The past is coming back to haunt the people of London: a murderer is targeting the children of victims of Raymond Garvey, an infamous serial killer from London's past.
When Murder Squad veteran Detective Tom Thorne, who solves the London Police Department's most difficult cases, is called into what seems like, for once, an ordinary domestic murder, he thinks he's caught a break. A woman has been murdered by someone she knows. A positive pregnancy test found on the floor beside her. Thorne plans to question the husband, arrest him and return home to deal with his own deteriorating personal life.
But when a mysterious sliver of bloodstained X-ray that was found clutched in the victim's fist is replicated at other crime scenes around the city, Thorne realizes that this is not a simple case. As the bits of X-ray begin to come together to form a picture, it becomes clear that the killer knows his prey all too well and is moving through a list that was started long ago.
As Thorne attempts to protect those still alive, nothing and nobody are what they seem. Not when Thorne is dealing with one of the most twisted killers he has ever hunted.
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By Billingham, Mark
Mulholland BooksCopyright © 2011 Billingham, Mark
All right reserved.
DEBBIE AND JASON
“Come on, pigeon! Let’s go blow at the trains.” Debbie Mitchell tugs at her son’s arm, but he pulls hard in the opposite direction, towards the chocolate Labrador the old woman is struggling to control. “Puff-puff,” Debbie says, blowing out her cheeks. “Come on, it’s your favorite…”
Jason pulls away harder, strong when he wants to be. The noise he makes is somewhere between a grunt and a whine. Anyone else might think he was in pain, but Debbie understands him well enough.
“Dog,” he says. “Dog, dog!”
The old woman with the Labrador smiles at the boy—she has often seen the two of them in the park—then makes the same sad face as always when she looks at his mother.
“Poor thing,” she says. “He knows I’ve got some treats for Buzz in my pocket. He wants to give him a few, don’t you?” The dog hears this, pulls harder towards the boy.
“Sorry,” Debbie says. “We need to go.” She yanks at Jason’s arm, and this time his cry is one of pain. “Now…”
She walks fast, glancing over her shoulder every few steps, urging Jason along. “Puff-puff,” she says again, trying to keep the terror from her voice, knowing how easily he picks up on such things. The boy starts to smile, the dog quickly forgotten. He runs alongside her making chuffing noises of his own.
The dog is barking somewhere behind Debbie as she hurries away. The old woman—what was her name, Sally? Sarah?—meant well, but on any other day Debbie would have said something. She would have smiled, concealing her irritation, and explained that Jason was nobody’s poor anything. That there was no happier child alive, no child more cherished.
Her precious boy. Nine next birthday, with hair on his legs already and an extra-large Arsenal shirt. Who will almost certainly never be able to feed or dress himself.
“Train,” Jason says. Tries to say.
She hurries across the lower field, past the bench where they usually sit for a while, where they have an ice-cream sometimes in hot weather, then Jason runs ahead as they move onto the football pitch. They’ve been coming here for a couple of years and, as she hurries towards the familiar tree-line that borders the railway tracks, it strikes her that she doesn’t even know what the place is called; if it even has a name. It’s not Hampstead Heath or Richmond Park—there had been a flasher active for weeks the previous summer and sometimes the local kids lit fires at night—but it was theirs.
Hers and Jason’s.
She checks behind again and keeps moving. Walking, fighting the urge to run, fearing that if she does, someone will see and try to stop her. Seeing no sign of the man she’s watching out for, she picks up her pace to catch Jason. He’s stopped in front of the goalposts to take an imaginary penalty, same as always. He does it whether there’s a game on or not, and the boys who play here are used to seeing him charging onto their pitch and flapping around by the goal, waving his arms about like Ronaldo. Sometimes they cheer and none of them laughs or pulls faces anymore. Debbie could kiss each one of the little sods for that. Brings them cold drinks now and again, or a few cut-up oranges.
She takes Jason’s hand and nods towards the bridge, a hundred yards ahead and to the left.
They move quickly towards it.
Normally they’d have come the other way, through the entrance opposite her own place, which would have taken them across the bridge on the way in. There would not have been any climbing on plastic chairs and scrambling over her friend’s garden fence.
But this was not a normal day.
When she looks around again, she can see the man on the far side of the football pitch. He waves and she fights the urge to shit herself on the spot. He couldn’t reach them in time, she thinks, even if he ran. Could he? The fact that he is just walking, though, the confidence in his easy stride, terrifies her more than she ever thought possible. Convinces her that she is doing the only thing she can. She had known even before she’d heard him talking on the phone. She’d seen it in his eyes and in the dreadful red stain beneath his jacket.
The man waves at her again and starts to jog.
On the bridge, Jason stops at his usual spot and waits for her, knowing that she will help him see the train when it comes. He looks confused when she moves to his side. He puffs out his cheeks and waves his arms.
There was a metal safety-barrier once upon a time, but bit by bit it had been pulled down, as soon as those with nothing better to do had covered every inch of brickwork with graffiti.
Who had shagged who. Who was a poof. Who had been there.
She puts a hand on Jason’s shoulder, then starts to drag herself up, ignoring the pain as her knees scrape against the bricks, and carefully inches her belly across the top. She takes a few fast breaths, then slowly lifts one leg at a time, up and over until she is sitting. She doesn’t dare look down; not yet.
She looks around to make sure that nobody is watching and it is then that she hears the voice of the real policeman. He is somewhere nearby on the far side of the bridge, coming from the other direction. His voice is cracked and raw as he shouts her name, and she can tell that he is running. He keeps on shouting, searching, but Debbie turns away.
Too late, she thinks. Much too late.
She reaches down to pull Jason up, her heart lurching at his smile of excitement. She’s always lifted him before, just high enough so that he can see over the edge, watch the train as it thunders beneath them.
This is a whole new adventure.
She cries out with the effort of hauling him up and fights back the tears as he settles down, dangles his legs and snuggles up close to her. He feels the vibration before she does, lets her know in a series of gulps and shouts.
Debbie feels her guts turn to water and looks up to see the train rounding the bend in the distance. The southbound Tube from High Barnet. She knows it will slow a little just before the bridge as it approaches Totteridge and Whetstone station. Still fast enough, though.
Debbie scrabbles for her son’s hand and squeezes. She leans down and whispers soft, secret words, knowing—despite any number of expert opinions—that he understands her. He points and yells as the train gets closer, louder. That smile that kills her.
Debbie closes her eyes.
“Puff-puff,” Jason says, blowing at the train.
“… IS NOT viable.”
The woman let her words hang for a few seconds, having passed across the thick roll of kitchen towel, switched off the machine, then turned back to pass on the news while Louise was still wiping the gel off her belly.
There were a few statistics then: percentages and weeks and numbers out of ten. Some stuff about how common this was, and how it was far better happening now than further down the line.
Thorne hadn’t really taken much of it in.
He’d watched Louise nod, blinking slower than normal and buttoning her jeans while the woman talked for a minute or two about practicalities. “We can go through the details a bit later on,” she’d said. “After you’ve had some time to yourselves.”
Was she actually a doctor? Thorne wasn’t sure. Maybe some kind of “scanner technician” or something. Not that it really mattered. It obviously wasn’t the first time she’d said those words; there hadn’t been a pause or even a hint of awkwardness, and he would not have expected one. It was probably best for all concerned to be businesslike about these things, he’d thought. He should know, after all. Best just to say what needed saying and move on, especially with back-to-back appointments and plenty more happy couples waiting outside.
That phrase though…
Afterwards, they sat in the corner near the water-dispenser, facing away from the main part of an open-plan waiting area. Four plastic chairs bolted together. A nice, lemon-colored wall and children’s drawings tacked onto a cork board. A wicker table with a few magazines and a box of tissues.
Thorne squeezed Louise’s hand. It felt small and cold inside his own. He squeezed again, and she looked up; smiled and sniffed.
“You OK?” she asked.
Thorne nodded, thinking that, as euphemisms went, it was a pretty good one. Bland yet final. Probably softened the blow for most people, which was, after all, the point.
Dead. Dead inside you.
He wondered if he should try it for size himself, trot it out the next time he had to meet someone at a mortuary or knock on some poor sod’s door in the middle of the night.
Thing is, your husband ran into some drunken idiot with a knife in his pocket. I’m afraid he’s… no longer viable.
Fine, so it made the victim sound like an android, but that detachment was important, right? You needed the distance. It was that or a few more empty wine bottles in your recycling bin every week.
