chair. ‘Who wants tea?’

Spibey had his back to the open window. The sun was warming his neck. Once Dowd had gone into the kitchen area and Fowler had blundered into the small bathroom on the other side of the room, Spibey turned to take a few breaths of fresh air, the creamy fug of cigarette smoke drifting past him before being whipped away on the breeze.

He turned back into the room, reached for his wallet and dug out a twenty-pound note to buy his way back into the game. ‘Bollocks,’ he said, quietly.

As he sat shuffling, waiting for Fowler and Dowd to return, Spibey thought about how quickly he had come to despise the two men he’d been forced to babysit. How a couple of hours’ harmless gambling could show people in their true light. Only a few days earlier, he had considered them both victims, rootless and terrified. But today, watching, listening to them whine and bray, he had come to realise that they were little more than spongers. Mental cases, the pair of them, taking the piss and living it up at the taxpayer’s expense, while the likes of him ran around after them like skivvies.

Christ, as though either of them copping it would be any great loss to society.

Dowd, who clearly thought he was a bloody comedian, had become unbearably smug; and Spibey wasn’t convinced that Fowler was half as drunk as he was pretending to be. What had he put away, four cans of supermarket-strength lager? It was an old card player’s trick, and Spibey was starting to wonder if Fowler was not quite the novice he’d claimed to be.

He smoothed out the twenty on the table in front of him, stared down at it. He’d start again, build it up nice and easy into forty, eighty, more. He’d clean the two of them out before the relief shift came on at six.

Arseholes.

He heard the footsteps and glanced up, waved his twenty pound note in the air, then reached for the cards again, focusing on them as he continued to shuffle. ‘Skill and strategy,’ he said.

What he felt, saw, heard — the sensations that assaulted his body and brain in the last thirty seconds of his life — did not come in the order that Spibey might have expected. He saw the blood first — or perhaps he had blacked out for a few moments and it was just the first thing there when he opened his eyes — spattered across the cards that had tumbled on to the table. Red as diamonds and hearts. Then he felt it, soft against his scalp as his fingers fluttered to the wound on the back of his head, and then the pain as the second blow shattered his hand, and the wash of nausea after the third strike, and then the cool of the tabletop against his cheek.

He tried to raise his head and it began to get dark, and he thought that it was probably wooden, with spikes. The thing he had been hit with. Was still being hit with. He heard someone say, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and smelled his own piss and felt the sun that was still warm against the back of his neck.

Sunshine that was running, thick and sticky, beneath his collar.

‘What the hell are you doing?’

There were a few seconds’ silence as the two men still breathing in the room stared across at each another.

Then, Anthony Garvey walked briskly around the table and calmly pushed a chair to one side, the policeman’s blood flying from the weapon as he raised it once again.

‘You both ran out of luck,’ he said.

 

THIRTY-SIX

 

It was only when she heard the noise on the stairs that Chamberlain realised the music from the upper floor had stopped. She and Sandra Phipps both looked towards the door as the footsteps grew louder, listened to the sound of someone thundering downstairs and then the short silence before the front door slammed shut.

Sandra puffed out her cheeks and sat back in her chair. ‘She’s upset,’ she said.

‘About your nephew?’

Sandra nodded, half smiled. ‘Stupid really. I mean, Nicola hasn’t even seen Simon since she was little. She’d be just as upset if someone in one of those bands she listens to died. It suits her, if I’m honest.’

‘What about you?’

Sandra stared at her, as though unsure whether to point out that it was something of an odd question. ‘I’m … sad. It’s horrible what was done to him. It doesn’t matter that we weren’t particularly close, does it?’

Chamberlain said nothing.

‘I’ve still not heard when I can go and have a look at him, get the funeral sorted, anything like that.’ She swilled the wine around in her glass. ‘God only knows what kind of state he must be in.’

‘They’ll let you know when they’re ready.’ Chamberlain said what she thought was necessary and no more. She had all the pieces now. She knew who the man calling himself Anthony Garvey was, and she knew what that meant. But she was still struggling to make sense of any of it.

‘That’s why I got the wrong end of the stick on the doorstep,’ Sandra said. ‘I mean, that’s what I thought you’d come about.’

‘About Simon?’

‘I thought maybe they were releasing his body, whatever.’

Simon Walsh. The son of Raymond Garvey and his first victim. The man the police were looking for and who — Chamberlain now realised — they mistakenly believed had become a victim himself.

‘It’s why Ray killed her, you know.’

Chamberlain’s head snapped up. It were as though Sandra Phipps had been able to read her thoughts and she felt the blood rushing to her face. ‘Sorry?’

‘That’s what he said, anyway. Because Fran had never told him about the baby. Because he didn’t know he had a twelve-year-old son. I’m not sure how he found out, tell you the truth, but he said he just lost it. He went round there to have it out with her and lost control.’

‘Jesus.

‘What?’

‘Why the hell didn’t you let the police know?’ Chamberlain said.

‘I didn’t know any of this until Ray had been arrested, did I? I didn’t know it was him.’ Sandra was reaching for the bottle again. ‘All those women were already dead by then, so I kept my mouth shut. It wouldn’t have brought any of them back, would it?’

‘When did you find out?’

‘He wrote to me from prison,’ Sandra said. ‘Just the once. Wanted me to know why he’d killed Fran.’ There was hatred suddenly, glittering in the woman’s eyes. ‘Wanted my forgiveness, if you can believe that.’

Seven, Chamberlain thought. Seven women had been murdered because Frances Walsh had kept Garvey’s child a secret from him. It made the notion of a changed personality sound even more ridiculous than it had before. ‘So, why did he keep on killing?’ she asked. ‘After your sister?’