Softening the blow for you just as much as for them.
I’m sorry to have to tell you that your son has been shot. Shot to non-viability. He’s as non-viable as a doornail.
Thorne glanced up at the small nudge from Louise, watched as the woman who had performed the scan came across the waiting area towards them. She was Indian, with a wide streak of red through her hair. Somewhere in her early thirties, Thorne guessed. Her smile was perfect: sorrowful, but with a spring in its step.
“OK, I think I’ve managed to find you a bed.”
“Thank you,” Louise said.
“When did you last eat?”
“I’ve not had anything since breakfast.”
“That’s good. We’ll try to get the D and C done straight away.” The woman handed Louise a sheet of paper, told her how to get to the ward she needed. Then she looked at Thorne. “You might want to go home and pick up a few things for her. Nightdress, whatever…”
Thorne nodded while the woman talked about Louise needing to put her feet up for a couple of days. Kept on nodding when she said that they should both take things easy, that there were phone numbers on the sheet for people they could talk to, if that was what they wanted.
He watched her walk back towards her room, turning to call the next couple inside when she was at the door. There was a TV mounted high on the wall in the opposite corner. A middle-aged couple was being shown round a villa in France or Italy, the wife saying something about how colorful the tiles were.
“D and C?”
Louise was studying the instructions on her piece of paper. “Dilatation and curettage.”
Thorne waited, none the wiser. It sounded horrible.
“Scraping,” Louise said, eventually.
A thin woman in green overalls pushed a trolley stacked with cleaning equipment along the corridor towards them. She stopped alongside the wicker table, took a rag and plastic spray-gun from her trolley and squirted one of the empty chairs. She looked across at Thorne and Louise as she wiped.
“What are you crying for?”
Thorne studied the woman for a few seconds, then turned to Louise, who was staring at the floor, folding the paper over and over. He was very hot suddenly, could feel the short hairs prickling at the back of his neck and the film of sweat between his hand and Louise’s. He nodded to the sign on the door of the Antenatal Scanning Suite, then snapped his head back to the cleaner.
“Take a fucking guess,” he said.
It took Thorne nearly fifteen minutes to drive the mile or so from the Whittington Hospital to Kentish Town, but at least the journey gave him time to calm down a little. To stop thinking about the heave in Louise’s chest when that cleaner had spoken to them. About wanting to stuff that rag in the woman’s stupid mouth.
She’d looked at him like he was being rude, for Christ’s sake!
Back at the flat, he threw some food into a bowl for Elvis and stuffed the things Louise had asked for into a plastic bag: a clean T-shirt; bra and panties; a hairbrush and a few bits of make-up. He stopped at the door on his way out, needing to lean on the wall for a few seconds before walking back into the living room. He dropped onto the sofa hard and sat there, staring into space, for a while, with the plastic bag cradled on his lap.
It felt cold in the flat. Three weeks into September and high time the heating was put back on. Time for the petty squabbles to start again, with Thorne nudging up the thermostat and Louise nudging it back down again when she thought he wasn’t looking. Secretive readjustments of the timer. The constant fiddling with radiators.
The silly sit-com stuff that Thorne loved, despite the bickering.
They had been arguing—rather more seriously—since Louise had first learned she was pregnant, about what their long-term living arrangements would be. Though they spent most of their time at Thorne’s place, Louise still had her own flat in Pimlico. She was reluctant to sell it, or at least reluctant to accept the assumption that she would. Though they were both keen on sharing a place somewhere, they could not agree which property to put on the market, so they had started talking about selling both flats, then buying somewhere new together, as well as maybe a one-bedroom flat they could rent out.
Thorne stared at the fireplace and wondered if all that would be put on hold now. If lots of the things they’d discussed—some more seriously than others—would be shifted quietly onto the back burner, or become subjects that were simply never mentioned again.
Moving a bit further out of the city.
Quitting the Job.
Thorne stood up and collected the phone from the table near the door, carried it back to the sofa.
They had been talking hypothetically when most of those things had been mentioned; certainly the stuff about weddings and leaving the Force. Just stupid talk, that was all, along with the jokes about not wanting ginger kids and the barmy baby names.
“What about Damien?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Wasn’t his name ‘Thorne’ in the film?”
“Without an ‘E.’ Anyway, who says he’s going to be a ‘Thorne.’ Why can’t he be a ‘Porter’? Come to think of it, who says he’s going to be a ‘he’?”
Thorne jabbed at the buttons on the phone. He’d only signed out for two hours, so now he needed to let them know that he wouldn’t be back until sometime the following day. He’d have been happiest leaving a message, but he was connected straight through to Detective Sergeant Samir Karim in the Incident Room.
“You must be psychic.”
“The DCI’s in the middle of leaving a message on your phone.”
Thorne reached into his jacket for his mobile. He’d turned it off in the hospital and forgotten to switch it back on again. By the time the screen had come back to life and the tones were sounding to indicate that he had a message, Detective Chief Inspector Russell Brigstocke was on the landline.
“Good timing, mate. Or bad.”
“We’ve just caught a job.” Brigstocke took a slurp of tea or coffee. “Nasty one, by the sound of it.”
Thorne swore quietly, but not quietly enough.
“Look, I was about to give it to Kitson anyway.”
“You were right before,” Thorne said. “Bad timing.”
“It’s yours if you fancy it.”
Thorne thought about Louise, what the woman had said about needing to take things easy. Yvonne Kitson was perfectly capable of dealing with a new case, and he had plenty on his plate at work as it was. But he was already on his feet, hunting for a pen and paper.
Elvis was mooching around his ankles while Thorne scribbled a few notes. Brigstocke was right, it was a nasty one, but Thorne wasn’t overly surprised. It was usually the nasty ones they put his way.
“Husband?” Thorne asked. “Boyfriend?”
“Husband found the body. Made the call, then ran out into the street screaming the place down.”
“Made the call first?”
“Right. Then lost it, by all accounts,” Brigstocke said. “Banging on doors, telling everyone she was dead, screaming about blood and bottles. Definitely not what the good people of Finchley are used to.”
“Finchley’s easy,” Thorne said.
“Right, nice local one for you.”
Five or six miles north of Kentish Town. He’d be more or less driving past the Whittington Hospital. “I’ll need to make a quick stop on the way,” Thorne said. “But I should be there in half an hour or so.”
“No rush. She isn’t going anywhere.”
It took Thorne a few seconds to realize that Brigstocke was talking about a dead woman and not about Louise Porter.
“Give me the address.”
IT WAS a quiet street, a few turnings east of the High Road. Edwardian houses with neat front gardens and off-road parking. Many, like number 48, had been divided into flats, though this house was now itself divided from its neighbors: a tarpaulin shielding the side-alley, uniformed officers stationed at each corner of the front lawn and crime-scene tape fluttering above the flower beds.
Thorne arrived just before eight, and it had already been dark for almost an hour. It was light enough in the kitchen of the downstairs flat, where the beams from twin arc-lamps illuminated every mote of dust and puff of fingerprint powder, bounced off the blue plastic suits of the CSIs and washed across the linoleum on the floor. A retro-style, black-and-white check, its simple pattern ruined by a few spots of blood. And by the body they had leaked from.
“I think I’m about ready to turn her,” Phil Hendricks said.
In the corner, a crime-scene investigator was scraping at the edge of a low cupboard. She barely glanced up. “That’ll be a first…”
Hendricks grinned and gave the woman the finger, then looked around and asked Thorne if he wanted to come closer. To squeeze in where he could get a better view.
Thorne doubted that the view would get any better, but he walked across and placed himself between the still-and video-camera operators, opposite the pair of CSIs who were preparing to give Hendricks the help he needed. To add the necessary degree of strength to his gentleness.
“OK, easy does it.”
The woman was face down, arms by her sides. Her shirt had been lifted, or had ridden up, showing purplish patches on the skin just above her waist where the livor mortis had started and revealing that her bra had not been removed.
“Something, I suppose,” a female CSI said as she walked past.
Thorne raised his eyes from the body and looked towards the single window. There were plates and mugs on the draining board next to the sink. A light was flashing on the front of the washing machine to let somebody know that the cycle had finished.
There was still a trace of normality.
Assuming they didn’t get a result in the first few days, Thorne would try to come back at some point. He found it useful to spend time where the victim had lived; even more so if it was also where they had died. But he would wait until he didn’t have to weave between crouching CSIs and negotiate the depressing paraphernalia of a crime scene.
And until the smell had gone.
He remembered some movie where the cop would stand in the houses where people had been murdered and commune with their killer. Was this where you killed them, you son of a bitch? Is that where you watched them from?
All that shit…
For Thorne, it just came down to wanting to know something about the victim. Something other than what their last meal had been and what their liver weighed at the time of death. Something simple and stupid would usually do it. A picture on a bedroom wall. The biscuits they kept in the kitchen cupboard or the book that they would never finish reading.
As for what went on in the mind of the killer, Thorne was happy knowing just enough to catch him, and no more.
Now, he watched as what remained of Emily Walker was moved, saw the hand flop back across the leg as it was lifted and turned in one slow, smooth movement. Saw those strands of hair that were not caked in blood fall away from her face as she was laid down on her back.
Hendricks worked with a good team. He insisted on it. Thorne remembered one CSI in particular—back when they were content to be called scene of crime officers—handling the partially decomposed body of an old man no better than if it were a sack of spuds. He’d watched Hendricks pushing the SOCO up against a wall and pressing a heavily tattooed forearm across the man’s throat. He couldn’t recall seeing the two of them at the same crime scene since.
The cameramen stepped forward and went to work. When they’d finished, Hendricks mumbled a few preparatory notes into his digital recorder.
“How much longer, Phil?” Thorne asked.
Hendricks lifted one of the dead woman’s arms; began bending back the fingers of a fist that was closed tight. “Hour and a half.” The thick Manchester accent stretched out the pathologist’s final word, flattened the vowel. “Two at a push.”
Thorne checked his watch. “Right.”
“You on a promise or something?”
Thorne did his best to summon the right expression, something conspiratorial and devilish, but he wasn’t sure he’d managed it. He turned to see where Detective Sergeant Dave Holland had got to.
“She’s got something in her hand,” Hendricks said.
Thorne turned back quickly and bent down to get a closer look, watched as Hendricks went to work with his tweezers and lifted something from the victim’s fist. It appeared to be a small square of plastic or celluloid, dark and wafer thin. Hendricks dropped it into an evidence bag and held it up to the light.
“Piece of film?” Thorne asked.
They stared at whatever was in the bag for a few more seconds, but both knew they would only be guessing until the Forensic Science Service laboratory had finished with it. Hendricks handed the bag over for the evidence manager to log and label, then carefully fastened polythene wraps around both the victim’s hands before moving further up the body.
Thorne closed his eyes for a few seconds, let out a long breath. “Can you believe I had a choice?” he said.
Hendricks glanced up at him. He was kneeling behind the victim’s head and lifting it so that it was resting against his legs.
“Brigstocke gave me the option.”
“More fool you.”
“I could have let Kitson take it.”
“This one’s got your name on it,” Hendricks said.
“Look at her, Tom.”
Emily Walker was… had been early thirties or thereabouts, dark hair streaked with a little gray and a small star tattooed above one ankle. She was no more than five feet tall, her height emphasizing the few extra pounds which, judging by the contents of the fridge and the magnet on the door that said “ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE HUNGRY?,” she was trying to lose. She wore a thin necklace of brown beads and there was a charm bracelet around one wrist: dice, a padlock, a pair of fish. Her shirt was denim. Her skirt was thin cotton, the same pillar-box red as the varnish on her toenails.
Thorne looked across at the sandal that had been circled on the lino close to the fridge. At the decorative bottle a few feet away, with what looked like balsamic vinegar on the inside and blood and hair caught in a few of the glass ridges on the outside, and beyond, to the light still winking on the front of the washing machine. His hand drifted up to his face, fingers moving along the straight, white scar on his chin. He stared until the red light began to blur, then turned and wandered away, leaving Hendricks cradling Emily Walker’s head and talking quietly into his Dictaphone.
“There is nothing holding the plastic bag in position over the victim’s head. Assume that the killer kept it in place around the victim’s neck with his hands. Bruises on neck suggest he held it there with a great deal of force until the victim had stopped breathing…”
Holland was standing out on the patio at the rear of the house, watching half a dozen uniforms combing the flower beds. There were arc-lamps out here too, but this was only an initial sweep and more officers would be back at first light to conduct a fingertip search.
“So, no forced entry then,” Thorne said.
“Which means she knew him.”
“Possibly.” Thorne could smell cigarettes on Holland, wanted one himself for a second or two. “Or she answered the door and he produced a weapon, forced her back inside.”
Holland nodded. “Let’s see if we get lucky with the house to house. Looks like the kind of street where there’s plenty of curtain-twitching.”
“What about the husband?”
“I only had five minutes before they took him to a hotel up the road,” Holland said. “In pieces, much as you’d expect.”
“Trying too hard, you reckon?”
“How d’you mean?”
“Sounds like he wanted everyone in the street to see just how upset he was. After he’d called us.”
“You heard the 999 tape?”
“No.” Thorne shrugged. “Just…”
“Just wishful thinking?” Holland said. “Right?”
“Yeah, maybe.” It was getting a little chillier. Thorne shoved his hands inside the plastic suit and down into the pockets of his leather jacket. “Be nice if it was… a simple one.”
“I can’t see it,” Holland said.
Nor could Thorne, if he was being honest. He knew only too well how domestic violence could escalate; had seen the ways a jealous boyfriend or a domineering husband could lose it. He blinked, saw the flop of the arm as the body was turned. Spots of pillar-box red against black-and-white squares. Not a simple one…
“Maybe he was just that upset,” Holland said. “How many of these have we done?”
Thorne puffed out his cheeks. There was no need to answer.
“Right. And I still can’t imagine what it must be like. Not even close.”
Holland was fifteen years younger than Thorne. He had been working alongside him for more than seven years and though the fresh-faced newbie was long gone, Thorne still relished the glimpses of someone who hadn’t been totally reshaped by the Job. Holland had looked up to him once, had seen him as the kind of copper he would like to become, Thorne knew that. He knew equally that Holland was not the same as he was… not where it mattered, and that he should be bloody grateful for it.
“Especially when it’s a woman,” Holland said. “You know? I see the husbands and boyfriends and fathers, how it hits them, and it doesn’t matter if they’re hysterical or furious or sitting there like zombies. I’ve got no bloody idea what’s happening inside their heads.”
“Don’t knock it, Dave,” Thorne said.
They both looked across at laughter from further down the garden, where one of the officers had obviously stepped in something. Watched as he scraped the sole of his shoe across the edge of the lawn.
“So, where were you skiving off to earlier, then?” Holland asked.
“When all this kicked off.”
Thorne cleared his throat.
Louise had been fine about him taking the job on, when he’d popped into the hospital to drop off her stuff. She was already in bed, working her way through a copy of heat and trying to tune out the incessant chatter of a woman in the bed opposite. He’d asked if she was sure. She’d looked at him like he was being stupid and asked why she wouldn’t be. He’d told her to call if she wanted anything, if she needed him. She’d told him not to worry and said that she could get a taxi back when it was all over, if she had to.
“Dentist,” Thorne said. “An hour with the Nazi hygienist. The woman’s like something out of Marathon Man.”
Holland laughed. Said, “Is it safe?”
“You told Sophie you’re back on the fags?” Thorne asked.
Holland shook his head. “Got a glove compartment full of extra-strong mints.” He leaned down and spat into a drain. “Stupid really, ’cause I’m bloody sure she knows. Just doesn’t want a row, I suppose.”
Holland and his girlfriend were another couple who had been talking about getting out of London, and about Holland giving up the Job. Thorne wondered if that was something else that was not being mentioned for fear of reigniting an argument. He had always been convinced that Holland should stay where he was, but he would never have said so. If Sophie so much as got wind of Thorne’s opinion, she would fight tooth and nail to do the opposite.
So he kept his mouth shut, content that Holland was still there.
“We’ll get the official ID done first thing in the morning,” Thorne said. “Then bring the husband in for a chat.”
“You never know, we might get lucky.”
Holland snorted, nodded across to where the uniformed officer was now working at the sole of his shoe with a twig, flicking out the shit. “That kind of lucky,” he said.