Sandra lifted the bottle on to her lap and stared up at the ceiling. ‘Christ knows. Maybe something had snapped. I don’t know how that mental stuff works. Maybe he was trying to hide the real reason he’d killed Fran … if not knowing about his son was the reason. Maybe he just did it once and liked it. Doesn’t really matter now, does it?’ Chamberlain was finding the woman’s calm, water-under-the-bridge attitude hard to stomach, but she couldn’t, with her hand on her heart, say that it mattered at all. ‘So, you took Simon? After Frances had been murdered?’

‘It was either me or Social Services, so what was I supposed to do? I mean, things had never really got back to normal between me and Fran, all that ancient history with her and Ray. But she never deserved what that bastard did to her. And Simon was family, so I didn’t even have to think about it.’

‘What did you tell Simon about his father?’

‘Same as Fran had told him: his dad had died when he was very little, vague stuff about how he’d been an engineer. But what’s strange is that he never really asked. Had enough on his plate with what had happened to his mum, I suppose, and he went through quite a tough time at school.’ She blinked slowly, remembering. ‘He got angry with her a bit later on, angry with everyone. But that happens to people sometimes, doesn’t it?’ She poured the last of the wine into her glass. ‘When they lose someone.’

Chamberlain waited for Sandra Phipps to continue, watching the woman’s chest rise and fall, listening to its soft wheeze and the gentle bubbling of the fish tank. She started slightly when a mobile phone began to ring, a loud and ludicrously cheery samba.

Sandra leaned across to a small table and snatched up her phone. She stared at the screen for a moment or two and then switched it off. ‘The old man,’ she said. ‘Probably just ringing for a natter. I’ll call him back.’

‘You were saying about—’

‘Look, I just wanted things to be as normal for the kid as possible, OK? Last thing I wanted was for him to know who his dad was or what he’d done. I didn’t want him feeling like a freak.’

Chamberlain fought to keep her reaction from her face. ‘When did you last see him?’

‘He left when he was seventeen,’ Sandra said. ‘Ten years ago, that would be.’ She thought for a second or two. ‘Yeah, ten. It was pretty sudden, you know, he just told me he wanted to get his own place. I think he just wanted to strike out on his own, find his feet. Understandable.’ She nodded towards the door. ‘She’ll be off soon enough.’

‘Did you hear from him?’

‘Once or twice. Just to let me know he was all right. He wasn’t though, was he? The police told me he was living like a tramp when he died.’ She took a drink, closed her eyes as it went down. ‘I’ve been feeling guilty about that ever since I heard what happened.’

‘So, why now?’ Chamberlain asked. ‘You’ve kept all this to yourself for fifteen years.’

Sandra shrugged. ‘Truth doesn’t really matter any more, does it? Not now Simon’s dead.’

For want of anything better to say, Chamberlain shook her head. Said, ‘I suppose not.’

Chamberlain knew very well that Simon Walsh was not dead, but how could she possibly tell this woman? I know your nephew is not the man they hauled out of that canal with a shattered skull and a face like a squashed cantaloupe. I know because Simon is the one who killed him. Who has killed a great many more

As far as good news/bad news routines went, it was right up there with the best.

Sandra cleared her throat, sat forward in her chair. The wine she had drunk could be heard in her voice, which was suddenly brighter, louder. ‘You said you wanted to talk to me about Ray Garvey,’ she said. ‘When you got here. You never said why.’

‘Didn’t I?’ Chamberlain stood up. That was a conversation for someone else to suffer, someone who still possessed a warrant card. Now she just needed to get out of Sandra Phipps’ house as quickly as possible.

She needed to call Tom Thorne.

 

 

Detective Sergeant Rob Gibbons glanced up from his book, as he dutifully did each time he turned a page, looked briefly at each of the three security monitors on the desk in front of him, then went happily back to reading.

To losing himself, and loving it.

The job he did, the stupid, shitty people he had to deal with day in day out, what else was he going to read but fantasy? The likes of that loser Thorne could take the piss all they wanted — dragons and hobbits, my arse — but to Gibbons’ way of thinking, the outlandish worlds created in fantasy novels, in the best ones anyway, made a lot more sense than the piss-poor one he lived in. They were pretty much the most popular books in prison libraries too, certainly the ones that got nicked most often, and you didn’t need to be a genius to figure out why. Fantasy, along with the true-crime stuff, obviously.

As a habit, reading was a damn sight safer than gambling, Gibbons knew that much, and he knew Brian Spibey had a problem. Hours on end trying to take a few quid off a pair like Dowd and Fowler, how sad was that? He’d been up there since lunchtime, for Christ’s sake. Gibbons was happy enough alone with his book, but they still had a job to do, and he was starting to think he’d need to have a quiet word. Either with Spibey or, if he felt like being a real arsehole about it, with someone higher up. That was always a big step, but—

He heard a shout from upstairs and dropped his book; looked up in time to see a shadow cross the screen on one of the monitors, the camera at the end of the first-floor corridor.

He picked up his radio. ‘Brian, you on the way down?’

A hiss of static.

‘Brian? Fuck!

It hadn’t looked like Spibey…

He got up and moved quickly around the desk, his shoes squeaking, stupidly loud as he walked across the lobby. Nobody would come down without Spibey’s say-so, would they? They were supposed to stay in their rooms with the doors locked. Had the silly bugger lost it completely and got pissed with them?

He turned on to the stairwell, then stopped and staggered back, the radio slipping from his fingers and clattering on to the marble floor. ‘Jesus!’ He stared up at the man walking slowly down the stairs towards him. The lost look in his eyes and the blood soaking the front of his shirt. ‘What happened? Jesus…’

‘He just went mental. I think you need to call someone.’

Gibbons could only nod and swallow, unable to move for those few seconds it took the man to descend the final few steps. Gawping at the blood and the look on the man’s face. Seeing far too late the kitchen knife that had slipped from beneath a sleeve into Anthony Garvey’s hand.

 

 

‘Slow down, Carol.’