They both looked up as a plane passed low overhead, lights blinking, on its way to Luton. Thorne watched it move fast across a clear sky and swallowed hard. Eight weeks earlier, he and Louise had gone to Greece together for their first proper holiday as a couple. They had spent most days lying by a pool reading trashy books and done nothing more culturally demanding than work out how to ask for beer and grilled squid in the local taverna. They’d both tried hard not to talk about work and had laughed a lot. One day, Louise had rubbed cream into Thorne’s shoulders where he’d got burned, and said, “This is as far as it goes for me in terms of non-sexual intimate contact, all right? I’m not into squeezing other people’s blackheads and I will not be wiping your arse if you break both your arms.”
She’d bought the pregnancy testing kit on their final morning there. Used it just before they’d gone out to dinner that last night.
Thorne was sitting in the car when Hendricks came out.
He’d checked his phone and tried both flats, but Louise hadn’t got back yet and there were no messages. He’d listened to the radio for a while then called again to no avail. Louise’s mobile was switched off and Thorne guessed it was too late to ring the hospital.
Hendricks walked around to the passenger side and got in. He’d changed out of the protective suit and was wearing black jeans and a skinny-rib sweater over a white T-shirt. “Just about done,” he said.
“Sorry… yeah.” Thorne turned and looked. Nodded and smiled.
A skein of red and blue ink was just visible above the neckline, but most of Phil Hendricks’ tattoos were hidden. Much to the relief of his superiors, a good few of the piercings remained out of sight, too. Thorne was happy to have been spared the graphic details, but knew that some had been done in honor of a new boyfriend, one for each conquest. There hadn’t been a new piercing for quite a while.
It was not what many people expected a pathologist to look like, but Hendricks was the best Thorne had ever worked with; and still—despite the many ups and downs—the closest friend he had.
“Fancy a pint later?” Thorne asked.
“What about Louise?”
“She’ll be fine.”
“No.” Hendricks grinned. “I mean she’ll be jealous.”
“We’ll make it up to her,” Thorne said. In truth, he was the one who had suffered from jealousy. He and Louise had been together almost a year and a half, having met when Thorne was seconded to help out on a kidnap case she had been working, but it had taken her only a couple of weeks to get as close to Phil Hendricks as Thorne had managed in ten years. There were times, especially early on, when it had been disconcerting; when he’d found himself resenting them their friendship.
One night, when the three of them were out together, Thorne had got pissed and called Louise a “fag-hag.” She and Phil had laughed, and Phil had said how ironic that was, because Thorne was the one acting like an old queen.
“Yeah, OK then,” Hendricks said. He looked towards the house, from which officers had begun to drift in twos and threes. “Mind you, if I’m going to be elbows deep in that poor cow first thing in the morning, I’d better just have the one.”
“Well, I’m having way more than one,” Thorne said. “So we’d best go to my local. I’ll give you a lift.”
Hendricks nodded, let his head drop back and closed his eyes. Thorne had given up trying to find any decent country music and had tuned the radio in to Magic FM. It was nearly ten o’clock, and 10cc was winding up an uninterrupted hour of easy-listening oldies.
“He brought his own bag,” Hendricks said.
“The bag he used to suffocate her. He knew what he was doing. You can’t just grab some carrier bag out of the kitchen—they’re a waste of time. Most of them have got holes in, so your vegetables don’t sweat or whatever. You want something air-tight, obviously, and it needs to be a bit stronger, so it won’t get cut to ribbons by your victim’s fingernails, if she’s got any.” Hendricks tapped his fingers on the dash in time to the music. “Also, with a nice, clear polythene bag, you can see the face while you’re doing it. I think that’s probably important.”
“So, he was organized.”
“He came prepared.”
“He didn’t bring the vinegar bottle, though.”
“No, I’m guessing that was improvised. First thing he could grab hold of to hit her with.”
“Then he gets the bag out once she’s down.”
Hendricks nodded. “Might even have hit her hard enough to do the job before he had a chance to suffocate her.”
“I suppose we should hope so.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Hendricks said. “You ask me, the bottle was just to make sure she wasn’t going to struggle too much. He wanted to kill her with the bag. Like I said, I reckon he wanted to watch.”
“I’ll know tomorrow.”
The windows were beginning to steam up, so Thorne turned on the fan. They listened to the news for a couple of minutes. There was nothing to lift the mood even slightly and there was nothing in the sports round-up to get excited about. The football season was still only a month or so old and, with neither of their teams in action, none of the night’s results proved particularly significant.
“Six weeks until we stuff you again,” Hendricks said. A committed Gunner, he was still relishing the double that Arsenal had done over Spurs in the north London derbies the previous season.
Hendricks was laughing and saying something else, but Thorne had stopped listening. He was staring down at the screen of his mobile, thumbing through the menu and checking he hadn’t missed a message.
Making sure he still had a decent signal.
“Tom? You OK, mate?”
Thorne put the phone away and turned.
“Is Louise all right?” Hendricks waited, saw something in Thorne’s face. “Shit, is it the baby?”
“What? How d’you know…?” Thorne pushed back hard in his seat and stared straight ahead. He and Louise had agreed to tell nobody for the first three months. A good friend of hers had lost one early on.
“Don’t be pissed off,” Hendricks said. “I forced it out of her.”
“Course you did.”
“To be honest, I think she was desperate to spill the beans.” Hendricks looked for a softening in Thorne’s demeanor but saw none. “Come on, who else was she going to tell?”
Thorne glanced across, spat it out. “I don’t know, her mother?”
“I think she might have told her as well.”
“Nobody else, as far as I know.”
Thorne leaned down and turned off the radio. “This was why we agreed we wouldn’t say anything. In case this happened.”
“Shit,” Hendricks said. “Tell me.”
When Thorne had finished, Hendricks began telling him that these things usually happened for good reasons, that it was better now than later on. Thorne stopped him. Told him he’d heard it all already from the woman who’d done the scan and that it hadn’t helped too much then, either.
Thorne saw Hendricks’ face and apologized. “I just didn’t know what to say to her, you know?”
“Nothing much you can say.”
“Need to give it time, I suppose,” Thorne said.
“Tell her to call me whenever she likes,” Hendricks said. “You know, if she wants to talk about it.”
Thorne nodded. “She will.”
“You, too.” He waited until Thorne looked over. “All right?”
They sat in silence for a minute. There was still plenty of activity at the front of the house—vehicles coming and going every few minutes. Half a dozen spectators were crowded on the opposite side of the road, despite the best efforts of the uniforms to keep them away.
Thorne let out an empty laugh and smacked his hand against the steering wheel. “I told Lou I was going to get rid of this,” he said.
“Your precious Beemer?” Hendricks said. “Bloody hell, that’s a major concession.”
Thorne’s 1971 “Pulsar”-yellow BMW had been a cause of much amusement to many of his colleagues for a long time. Thorne called it “vintage.” Dave Holland said that was just a euphemism for “knackered old rust-bucket.”
“Promised I’d get something a bit more practical,” Thorne said. He tugged at the collar of his jacket. “A family car, you know?”
Hendricks smiled. “You should still get rid of it,” he said.
Hendricks pointed to the front door, to the metal trolley that was emerging through it, being lifted down the step. “Here we go…”
They got out of the car and walked slowly across to the rear of the mortuary van. Hendricks talked quietly to one of the mortuary assistants, ran through arrangements for the following morning. Thorne watched as the trolley was raised on its concertina legs and the black body-bag was eased slowly into the vehicle.
Thorne glanced towards the onlookers: a teenager in a baseball cap shuffling his feet; an old woman, open-mouthed.
LOUISE CALLED from a payphone in the Whittington at a little after 8 a.m. just as Thorne was on his way out of the door. He felt slightly guilty at having slept so well, and did not need to ask how her night had been.
She sounded more angry than upset. “They haven’t done it yet.”
“What?” Thorne dropped his bag then marched back into the sitting room, like he was searching for something to kick.
“There was some cock-up the first time it was scheduled, then they thought it would be late last night, so they told me there was no point in me going home.”
“Any time now.” There was some shouting nearby. She lowered her voice. “I just want it done.”
“I know,” Thorne said.
“I’m bloody starving, apart from anything else.”
“Well, I can tell you where I’m off to this morning, if you like,” Thorne said. “That should kill your appetite for a while.”
“Sorry, I meant to ask,” Louise said. “Was it a bad one?”
Thorne told her all about Emily Walker. As a detective inspector with the Kidnap Investigation Unit, Louise Porter was pretty much unshockable. Sometimes, she and Thorne talked about violent death and the threat of it as easily as other couples talked about bad days at the office. But there were some aspects of the Job that neither wanted to bring home, and while there was often black comedy to be shared in the grisliest of stories, they tended to spare each other the truly grim details.
Thorne did not hold back on this occasion.
When he had finished, Louise said, “I know what you’re doing, and there’s really no need.”
“No need for what?” Thorne asked.
“To remind me there’s people worse off than I am.”
Two hours later, as unobtrusively as possible, Thorne reached into his pocket, took out his phone, and checked to make sure that it was switched to SILENT.
“I think we’re ready.”
There were times when you really didn’t want a mobile going off.
The mortuary assistant drew back the sheet and invited Emily Walker’s husband to step forward.
“Are you able to identify the body as that of your wife, Emily Anne Walker?”
The man nodded once and turned away.
“Can you say it, please?”
“Yes. That’s my wife.”
The man was already at the door of the viewing suite, waiting to be let out. It was customary, after the formal identification, to invite the next of kin—should they so wish—to stay with their loved one for a while, but Thorne could see that there was little point on this occasion. Suffocation could do as much damage to a face as a blunt instrument. He couldn’t blame George Walker for preferring to remember his wife as she had been when she was alive. Presuming, of course, that he wasn’t the one responsible for her death.
Thorne watched Walker being led down the corridor by two uniformed officers—a man and a woman. He saw the slump of the man’s shoulders, the arm of the female officer sliding around them, and remembered something Holland had said the day before: I’ve got no bloody idea what’s happening inside their heads…
As if on cue, Dave Holland came strolling around the corner, looking surprisingly perky for someone about to attend a post-mortem. He joined Thorne just as Walker was turning onto the staircase and heading slowly up towards the street.
“I know you said you wanted him in later for a chat,” Holland said. “But I reckon we can leave it awhile.”
“Oh, you do?”
“He’s still all over the shop, and we should really let him have a bit of time with his family.”
It was at such moments that Thorne wished he had the ability to raise one eyebrow, like Roger Moore. He had to settle for sarcasm. “I’m listening, Sergeant.”
Holland smiled. “We got a result with the curtain-twitchers.”
“Let’s have it.”
“Old bloke across the road claims he saw someone coming out of there an hour or so before Emily’s husband got home.”
“And he’s sure it wasn’t Emily’s husband.”
“Positive. He knows George Walker by sight. The bloke he saw had a much narrower build, he says. Different color hair, too.”
“You got him knocking us up an E-fit?”
Holland nodded. “Gets the husband off the hook, you ask me.”
“I wasn’t,” Thorne said. “But it’s a fair point. We’ll have him in tomorrow.”
A door opened halfway along the corridor and a familiar-looking shaved head appeared around it. “In your own time,” Hendricks said.
Thorne nodded and loosened the tie he’d put on for the identification.
Holland wasn’t looking quite so chirpy as they walked towards the open door.
Other places had different arrangements, but at Finchley Coroner’s Mortuary a narrow corridor ran between the Viewing Suite and the Post-Mortem Room, so the bodies could be moved quickly and privately from one to the other. From soft furnishings and a comforting color scheme to a white-tiled room with stainless-steel units where comfort of any description was in short supply.
However much its occupants could have done with some.
Hendricks and Holland caught up a little, having been too busy for chit-chat the night before. Hendricks asked after Holland’s daughter, Chloe, about whom he seemed to know more than Thorne did. Thorne found this rather depressing. He hadn’t exactly been holding his breath when it came to Holland and his girlfriend choosing a godfather, but there had been a time when he’d sent presents and cards on birthdays and at Christmas.
Thorne listened to the pair of them rattling on—Holland telling Hendricks how big his daughter was getting, still only pushing four, and Hendricks saying what a fantastic age that was, while he moved the scissors and skull-key to within easy reach—and it niggled him. He was still trying to remember the date of the girl’s birthday when Hendricks began removing Emily Walker’s clothing.
Middle of September?
While Hendricks worked, he related his findings into the microphone hanging above his head. Holland made notes. This précis would be all the investigation had to go on until the full report arrived, but often it would be more than enough for the likes of Tom Thorne, until and if the likes of Phil Hendricks were given their chance to go through the details in court.
The science and the Latin…
“Major laceration to back of head, but no fracture to the skull or sign of significant brain injury.”
When Thorne was not being called upon to concentrate, when it was just about observing medical procedures he’d seen far too many times before, he did his best to zone out. To block out the noise. He’d long since got used to the smell—meaty and sickly sweet—but the sounds always unnerved him.
“Damage to thyroid and cricoid cartilages… Major petechial hemorrhaging… Bloody froth caked around victim’s mouth.”
So, Thorne sang in his head. Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, whatever came to him. Just a chorus or two to take the edge off the bone-saw’s whine and the solid snap of the rib-cutters. The gurgle in the windpipe and the sucking as the heart and lungs were removed from the chest as one single, dripping unit.
Ray Price today: “My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You.”
“No indication of pregnancy… No signs of recent termination… Death due to manual asphyxia.”
There’s people worse off than I am.
Towards the end, with organs weighed and fluids collected, Thorne asked about time of death. When it came to finding a prime suspect, it often turned out to be the most important factor.
“Late afternoon,” Hendricks said. “Best I can do.”
“Before five?” Holland asked.
“Between three and four probably, but I’m not swearing to it right now.”
“That fits.” Holland scribbled something down. “Husband claims to have arrived home a little after five o’clock.”
“He out of the picture, then?”
“Nobody’s out of the picture,” Thorne said.
Thorne saw the expression on Hendricks’ face, and on Holland’s as he looked up from his notebook. “Sorry…”
He’d been looking at the stainless-steel dishes that now contained Emily Walker’s major organs and thinking that she’d finally shifted those few extra pounds she’d been so worried about. His eyes had come to rest on her feet, bloated and pale; on the red nail varnish and the star above her ankle. When he’d spoken, he’d snapped without meaning to, the words sounding snide and spiky.
Holland looked at Hendricks, stage-whispered conspiratorially: “Wrong side of the bed.”
Thorne could feel himself growing edgier by the minute. He told himself to calm down, but it didn’t work, and walking out with Holland ten minutes later, he found it hard to control his breathing and the flush of it in his face. Sometimes, he felt fired-up coming out of a post-mortem, confused or just depressed more often than not, but he could not remember the last time he’d felt quite so bloody angry.
He had been turning his phone back on before he was out of the post-mortem room and by the time he emerged through the mortuary’s main entrance onto Avondale Road, he could see that he had three missed calls from Louise. He told Holland he’d catch him up.
It was the voice she used when she’d been crying. “They’ve still not done it.”
“Christ, you’re kidding!”
“I don’t know what to do,” she said.
He turned away, looking across the North Circular and avoiding the stares from a couple at the bus-stop who had heard him shout. “What did they say to you?”
“I can’t find anyone who can tell me what’s going on.”
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” Thorne said.
She burst into tears as soon as she caught sight of him, pushing through the doors at the far end of the ward. He shushed her gently, drew the curtains around the bed and sat down to hold her.
“I just want it… out of me,” she said. “Do you understand?”
They heard the voice of the woman in the bed opposite coming from the other side of the curtain. “Is everything OK?”
“It’s fine,” Thorne said.
“Do you want me to get someone?”
Thorne leaned closer to Louise. “I’m going to get someone.”
He prowled the corridors for five minutes until he found a doctor on the next floor up and told him that something needed to be done. After shouting for a minute or so then refusing to budge while the doctor made a couple of calls, Thorne was back at Louise’s bedside with a soft-spoken Scottish nurse. She made all the right noises, then admitted there was nothing she could do.
“Not good enough,” Thorne said.
“I’m sorry, but this is standard practice.”
“Your partner’s just been unlucky, I’m afraid.” The nurse was flicking through the paperwork she’d brought with her. She waved it in Thorne’s direction. “Each time the procedure has been scheduled, another case has taken priority at the last minute. Just unlucky…”
“She was promised it would be done last night,” Thorne said. “Then first thing this morning.”
Louise lay back on the pillow with her eyes closed. She looked exhausted. “Two hours ago they said I was next in.”
“It’s bloody ridiculous,” Thorne said.
The nurse consulted her paperwork again, nodding when she found an explanation. “Yes, well, we had someone come in with a badly broken arm, I’m afraid, so—”
“A broken arm?”
The nurse looked at Thorne as though he were simple. “He was in a considerable amount of pain.”
Thorne returned the look, then pointed at Louise. “You think she’s enjoying herself?”