Thorne had only just finished talking to Phil Hendricks when the call came through. He had been joking with Dave Holland, describing some of the pathologist’s escapades in Sweden. Now, hearing something in Thorne’s voice, Holland hovered near his desk and listened, mouthed, ‘What?’

Thorne shook his head.

‘Are you listening to me, Tom?’ Chamberlain sounded annoyed, out of breath.

‘’Course I am, but you’re not—’

‘Ray Garvey’s son is Simon Walsh.’

‘That’s not possible.’

Chamberlain took him through her conversation with Sandra Phipps as quickly as she could: the misunderstanding about her visit and, finally, the revelation that had changed everything. ‘Garvey had an affair with her sister, and they had a son. She was his first victim, Tom. Frances Walsh.’

‘Why the hell did he—?

‘He killed her because she never told him about the kid. That’s why he killed all of them. It’s got sod all to do with any brain tumour.’

Thorne was out of his chair, fighting to take it all in. ‘But Simon Walsh was battered to death. We fished him out of the bloody canal.’

‘No, you didn’t,’ Chamberlain said.

‘There was ID.’ But even as he was saying it, he knew that they’d got it wrong. He thought about what Hendricks had said and knew that his friend’s concerns had been well justified. The idea had always been to leave the body unrecognisable, with the letter and the driving licence there to provide evidence that the victim was someone he was not.

But why?

Back when the body had been found, Thorne and Hendricks had also talked about the victim being dumped after being killed elsewhere. Now, Thorne was starting to wonder just how far from Camden that might have been.

‘Anthony Garvey is the son of Ray Garvey’s first victim,’ Chamberlain said. His father murdered his mother, Tom.’

Thorne’s shirt was plastered to the small of his back. He could feel the pulse ticking in his neck.

‘More importantly, though, whoever you pulled out of that canal, it wasn’t Simon Walsh.’

Thorne told Chamberlain he’d call her later and hung up. He was moving before Holland had a chance to speak. Holland followed him into the narrow corridor, started to ask the question, but Thorne cut him off.

‘We need to get rapid-response cars to Euston, as many as you can round up. And an armed-response unit.’

‘What?’

Whoever you pulled out of that canal

Thorne knew it could have been only one of two men. That the same applied to the killer himself.

Now, Dave.’

 

THIRTY-SEVEN

 

H.M.P. Whitemoor

 

‘You ready for tomorrow?’

‘They ran me through the list of what could go wrong.’

‘They have to do that to cover themselves.’

‘I know, but you still think about it, don’t you?’

‘This bloke Kambar sounds like he knows what he’s doing.’

‘Yeah, I suppose. Not got a lot of choice really, have I?’

‘How have the headaches been?’

‘Bloody typical, isn’t it? Last few days I haven’t had so much as a twinge. Having something else to think about, maybe.’

‘You should just think about getting better, about living a damn sight longer.’

‘Right, when I’ve got so much to live for.’

‘Listen, I’ve been doing a bit more reading up, looking online and stuff, and there’s tons about this personality change business.’

‘Christ, Tony.’

‘There’s documented cases.’

‘I’ve told you—’

‘You should be excited about this, I mean it. It could get you out.’

‘That’s not going to happen.’

‘Let me worry about it, OK? You just get well and then I’ll show you all the stuff I’ve put together.’

‘I don’t want you wasting your time.’

‘I’m not, I swear. After the op I’m going to start talking to people, get a campaign started.’

‘What people?’

‘Writers, journalists, whatever. I’ll talk to Doctor Kambar after the operation.’

‘What about the women who died?’

‘That wasn’t you. We can prove it.’

‘What about their husbands and parents? Their children? Don’t you think they might want to start a campaign of their own?’

‘We can’t get … sidetracked by that. Innocent is innocent.’

‘Not to mention—’

‘Don’t.’

‘Your own mother, Tony.’

‘She asked for what she got.’

‘None of them asked for it.’

‘It wasn’t your fault. It was the tumour. It explains the other women, can’t you understand that? You had no control. Not even with her.’

‘I’m not up to this. Any of it.’

I’m up to it, OK? You don’t have to worry about anything.’

‘Just having my brain cut open.’

‘I’ll be there when they put you under, OK? And I’ll be there when you wake up.’

‘If

‘Don’t say that.’

‘Sorry. It’s just…’

‘It’s all right.’

‘I’m grateful, really I am.’

‘Don’t be stupid. It’s what families do.’

 

THIRTY-EIGHT

 

Debbie was stepping back from the door before the officer’s warrant card had been fully raised. Instinctively, she reached behind her, her hand flapping, beckoning Jason from where she had left him at the foot of the stairs. Her heart lurched; fear, excitement, both.

‘Did you get him?’

The detective shook his head and looked away for a second or two, searching for the words. ‘There’s been a … development, that’s all.’

She shouted her son’s name, without turning round.

‘There’s no need to panic, Miss Mitchell.’

‘What?’

‘We just think it’s better if someone stays with you for a while. Is that OK?’

Debbie took a tentative step forward, craning her neck to see past the man on her doorstep, looking up and down the street. The nosy cow opposite was watching through a gap in her curtains. She probably had the copper down as one of Nina’s clients. Debbie stuck two fingers up.

‘Is that OK, Debbie?’ The detective’s warrant card was slipped back into the inside pocket of his jacket. ‘Can I come in?’

Debbie took a few seconds, then nodded and turned back into the house, looking for Jason. She heard the front door close as she walked into the sitting room, moving quickly to where her son was now hunched over a picture book next to the sofa. She knelt down beside him, feeling her heart rate slowing a little as she watched him turning the pages, listened to him mutter and grunt.

‘Is there someone else in the house?’

She turned to look up at the figure standing behind her in the doorway. He nodded towards the open door that led through to Nina’s kitchen.

‘The radio,’ she said. ‘It’s a play.’

The detective nodded and listened to the voices for a few moments. It sounded like an argument. ‘Pictures are better, right?’

‘Sorry?’

‘They say that, don’t they?’

‘Say what?’

‘Plays and what have you. That’s why they’re always so good on the radio.’ He tapped a finger against the side of his head. ‘Because the pictures are better.’

‘I’ve never really thought about it.’

Debbie turned back to Jason, but she supposed that the detective was right. She usually had the radio tuned into Capital or Heart FM. She was no great fan of the DJs, but she liked most of the music they played and Jason seemed to like it too. She occasionally caught him dancing, though few other people would have called it that. If there was a play on, though, she’d always try to sit and listen. She’d make a coffee and work her way through a packet of biscuits while Jason was glued to his video. Even when it was one of the weird ones, or some old rubbish set in India or Iraq or wherever, it was usually easy enough to get into the story and an hour would fly by without her really noticing.

Because the pictures are better.

They were certainly better than the ones that had been filling her head of late. The man who was coming for her. Nothing in there suitable for a nice, cosy afternoon play…

She heard the detective walking across the carpet and turned just as he squatted down next to her. His knees cracked loudly and he laughed and shook his head.

‘Bloody hell, listen to that,’ he said.

He smelled of sweat and cigarette smoke.

‘Who’s this, then?’

‘This is Jason,’ Debbie said.

For half a minute or more they both watched Jason moving his fingers across the pictures in his book.

‘How old is he?’

‘He’s eight.’

If the officer was surprised, he did not show it. He just watched silently for a few more seconds, then nodded and pushed himself back up to his feet. At that moment, Jason looked up from his picture book and smiled at him.

The detective smiled right back.

 

THIRTY-NINE

 

They had already cordoned off both ends of the street by the time Thorne and Holland reached Euston, and a small crowd had started to gather. Residents and passers-by had quickly become members of an attentive audience. They fired questions at the officers keeping them at bay and spread rumours among themselves when their enquiries went unanswered. Thorne played equally dumb. He climbed out of the car, keeping his head down, and flashed his warrant card before jogging away up the street towards Grass-up Grange.

There were a dozen or more emergency vehicles parked haphazardly along the street: vans and cars, marked and unmarked; an ambulance. Someone had already called up a tea wagon, which was never a good sign. As Thorne got close, several armed officers walked towards him, ominously slowly, while others stood at the open doors of a van, handing in weapons and stripping off their kit.

Their presence unnecessary.

Thorne was no great fan of CO19 — he’d always found too many armed officers to be cocky sods. Of course, most of them had been a little less full of themselves since Jean Charles de Menezes, and he knew, from the looks that were being exchanged — the heavy steps and the slumped shoulders — that he would have no over-inflated egos to deal with today.

He watched a squat and surly CO19 officer toss his helmet on to the grass and start pulling off his body-armour. As Thorne approached, the man took a cigarette packet from his back pocket and said, ‘Fuck me!’ His face was the colour of candle-wax.

‘How bad?’ Thorne asked.

‘As bad as it gets.’

They both turned as a stretcher was carried out through the open doors and on towards the ambulance. There was a blanket across the body and an oxygen mask was being pressed to the face, but Thorne still recognised the figure of DS Rob Gibbons. He studied the grim expressions of the paramedics, looking for some clue as to the officer’s chances, but saw none. Then he hurried towards the building.

Inside, the lobby was buzzing with activity. The tea wagon would not be needed for a while. The CSI team were already moving around purposefully, the rustle of their body-suits competing with the squawk of radios and the barked orders of senior officers doing their best to keep a lid on the panic.

Thorne walked across to where the remaining members of the paramedic team were gathering their equipment together at the foot of the stairs. Holland was only a few steps behind him, and the two of them stood quietly watching for a moment; staring at the long-bladed knife that lay on the bottom step and the blood that had spread, shiny against the marble floor.

‘What the hell happened?’ Holland asked.

‘We had him,’ Thorne said. ‘We had him all the time.’

‘Had who?’

‘Anthony Garvey.’

‘Yeah, I know that.’ Thorne had done his best to explain as the car had raced from Colindale. Holland had listened, open-mouthed, as Thorne told him what Carol Chamberlain had discovered, spelling out its implications as he urged the driver to put his foot down. ‘But who?’

Instinctively, Thorne raised his head, looked up towards the rooms where he’d visited the last two men on a killer’s list. Where he’d visited the killer himself.

‘Sir?’

Thorne turned and nodded at the nervous young woman who had walked across to them. Nodded again, impatient as she introduced herself as the DI with the on-call Homicide Assessment Team, her name going out of his head immediately. ‘Let’s have it,’ he said.

‘Two bodies upstairs.’ Her eyes flicked momentarily to a notebook. ‘Detective Sergeant Spibey and a man named Graham Fowler.’

‘Christ,’ Holland said.

Thorne said, ‘Show me.’

The woman chatted as they walked up the stairs, the nerves still evident in her voice. She explained that Superintendent Jesmond was on his way, as was the pathologist who was running later than he might have been, having got caught in traffic. There had been some kind of mix-up, she said, as to exactly who was covering for Doctor Hendricks. Thorne thought of his friend, happily oblivious in some Gothenburg watering-hole, and felt a stab of envy. He looked at Holland. ‘So, now we know.’

Holland nodded. ‘Dowd.’

‘The man pretending to be Dowd,’ Thorne said.

They stood in the doorway of the room at the far end of the corridor, so bland and utilitarian until Anthony Garvey had gone to work. They took in its grisly new design.

Spibey was still in his chair, head down on the slick tabletop. On the other side of the room, Graham Fowler was slumped against the wall, one knee oddly raised, as if he were resting casually, though the blood and brain fragments caked to the side of his face told a very different story. A few feet away, a crude circle had been sprayed on the carpet around a stained and splintered mug-tree, and the three small branches that had broken from it; snapped clean off as it had been brought down repeatedly on to the heads of the dead men.