Alex was stuffing a last piece of toast into her mouth when Greg came into the kitchen. He nodded, still tucking in his shirt. She grunted, waved, and went back to the story she’d been reading in the Guardian.
“Hope you’ve left some bread,” Greg said, flicking on the kettle. He heard another grunt as he walked to the bread-bin, then a mumbled request for an apology as he moved to the fridge. “Oh, right, as if you would have scoffed it all…” He scanned the inside of the fridge, looking in vain for a yoghurt he knew had been there the day before. Kieron, the flatmate who had moved out at the end of the previous year, had a habit of polishing off the last of the communal bread, milk or whatever, as well as eating stuff that had never been his in the first place. Now Alex was shaping up to be almost as bad. But Greg was more inclined to forgive his own sister, and she did leave the bathroom smelling a lot nicer than Kieron had done.
She pushed the paper away when he finally brought over his tea and toast and sat down. “You’re going in early.”
“Twelve o’clock lecture,” Greg said. “Henry the sodding second. And it’s not really what the rest of the world would call early.”
“Feels early enough to me.”
“What time did you get in?”
“I don’t know,” Alex said. “Not stupidly late. But a bunch of us ended up in some place in Islington where they were necking these lethal-looking vodka shots.”
“They were necking?”
Alex grinned. “Fair enough, I necked a few.” She pointed as Greg shook his head and slurped his tea. “You can’t get all big brother-ish, matey. Not with some of the things you get up to.”
Greg blushed, which annoyed him, then he got even more annoyed when Alex giggled knowingly and he blushed some more. “Look, you’ve only been here two weeks, that’s all I’m saying.” He cut her off when she opened her mouth. “And don’t tell me to ‘chillax’ or whatever. You’re not twelve.”
“I’m making friends,” she said.
“Well, you need to pace yourself. Oh yeah, and maybe do some work.” He struck his chest theatrically. “I know, mental idea…”
“Like you said, I’ve only been here two weeks.” She reached across, tried and failed to grab a piece of his toast. “And, you know… it’s drama. It’s not like there’s a lot of work to do.”
“How thrilled was the old man when you got a place here? When you told him you were moving in with me?”
“And how pissed off would he be if he knew you were caning it every other night?”
Just when it looked as though Alex was about to shout, or storm off, she produced the same butter-wouldn’t-melt smile she’d been turning on for eighteen years. “You’re just jealous because you got lumbered with a proper course, with proper lectures,” she said. “Henry the sodding second.”
“Dull as fucking ditchwater,” he said.
They both laughed, and she made another, more successful grab for the toast. Greg called her a sneaky bitch. Alex called him a tight-arse, then got up to make them both some more.
“You going to be in the Rocket tonight?”
Alex turned from the worktop, pulled a mock-horrified face. “After what you just said?”
“I’m just letting you know I’ll probably be in there.”
“Right. Probably.” She pointed accusingly, with a knife smeared in butter and Marmite. The Rocket complex on Holloway Road was the student union of the Metropolitan University’s north London campus. It was also home to one of the city’s trendiest clubs and until very recently had not been a place her brother had been known to frequent very often. “That’s three times this week.”
“Making a bit of a habit of it, aren’t you?”
He shrugged. “The drink’s cheap.”
“Right, so it’s not like you’ve got your eye on anyone, or anything like that?”
Greg blushed again and stood up. He told her he was running too late for more toast, that he needed to get ready. She shouted after him, told him he could eat it on the way. He shouted back: “Yeah, if I want to get killed…”
Five minutes later, he was wheeling his bike onto the pavement and doing his best to finish the toast Alex had thrust into his hand at the top of the stairs. That was often the way it went. However much their father thought Greg would be keeping an eye on his little sister, she was the one who usually ended up doing the looking after. Fussing and checking up on him, and generally behaving like the mother they didn’t have.
As he climbed onto the bike and waited for a gap in the traffic, he glanced up and saw her waving from her bedroom window. She pressed her face against the glass like a child. He waved back and cycled away, heading for the Hornsey Road, the Emirates Stadium glorious against the gray sky ahead of him.
Greg raised a hand to wave again, in case Alex was still watching.
Unaware of the eyes on him.
On both of them.
THOUGH WHAT was inside their heads remained largely a mystery to Dave Holland, he had seen the way that those directly affected by violent death could seem altered physically. It was as if they had been hollowed out by it; or, as in the case of George Walker, shrunken slightly. Walker was six two or three and thickset, but sitting opposite him in the Interview Room at Colindale station, Holland saw a man who seemed almost slight.
“Won’t be too much longer,” Holland said. “It really helps us to get everything down on tape, you know?”
The Murder Squad was based five minutes away at the Peel Centre, but the brown, three-story building that housed the offices was no more than the administrative HQ. While investigations were orchestrated from Becke House, officers needing the use of interview rooms, custody suites or good old-fashioned cells would usually make the short journey up the road to Colindale.
“Anything I can do,” Walker said.
Holland nodded. He had no way of knowing what George Walker had sounded like before his wife was murdered, but now even his voice seemed small. “So, the day before yesterday, you came home at the usual time?”
“Twelve forty-five, give or take.”
“And stayed for an hour or so.”
Walker nodded, then said, “Yes, an hour,” when Holland prompted him to speak for the benefit of the tape. He was a teacher at a school close to where he and his wife lived, and Holland had already established that he came home for lunch every day.
“School meals not got any better, then?”
“They’re pretty good actually,” Walker said. He’d been staring at the tabletop, picking at the edge of it with a thumbnail. Now, he looked up and directly at Holland. “I just enjoyed going home.”
“Wish I could do the same,” Holland said. “The canteen here’s bloody atrocious—”
The door opened and Thorne walked in. Holland announced his entrance for the tape, then paused the recording while Thorne made his apologies to Walker for being late. Walker told him not to worry about it.
“Traffic’s a nightmare,” Thorne said.
He had popped into the Whittington en route and caught the tail-end of the Friday morning rush hour. They had finally performed the D and C the previous afternoon but had kept Louise in overnight. She had eaten an enormous breakfast and was in better spirits than at any time since she and Thorne had been told about the miscarriage. Thorne could not explain why, but it had made him oddly nervous.
“I just want to get home now,” she had said.
He had told her he would do his best to pick her up at lunchtime, or to let her know if there was a problem.
In the Interview Room, once Thorne had sat down, Holland quickly filled him in on what had been covered so far, and they resumed recording George Walker’s statement.
“Tell us about when you got back after school,” Thorne said.
Walker cleared his throat. “It just felt wrong the minute I came through the door,” he said.
“This would have been what time?”
“Just before five,” Walker said. “I run a chess club after school on a Wednesday. Otherwise it would have been earlier.”
Thorne glanced over at Holland, made sure he saw the significance, then nodded to Walker to continue.
“I caught a whiff of something, which was… the blood, obviously. There was a vase on the floor in the hall, and water everywhere. She must have tried to fight him off, don’t you think?”
“We’re still trying to put it all together,” Holland said.
“So, I was calling Emily’s name out in the hall, and then I walked into the kitchen. Well, you saw it.”
“And you phoned us straight away, didn’t you?” Thorne glanced down at his notes, although he knew the time very well. “We’ve got the call to the emergency services logged at four fifty-six. You sounded very calm.”
“Did I? I think I was just in shock.” Walker shook his head, breathed noisily for ten seconds, then said, “I can’t even remember calling.”
“What about afterwards?” Thorne asked. “Do you remember running out into the street? Knocking on your next-door neighbor’s door and shouting about the blood?”
More shaking of the head. “Sort of.” Walker’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I can’t remember exactly what I said… shouted. I can remember my throat being sore afterwards and not knowing why. I was kneeling down with Emily by then, waiting for someone to come. It seemed to be taking ages, you know?” The tears were coming now, but Walker did not seem bothered. He casually lowered his head and pushed them away with the heel of his hand when he needed to. “I really wanted to touch her,” he said. “I knew I shouldn’t, because it would mess up the evidence or whatever. Seen too many of those TV shows, I think. But I just wanted to hold her hand for a few minutes. To reach inside that bag and tuck her hair behind her ear.”
Holland looked hard at Thorne until he got the nod. “Do you want to take a few minutes, Walker?” He pushed back his chair, mumbled something about finding some tissues.
“Actually, I think we can leave it there,” Thorne said.
Walker nodded, the gratitude evident in his eyes before he closed them.
As soon as Holland had stopped the tape, Thorne was out of his chair and moving towards the door. “Right, let’s see if we can get you a cab organized.”
Walker rose slowly to his feet. “The hardest thing was telling Emily’s dad,” he said. “After what happened to Emily’s mother, I mean.” He turned to look at Thorne. “How bloody unlucky can one family get?”
“Sorry, I’m not with you,” Thorne said.
Walker seemed confused. He looked at Holland, who shook his head to indicate that he was every bit as in the dark.
“Oh, I thought you must have known,” Walker said. “My wife’s mother was murdered herself, fifteen years ago. Emily’s maiden name was Sharpe.”
Thorne could do no more than say “sorry” again. As a matter of course, Emily Walker’s name had been run through the CRIMINT system to see if she had a criminal history, but there was nothing on record. A tragedy in her family’s past would certainly not have been considered relevant criminal intelligence.
Walker was still looking from Thorne to Holland and back, as though he were expecting the name he had mentioned to be recognized. He reached for his jacket and, when he spoke, it was clear he was well used to what he was saying being the end of a conversation.
“She was one of Raymond Garvey’s.”
They watched Walker’s taxi pull away, and began walking in the other direction, back towards the Peel Centre. It wasn’t quite ten yet. The morning was mild, but there was the lightest drizzle in the air.
“I made a call before he came in,” Holland said. “He was back at school by two. Didn’t leave until a quarter to five. I can talk to Hendricks again if you like, double-check to see if he’s sure about the timings.”
“Don’t bother,” Thorne said.
They picked up the pace a little in an effort to stay as dry as possible.
“I was thinking about him going back to school after he’d had his lunch,” Holland said. “Suddenly had this image of the killer watching him leave, marching straight up and ringing the doorbell. Emily opening it, thinking her old man had forgotten something.”
Thorne shook his head. “Times still don’t fit.”
“Just had that image, you know?”
They walked on, turning left onto Aerodrome Road and falling into step within a few paces.
“I think you were right the other night,” Thorne said. “It’s somebody she knew. Not well… not necessarily, anyway. Maybe he works in a local shop, does next-door’s garden, whatever.”
“A face she recognizes.”
“That’s all he needs to be. You heard what Walker said about if it had been a different day. Sounds like whoever killed Emily had been watching, and for a while. He knew their movements, knew when the time was right.”
“So he targeted her?”
“Looks that way. He wasn’t just ringing doorbells until someone answered that he liked the look of.”
“Why Emily, though?” Holland asked.
Thorne looked sideways at him and Holland acknowledged the stupidity of asking the question now, when they had so little to go on. When there were a thousand answers, and none at all. They both knew that the true answer, if they ever found it, would almost certainly give them their best chance of catching whoever had killed Emily Walker. At that moment, Thorne could do no better than a muttered “Christ knows,” before jogging across the road and walking quickly towards the main gate.
“That’s weird though, isn’t it, this Garvey business?” Holland was doing his best to keep up, a few feet behind Thorne. “Before my time, but shit… that was a big case, wasn’t it?”
Ahead of him, Thorne was waving his ID at the officer inside the control box.
“Did you work on it?”
Half a minute later, it was Holland’s turn to wait, light rain blowing into his face, while his warrant card was checked. Thorne was already twenty feet clear of the barrier and moving across the car-park towards Becke House. He didn’t appear to have heard Holland’s question.
Thorne had worked on the Raymond Garvey investigation, though not in any significant way. He’d knocked on a few doors, been part of a fingertip-search team one night. At the time, it was the biggest investigation for a decade or more, with hundreds of detectives working to catch a man who would eventually murder seven women. There can’t have been too many officers in the Met who had not been involved in some capacity.
Inside Becke House, Thorne walked into the lift and jabbed the button for the third floor, thinking back.
He was an up-the-sergeant’s-arse, eager-to-please detective constable back then. Kentish Town CID, the station no more than five minutes’ walk from where he lived now.
The lift doors were stubbornly refusing to close, so Thorne stabbed at the button again. He was ashamed that he could remember every detail of a blue suit he used to wear back then and the number plate of the car he’d been driving around in, but not the names of Raymond Garvey’s victims.
The door finally slid shut.
Not a single one…
He told himself that it was always the way, especially with a series of killings. How many of Dennis Nilsen’s fifteen victims could he name, or Colin Ireland’s five? Could he remember any of Harold Shipman’s two hundred or more?
Out of the lift, he walked down the corridor, past the Major Incident Room and towards the small office he shared with DI Yvonne Kitson.
It was different with his own cases, of course. He could remember every name, every face; each “before” and “after” photograph. Her mother’s name might not have been as instantly familiar as it should have been, but Thorne knew he would never forget Emily Walker’s.
Kitson had left a note on his desk about a case that was due in court the following week and some evidence that needed chasing up. Thorne laid it to one side and pulled the computer keyboard towards him. All the way back from Colindale, he had been wondering where the Garvey case notes would have been archived. Now, he decided there was a far quicker way to do a bit of research.
Thorne hit a few keys and logged on to Google. Typed in “Raymond Garvey.”
There were over three hundred and fifty thousand hits.
He scrolled past the first half a dozen links, ignoring Wikipedia and something called serialkiller.com, until he found a site that was not advertising a magazine or true-crime shows on satellite TV and seemed more or less reliable. He looked at the list of names. Susan Sharpe, aged forty-four, was number four. She had been attacked on her way home from a gym, bludgeoned to death, as had all the other victims, and been found on a canal bank in Kensal Green, the vast mausoleums and elaborate statuary of its famous cemetery spread out alongside. Thorne clicked on the name and brought up a picture. He saw no immediate resemblance to Emily Walker, then reminded himself that he had never seen Emily alive.
Raymond Anthony Garvey had murdered seven women in four months. He might have killed many more had he not been arrested after a simple pub brawl in Finsbury Park. Had a sample of his DNA taken after that incident not matched that found on two of the victims. It was the kind of coincidence that would have crime-fiction writers accused of laziness, but good luck played a bigger part in cracking such cases than most senior police officers would care to admit.
Garvey, who always refused to talk about his motives, was given five consecutive life sentences, and was told by the judge that he would die in prison. That happened a lot sooner than anyone expected, as he was diagnosed with a brain tumor twelve years into his sentence and succumbed to it six months later.
Thorne looked again at the picture of Raymond Garvey—the bland, blissful stare of an ordinary psychopath—before highlighting the names of the women he had murdered. Just after he’d clicked PRINT, the door opened and Russell Brigstocke walked in.
The DCI dropped his sizeable backside onto the edge of Thorne’s desk and glanced at the images on the computer screen. He nudged at his glasses. “Holland told me about that. What are the bloody chances?” He pushed his fingers through what had once been a pretty impressive quiff, but was now getting decidedly thin.
“Yeah.” Thorne knew that his own appearance had changed just as much. There was still more gray hair on one side than the other, but a lot more of it everywhere. He logged out of the website, Garvey’s face giving way to a blue screen and a Met Police logo: the reassuring words “Working Together for a Safer London.”
“Thirty-six hours into this one already, Tom,” Brigstocke said. “Where are we?”
The DCI could interpret Tom Thorne’s expressions and his curt body language as well as anyone. He recognized the twitch in the shoulder that meant “Nowhere.” The puff of the cheeks that said, “Barring our killer handing himself in, you won’t be standing outside Colindale station making triumphant announcements to the press anytime soon.”
“What’s happening with the FSS?” Thorne asked.
The Forensic Science Service lab in Victoria was busy examining all the trace evidence gathered from the crime scene: hairs, fibers, fingerprints. They were analyzing the bloodstain pattern in the hope of creating an accurate reconstruction of the crime. They were trying to identify the fragment of celluloid found clutched in Emily Walker’s hand.
“I’m chasing,” Brigstocke said. “Same as I always am. Tomorrow, with a following wind, but more likely Sunday.”
“What about the E-fit?”
“Have you seen it?”
Thorne nodded. The curtain-twitching neighbor had clearly not witnessed as much, or in as much detail, as he had first claimed. “I’m not holding my breath,” he said.
“Right. I don’t think it’s going to help us a great deal either, but what do I know? Jesmond wanted it out there on the hurry-up, so it’s out. It’s in the Standard today, and some of the nationals. London Tonight, too.”