Thorne watched, his fists clenching and unclenching while the stills photographer moved in as close as he was able to the bodies. He listened as one of the CSI officers said something about the murder weapon, cracked a feeble joke about tea.

Whistling in the dark had never sounded so shrill.

‘The superintendent’s going to go mental,’ Holland said.

Thorne nodded, half listening. Thinking back over his conversations with the man they had all thought was Andrew Dowd. Wondering if he had missed something.

‘They’ll be wanting heads to roll, and sure as shit Trevor Jesmond’s won’t be one of them.’

Thoren had put the man’s behaviour down to stress and medication. To some kind of breakdown caused by his predicament and the business with his wife. Christ, he’d been an idiot. Been made to look an idiot. ‘Are you going to catch this bloke?’ Dowd had asked, looking him in the eye, right where Thorne was standing. He turned to the female detective, who was standing behind them, talking quietly to one of her junior officers. ‘We need a description out there now,’ he said.

She stepped towards him. ‘It’s done.’

‘Every car in the area, right?’

‘Like I said—’

‘House-to-house as well, nearest half a dozen streets.’ He glanced back into the room. ‘Bastard’ll be covered in blood, so he can’t have got far without somebody seeing him.’

‘We think he took DS Spibey’s jacket,’ the woman said. ‘We can’t find it, anyway.’ She glanced back towards her colleague, looking for a little moral support before continuing. ‘There’s no sign of his car, either. I checked and Spibey definitely drove in, so…’

Thorne stared at her.

‘We have to assume our suspect’s taken it.’

‘What about a briefcase?’

It was the woman’s turn to stare.

‘Briefcase, bag, whatever,’ Thorne said. ‘Is Spibey’s stuff missing?’

‘I’ve not seen anything.’

‘Look. For. It.’

She turned and headed back down the stairs, but Thorne knew it was pointleess. He began shouting as he lurched forward and followed her. At anyone who would listen. At himself. ‘The killer is almost certainly now in possession of sensitive case-notes and documents.’ His voice echoed as he got close to the lobby. ‘Details of surveillance and protection operations. Names and numbers…’ He froze for a second and almost stumbled, used the momentum to take the remaining stairs two at a time.

Debbie Mitchell’s name.

The address of Nina Collins’ flat.

Coming out on to the street, he watched a patrol car pull up and saw two uniformed officers step out. He recognised their faces and felt a spasm in his gut. What had Nina Collins called them? Starsky and Hutch…

‘Why the hell aren’t you in Barnet?’

The older one leaned back against the car, peered past Thorne at the comings and goings. ‘We were told to leave and get over here.’

His colleague chipped in: ‘Yeah, he said it had all kicked off.’

‘Who did?’ Thorne asked.

‘Detective Sergeant Spibey.’

It felt like a punch, and Thorne was still reeling from it as he ran towards the marked BMW that was moving slowly towards him, its driver searching for a parking space. Thorne furiously signalled to the driver that he should turn the car around fast. He blinked to erase the picture in his head as he reached for his radio, shouting about blues and twos.

Debbie Mitchell’s face peering through a plastic bag.

 

FORTY

 

The BMW raced through traffic in Camden and Kentish Town, then screamed north along the Archway Road. The thoughts were flying equally frantically around Thorne’s head as he braced himself against the dashboard, trying to keep his breathing under control and shouting obscenities at any vehicle that did not get out of their way quickly enough.

Obscenities meant, in truth, for the man who had run rings round him.

The body found in the canal must have been that of the real Andrew Dowd. It would be easy enough to get a DNA sample and make a positive ID. The conversation Thorne would soon be having with Dowd’s wife would be more difficult. He half expected the woman to sue them for incompetence.

It would be a difficult case to defend.

‘Hang on.’

Thorne gritted his teeth, trying to look unafraid as the car accelerated through a red light and swerved hard into a bus lane. He glanced across to see the speedometer’s needle touching seventy-five.

‘Ten minutes away, tops,’ the driver said.

He remembered what Hendricks had said about the victim being killed elsewhere, then dumped. It was a fair assumption that Walsh — or Garvey, as he now called himself — had followed Dowd to Cumbria and killed him there, then travelled back to London to dispose of the body before heading up to Kendal again and handing himself in to the local police.

As monsters went, this one was brilliant.

The trick had been in not trying to make himself look like Dowd, in so radically changing the appearance of the man whose identity he had stolen. The shaved head had convinced everyone they were looking at a man who had been through a major breakdown and Garvey had used every ounce of knowledge he had gained about Andrew and Sarah Dowd’s private life to keep the wife out of the picture. Washing their cars. Watching and waiting for his chance, tucking away the information he would use when the time came. The troubled marriage gave him the perfect excuse once he’d ‘become’ Dowd to avoid any confrontation with the one person who would know he was not who he claimed to be.

As a confidence trick, it was the equivalent of a shoplifter pushing a double bed out through the doors of a department store.

With two people on his list that Anthony Garvey could not track down, he had let the police do the work for him. He had smuggled himself inside the investigation. Fowler had been there on a plate, holed up in the room next door. A sitting duck. It was one policeman’s weakness for gambling, the ease with which he had abandoned procedure that had provided Garvey with the opportunity he had been waiting for, the information he needed.

Had led him to the last victim on his list.

Despite the speed, the noise, the adrenaline fizzing through him, Thorne still tensed when his phone rang. As the car tore down into Finchley, he spent half a minute shouting above the siren to Dave Holland, asking him to check the ETAs of the other units he had ordered to Nina Collins’ flat, hoping that they might get there quicker than he could.

‘We’ll get him,’ Holland said.

The siren screamed again before Thorne could think of anything to say, so he just hung up. He was tucking the phone back into his pocket when he had the idea.

Garvey had taken Spibey’s jacket and briefcase, his paperwork, the ID he had used when talking to the officers outside Collins’ flat. So, why not …?

He pulled his phone out again, searched through the memory and dialled the number he had called first thing that morning, the last time he had spoken to Brian Spibey.

The mobile rang three times, four, then it was answered.

‘You took your time, Mr Thorne.’

Thorne needed a moment to catch his breath. The casual tone, the lightness in the man’s voice, sent a shiver through his chest and shoulders. ‘Is she alive?’

‘You might need to be a little more specific.’

‘Look, I know what this is all about, Simon, and we need to talk about it.’

‘My name’s Anthony.’

‘Sorry … Anthony. We need to talk about what happened to your father. I think we can get the case looked at again.’ It was nonsense, but Thorne could think of no other way to reach the man. He winced at Garvey’s reaction, the playful mockery in his voice, which made it clear that he thought it was nonsense, too.

Really? You’d do that for me? After all these bodies?’

Thorne’s mouth went dry. These bodies, not those. Was Garvey looking down at the body of Debbie Mitchell even as they were talking?

‘Are you still there?’

‘I’m still here,’ Thorne said.

‘I suppose you’re tracing this.’

‘No.’

‘Using cell-site location or whatever.’

‘No, really.’ There would not have been time, and there was no point when Thorne knew precisely where Garvey was.

‘It’s a lot more high-tech these days than when they were blundering around trying to catch my father.’

‘That’s true.’

‘Not that you haven’t been doing a fair bit of blundering yourself.’

‘I can’t argue with that,’ Thorne said. ‘But you’ve been pretty clever.’

‘Right. The “we can talk about this” approach didn’t work, so now you’re trying to flatter me.’ Garvey sighed. ‘You’re very predictable.’

‘I’m just trying to save a woman’s life.’

‘You know, it’s awfully noisy where you are,’ Garvey said. ‘Wailing sirens and what have you.’

‘Tell me if Debbie’s alive—’

‘I’ve got enough of a headache as it is.’

‘Just get out of there,’ Thorne said. ‘If she’s still alive, just run. OK? I don’t care.’

‘Makes me think I should get a move on.’

‘Anthony—’

The line went dead.

Thorne turned to look at the driver, who had not taken his eyes off the road for a moment. At the speed they were travelling, Thorne was more than grateful, but he knew that the man had been listening.

‘Five minutes,’ the driver said.

Thorne could only close his eyes and clench his fists, and hope that Debbie Mitchell had that long.

 

FORTY-ONE

 

She took another step towards the kitchen, one eye on the doorway that led out into the hall, where the man was still on the phone.

‘I need to take this,’ he’d said, looking down at the phone’s small screen and smiling before answering. ‘You took your time, Mr Thorne.’ He’d taken a step or two towards the door then, looking at her and shaking his head as if to say, ‘What a pain in the arse. Just give me a minute.’

Debbie had nodded her understanding and signalled to him that she’d make some tea, biting her lip and trying not to let her face give anything away until he stepped out into the hall and lowered his voice.

You took your time, Mr Thorne

It wasn’t what he’d said that was making her insides churn and slop, though she knew that was no way for a detective to talk to his colleague. It was what she’d seen as he’d raised himself up from her side a minute or two earlier. The sudden flash of red where his jacket had fallen open, the slash and spatter of it.

The bloodstain on his shirt.

She could hear him muttering now, a laugh in his voice as she stood on the threshold to the kitchen and beckoned Jason to her. He was still engrossed in his colouring book.

She hissed his name. Got no response.

She called him again, raising her voice a little. When Jason turned his head towards her, she looked to the sitting-room door to make sure she had not been overheard.

She counted to three and took a deep breath, fighting back tears and a desperate need to urinate. ‘Come with Mummy, Jason…’

He nodded at her.

‘Please, chicken.’

Jason got up slowly, then, for an agonisingly long few seconds, stood staring at the wall, as though he’d forgotten what he was meant to be doing. Debbie held out her hand and waved. She clicked her tongue and made ‘puff-puff’ noises until, with a spin and a smile, her son was bounding across the carpet towards her.

She almost dragged him into the kitchen and quietly pushed the door closed. She could see straight away that he was agitated, picking up on her terror. But there was no time to calm him.

She eased up the volume on the radio, then bent down to whisper in Jason’s ear.

‘Let’s go blow at the trains,’ she said.

He beamed and grabbed at her, squeezed away the trembling in her free hand, while the other gently pushed down on the handle of the back door.

 

FORTY-TWO

 

Brigstocke had called no more than a minute or so after Thorne had finished talking to Garvey. The DCI had arrived at Nina Collins’ flat with a team of detectives from Barnet station and a unit from CO19 that had been stood down from the scene in Euston and had left before Thorne had.

‘How far away are you?’

‘Minutes.’

‘What do you think, Tom?’

Though nominally his senior officer, Brigstocke sounded keen to get Thorne’s feedback. Thorne was both gratified and appalled by the courtesy, if that’s what it was.

‘I think you should go in,’ he said.

‘Shouldn’t we hang back a bit?’ Brigstocke asked. ‘Assess things, I mean? He could well be armed.’

‘There’s no reason to think he’s got anything,’ Thorne said. ‘But it doesn’t matter either way. He’ll just use whatever he can find. He used a mug-tree back there, for Christ’s sake.’

‘Right.’

‘Put the fucking door in, Russell. Don’t give him the chance.’

So, for the second time in less than an hour, Thorne arrived at a crime scene and could do no more than search the faces of those who had beaten him to it for some clue as to how things stood.

If he was too late to change anything.

This time, pulling up hard outside Nina Collins’ flat, the prevalent expression was one of bemusement and Thorne felt relief wash over him as he sprinted up the path to be met at the door by Russell Brigstocke.

‘Nobody here,’ Brigstocke said.

The relief was short-lived. Had Garvey taken her? ‘Any signs of—?’

‘No blood. Nothing to indicate a struggle.’

‘That’s got to be good,’ Thorne said. ‘Do you think?’

Before Brigstocke could answer, there was a shout from the back of the house. A few seconds later, a plain-clothes officer wearing a stab vest came running down the hall.

‘You might want to take a look at the garden.’

While the officer was telling Brigstocke what he had found, Thorne moved quickly into the house and out through the open kitchen door. He saw it immediately. A white plastic garden chair had been taken from the end of a matching table on the patio and placed against the fence at the far end of the small garden. There were muddy footprints on the seat. Thorne bent down to take a closer look.

Three different sets.

Wary of destroying evidence, Thorne ran to grab another chair, climbed up and peered over the fence. He could see nothing but an area of scrubland backing on to a row of garages, the ground littered with shards of glass and twisted scraps of metal, an old mattress, the remains of several fires. In the far corner, a dilapidated cross-hatch fence curled around a corner and out of sight.

He jumped back down and tried to think, then reached for his phone.

When she eventually answered, Nina Collins sounded as though she was very busy, but she was still happy enough to let Thorne know what she thought of him.

He cut her off fast, while trying to keep his voice calm. He did not want to scare her, but he needed information quickly. ‘Debbie’s gone,’ he said.

‘Gone where?’

‘If you climb over the fence at the end of your garden, where do you come out?’

‘What?’

‘Where does it go, Nina?’

‘Fuck’s sake, she’s climbed over the fence?’

‘Where might Debbie go?’

There was silence for a few seconds, then Nina began to curse again. Thorne told her several times to be quiet, and when she had finished, he could hear a man’s voice in the background.

Thorne said, ‘Where would Debbie take Jason, Nina?’ He waited until he could hear her breathing and said it slowly. ‘If she was frightened. ’

‘I don’t know, Christ!’ The man was talking again, and Nina’s voice was muffled as she put her hand over the mouthpiece and told him to shut up. ‘The park, maybe.’

‘The park?’ The kid’s favourite place. ‘Are you sure?’

‘They go there all the time.’

When the man with Nina started to shout, Thorne hung up. As he turned, he saw a woman standing in the garden next door. She was cradling a child and staring at Thorne over the fence.

‘It’s like a madhouse here,’ she said.

‘Did you see anything?’

She shook her head, then nodded towards the phone in Thorne’s hand. ‘I was listening,’ she said. ‘Sorry.’

‘It doesn’t matter.’

‘Thing is, there’s a quicker way.’

 

 

It had been so easy, there had seemed no other choice, as she had stumbled across the patch of wasteland beyond Nina’s garden, through the hole in the fence and out from the tangle of trees into the park. The thought of what might be behind her had driven her forward, compelled her to keep Jason moving, pulling him away from the old woman with the dog and across the football pitches towards the bridge. The certainty had been as total, as all-consuming, as the panic.

Now, though, looking down from the bridge, she was paralysed by a very different sort of terror.

Rigid with it and helpless.

In her head it had all been so simple, and so obvious. She had not chosen this way of doing it and if she’d been given any option, she would have gone about things very differently. Unable to sleep and listening for Nina’s key in the door, she’d imagined the final moments and settled on a long lie down, with crushed-up tablets and booze, and Jason pressed against her beneath the covers. Drifting away together with the radio on, or maybe the music from Jason’s video coming through from the next room. His long, warm body stretched out next to hers.

Knowing nothing. Unafraid.

Next to her now, Jason slapped his hands against the edge of the bridge, grunting with excitement. She opened her eyes and watched the broken snake of the train curl out, the tracks crackling beneath it as the final carriage rumbled on to the straight.

This would be quick, she knew that, but the drop was so terrible and for a few seconds, she was a little girl again, no older than Jason was now. Shivering, her toes curled around the edge of the high board as her father pushed her in the small of the back and told her not to be so stupid. Not to be a baby. She blinked away the tears, staring down at the black lines on the bottom of the pool, wavy beneath that solid block of blue. Leaning back against her father’s hand. Closing her eyes and swallowing back the sick feeling.

Was that what was stopping her now, pressing her down against the stone and shredding her heart like wet paper? Or, Christ … perhaps she was wrong. Was she being stupid and selfish? She had been thinking of nothing else since the police had first come to her door to warn her. Had been so sure that it was the right thing.

For both of them.

Jason could not survive without her, she’d always known that. He would have no sort of life with anyone else. Nobody but Debbie could truly understand him or make him happy. Nobody could ever love him as much as she did.

Now, though, with the bricks humming beneath her, the voice that screamed inside her head told her that she was thinking only of herself. How could she possibly know the way things would turn out for Jason? The sort of future that he might have? They were discovering stuff all the time, making medical advances and coming up with new ideas. Finding ways to get through to kids like him.

‘Puff, puff…’

Debbie dragged her head around, looked down at Jason, his lips moving, his eyes wide and bright. Fearless. Movement at the edge of her vision told her that the man who had brought them to this was no more than yards, no more than moments, away.

She could smell her own sour stink, feel the rush of wind slapping against a face she knew was blank and bloodless. Like someone who was dying.

Which, of course, she was.

It was then, as she sucked in the strength, that she heard Thorne’s voice, hoarse and desperate above the clack-and-grind of the train. He was calling her name every few seconds, first from the street and then from the path, up and away to her right.

His timing is as bad as his jokes, she thought, turning back.

Closing her eyes, her fingers reaching to adjust the tight, thin straps of a long-lost swimsuit.

Her father’s hand in the small of her back.

 

FORTY-THREE

 

Thorne had followed the instructions that the woman in the garden had given him. He had rushed back through the house and out of the front door, ignoring the looks of those he all but flattened and the questions as he legged it past Russell Brigstocke. He had grabbed the keys to the nearest squad car and floored it. Back on to the Great North Road and south towards Whetstone, counting off the turnings until he’d reached the correct one, then heading downhill into a U-shaped side street.

Looking for the path that ran above the Tube line.

This was the normal way in, the woman had told him, the way that the local kids and dog-walkers usually went, and it would get him into the park a damn sight quicker than the route Debbie Mitchell appeared to have taken. There were a couple of cut-throughs off the same street, she’d said, narrow alleyways between blocks of houses, but this was definitely the way to go if you were looking for someone. It would give him the best view of the whole park as he entered it from above, would take him in across the railway bridge.

Thorne double-parked as soon as he had found the entrance and when he came around the car he saw an old woman with a dog emerging from one of the cut-throughs a dozen or so houses to his left. He ran towards her. He saw the look of alarm on her face as he approached, watched her step towards the nearest front gate and pull the Labrador tight to her leg. Thorne dug into his pocket for ID and began shouting when he was still fifteen feet away.

‘Police,’ he said. ‘I’m looking for a woman and an eight-year-old boy.’

The dog started barking and the woman told it to be quiet.

‘Did you see them in the park? She’s tall, blonde hair.’

The old woman fed the dog something from her pocket. ‘That’s right, with her son,’ she said. ‘Bless him. He doesn’t say much—’

‘Was there anyone else with them?’

The woman shook her head, suddenly flustered. ‘I don’t think so, love. I didn’t see anybody.’

‘Where?’

She thought for a few seconds and pointed over Thorne’s shoulder. ‘They were heading towards the bridge, I think.’ The dog was barking again, in search of another treat. ‘This was only five minutes ago, but they were in quite a hurry.’

Thorne was already running.

Where it left the road, the path was just wide enough for a car, but Thorne could see that it narrowed ahead of him. It ran straight for fifty yards or so, before curving to the right. His view of what was round the corner was obscured by treetops and a block of low buildings where the straight ended.

Thorne shouted Debbie’s name.

For half its distance, once it was past the gardens, the path was bordered by garages and other outbuildings at the back of houses. Fences in various states of repair bulged or rose up on either side of Thorne as he ran. Overgrown bushes and small trees gave way to stretches of flaking wood and brick, the graffiti that covered them no more than flashes and washes of colour as he sprinted past.

‘Debbie!’

My fault, Thorne thought as he ran. My fault, my fault, the words sounding in time with his feet as they pounded against the dirt and loose stones. Or if not, then my responsibility

He shouted again, heard only his ragged breath, the loose change jumping in his pockets and the cawing of crows high away to his right as he charged towards the curve of the path.

Down to me.

At the end of the straight he kept as close to the right-hand side as possible, trying to cut the corner, but lost his footing as a cat darted from under a gate and he changed direction hard to avoid it. He was sweating and breathless now, felt as though something had torn behind one of his knees, but he could see that the path cut sharply left again only thirty feet ahead of him. Through gaps in the trees he caught glimpses of the Tube line below. He knew that the bridge was around the corner, that he would get the view he needed as soon as he made the next turn.

He could hear a train coming.

He ran, picking up speed as the downhill slope grew more pronounced, as the panic gained momentum equally fast. Scuttling around in his head, dark images and ideas, like trapped rats.

Garvey reaching for a brick and a bag. The boy screaming. Blood in Debbie Mitchell’s dirty-blond hair.

Thorne shouted again as he took the final turn, tried to scare away the rats.

There was a series of metal gates on his right as he turned on to the section of path that approached the bridge: yards filled with engines and old tyres; a collection of logs and antique lawnmowers; a row of dirty greenhouses and a sign made out of plastic leaves saying, ‘Whetstone Nurseries’. After a few steps, Thorne could see that the woman in the garden had been right. The land swept away below him, granting him a fantastic view of the park. He could see across the treetops to the two football pitches; the parallel foot and cycle paths snaking around them towards a small lake with fields on the far side; and, beyond them, perhaps half a mile from where he stood, the edge of a golf course. But he didn’t need the view.

Debbie and Jason were on the bridge right ahead.

Thorne stopped dead when he saw them sitting on the wall. He felt his stomach turn over and his breakfast start to rise up. Should he stay where he was or move towards them? Should he shout or keep quiet? The last thing he wanted to do was startle her. He needed her to stay calm and still, but Christ, the train was coming. Then he saw Garvey jogging on to the bridge from the other side, no more than a few steps from them, and he knew that he had no choice.

He shouted Debbie’s name — a warning and a plea — and began to run. He saw Garvey raise his head to look at him, saw Debbie do the same. He ran, with no thought of what he would do when he reached the bridge, his eyes flashing from the figures ahead of him to the train moving fast from his right, then watched in horror as his path was blocked by a metal trailer rolling out in front of him from one of the yards to his right.

Thorne shouted, but the trailer kept coming, piled high with plastic water-butts, bags of compost and potted palms; shunted out of the nursery gates by a miniature tractor whose driver stared at Thorne as he reversed on to the path, stopped and prepared to turn round.

‘Get out of the fucking way. Christ

For precious seconds, Thorne lost clear sight of the figures on the bridge. When he was finally able to see anything at all, it was obvious that Garvey had reached Debbie and Jason. That there was some sort of struggle going on.

Thorne saw arms grappling for purchase.

Heard Debbie shout, ‘No!’

He bellowed at the tractor driver and flattened himself against the gate, looking for a chance to squeeze past. When he heard the scream of the Tube train’s brakes, he decided to clamber right across the driver’s lap, but as soon as he was clear of the obstruction and ready to move again, he could see that there was no longer any need to hurry.

There was only one figure ahead of him now.

To his right, the train had emerged from beneath the bridge, hissing and squealing as it slowed. He could just make out passengers pressed against the windows, eager to see what had happened. Why they were stopping so suddenly between stations.

He took two small steps, then looked down at the tracks to his right.

The bodies could easily have been twin bundles of rags.

Behind him, somebody was shouting. Someone who had seen it happen. The tractor driver, maybe.

Thorne stayed where he was for a few seconds, then gave up waiting for the shaking to stop and walked slowly towards the figure on the bridge.

 

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

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