Brigstocke was every bit as transparent as Thorne himself, and Thorne caught the roll of the eyes that translated as, “Waste of fucking time.” Of course, Superintendent Trevor Jesmond would want the E-fit distributed as widely as possible, to show that his team was making progress. It did not seem to concern him as much as it should—with a picture of the killer that looked as though it had been drawn by a chimpanzee—that precious time and manpower would now be wasted taking, logging and filing hundreds of pointless calls, mental or plain misguided, proclaiming that the person the police were looking for was everyone from the man next door to Johnny Depp.
The superintendent’s overriding concern was always how he came across on screen or in print. He would be doing his bit to camera outside Colindale station later that day. He would dispense the simple, shocking facts, emphasizing the brutality and the horror of what had been done to Emily Walker and letting it be known that any steps necessary would be taken to bring her killer to justice.
Thorne had to give the man his due. He couldn’t catch a council-tax dodger if his life depended on it, but he did righteous indignation pretty damn well.
“It’s someone she knew,” Thorne said. “Someone who’d been watching. She’d seen him around, spoken to him, whatever.”
Brigstocke nodded. “Let’s get bodies into every shop she went to regularly, the nearest supermarket, the gym she visited. Let’s take a good hard look at friends and workmates. Interview all the neighbors again.”
“Phil reckons he came prepared.” Thorne picked up the post-mortem report that Hendricks had delivered the previous afternoon, flicked through it. “I’ve got a feeling he’d been ‘preparing’ for a while.”
Brigstocke groaned. “How bloody long have I been doing this?” he said. “And yet hearing stuff like that still depresses me.” He eased himself up from Thorne’s desk and walked to the window. “I mean, I’m not saying it would be any better if her old man had caught her playing away from home and smacked her over the head with something. I know she wouldn’t be any less dead. But Jesus…”
“It should depress you,” Thorne said. “When it doesn’t—”
“I know, time to retire.”
“You turn into Trevor Jesmond.”
Brigstocke smiled. He picked up the piece of paper that had been spewing from the printer when he’d walked in. He looked down at the list of seven names. “This anything we should be looking at?”
“Don’t see why,” Thorne said. “Garvey died in prison three years ago.”
Brigstocke flapped the sheet of paper, as though he were fanning himself. “Just one of those freaky things.”
The DCI nodded his understanding. The pair of them had worked a case only a few months before in which a man had been beaten to death in front of his family after confronting a noisy neighbor. It transpired that twenty years earlier, and only two streets away, exactly the same thing had happened to that victim’s father.
“One of many,” Thorne said.
As it turned out, with a briefing that overran by twenty minutes and a Crown Prosecution Service lawyer who refused to get off the phone, lunchtime would have been a tricky time for Thorne to get away. But by then it did not matter: Louise had already called to say that she would be making her own way back to the flat. That she felt OK and needed to get out.
Driving back at the end of the day, Thorne felt nervous, as though he and Louise had had an argument. He ran through the conversations they might have when he got home, but they all went out of his head the moment he stepped into the silent flat. When he saw her lying on her side in the darkened bedroom.
“It’s OK,” she said. “I’m not asleep.”
It was only eight o’clock, but Thorne got undressed and climbed in beside her. They lay still for a while, listening to a motorbike revving up in the street outside, and a song Thorne couldn’t quite place drifting down from the flat upstairs.
“Do you remember the Garvey killings?” he asked.
She grunted and he wondered if he had woken her up, then she said, “I was at college, I think. Why?”
Thorne told her about Susan Sharpe. How a mother and daughter had been murdered, fifteen years apart. It was quiet now upstairs and Thorne still wasn’t sure what the song had been.
“You’re doing it again,” Louise said. “Trying to make me feel better.”
“I wasn’t, I swear.”
“And all you’ve succeeded in doing is making yourself feel old.”
Thorne laughed, for the first time in a few days. He pushed up close behind her and slid his arm across her stomach. After a few seconds he felt awkward and began to wonder if she would want it there, so he took it away again.
AS PER the standard system of rotas and rest days, Thorne spent seven Saturdays out of every eight at home. Normally, a Saturday morning would be taken up with sleeping far later than usual, nipping out for a newspaper then coming home for a gloriously unhealthy breakfast. Since Louise had come into his life, these were no longer always solitary activities, and thankfully the same was true of the sex, which could occasionally be squeezed in between the fry-up and Football Focus.
This Saturday, three days after Emily Walker’s murder, all rest days had been canceled and overtime approved where necessary. Thorne sat in his office at Becke House, not looking through statements, ignoring the reports on the desk in front of him, wondering instead if the possibility of sex had now become remote.
When would it be all right to talk about it? Just how much of a self-centered bastard was he being, even thinking about it?
He looked over to the desk opposite, where Yvonne Kitson was working considerably harder than he was. She had been taken off a domestic murder that was all but done and dusted, and drafted in to bolster the top end of the team. Thorne was grateful to have her on board. Kitson was one of the best detectives they had, her achievements that much more impressive considering her circumstances, past and present. For several years she had been a single mother of two, her marriage having collapsed after a messy affair with a senior colleague that had also resulted in her formerly smooth progress through the ranks coming to a shuddering halt.
She glanced up from her desk, saw Thorne looking. She dropped her eyes again, turned a page. “What?”
Once, when neither had been laid for a while and it was debatable which was the more drunk, there had been the mildest of flirtations between the two of them, but they were long past that.
“Saturday,” Thorne said.
Kitson scoffed: “Never mind the bloody Tottenham game, or a morning under the duvet with Louise, or whatever you were thinking about missing. Some of us should be watching our sons playing rugby. I’ll have to be even more of a taxi service than I am already to make up for this.”
For a few moments, Thorne thought about telling her what had happened to Louise, getting a female perspective on it. But he just smiled and went back to the reports in front of him.
A minute later, a ball of paper bounced off his desktop and onto the floor. He bent to retrieve it and stared at Kitson. She shrugged, denying all knowledge.
Thorne unwrapped what turned out to be a transcript of that morning’s calls to the Incident Room. The published E-fit had generated a good deal of attention, and while the Press Office was handling the understandable media interest, the team itself had to deal with any information from the public. Thorne and Brigstocke had clearly underestimated the extent to which the picture would inspire some of the city’s more community-minded nutcases.
“I wouldn’t mind coming in,” Kitson said, pointing to the sheet of paper in Thorne’s hand, “if I didn’t have to spend all morning sorting through that shit.”
“Got to be done, though,” Thorne said.
They all knew it. Everyone on the team routinely joked about procedure and bitched about paper-pushing, and 99 percent of the time, with a primary lead as shaky as their E-fit, nothing would come from this kind of work, but you had to double-and triple-check, just in case. Nobody wanted to be the one who missed the vital piece of information tucked away in a long list of crank calls. The clue hidden in the crap. In an age where the inquiry into the inquiry was commonplace, arse-covering had become second nature. It began before the victim was cold and would continue until the judge’s gavel came down.
It didn’t stop the whingeing, though.
“Not a single name on there more than once,” Kitson said.
“You’re wrong.” Thorne ran his finger down the list, stopping to beckon Holland inside when he saw his face come around the door. “Three different people phoned to let us know they think it looks like the bloke who runs the garage in EastEnders.”
“We should arrest him anyway,” Kitson said. “For crimes against acting.”
Thorne looked up at Holland.
“Had a call I think you might be interested in,” Holland said.
“Don’t tell me. The killer looks like someone in Emmerdale.”
Holland dropped a scrap of paper onto Thorne’s desk: a scribbled name and number. “He’s a DI in Leicester. Someone up there saw Jesmond on TV last night talking about the Walker murder and thought it sounded familiar.”
“So, this DI was calling to check the details we didn’t give out to the press. See if they matched up with a murder they caught a few weeks back.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Kitson said.
Thorne was already dialing…
Once the pleasantries were out of the way, DI Paul Brewer told Thorne that the body of Catherine Burke, a nurse aged twenty-three, had been discovered three weeks earlier in the flat she had shared with her boyfriend, on a quiet street behind Leicester City’s football ground.
She had been struck on the back of the head with a heavy ornament and then suffocated with a plastic bag.
“It was the suffocation bit that got the old antennae twitching,” Brewer said, the East Midlands accent not as thick as Thorne had been expecting. “When your superintendent mentioned it on the box. Wasn’t me that saw it, but as soon as I heard I thought it would be worth following up. You know, just to make sure.” He sounded pleased with himself. “Looks like I was spot on.”
“Three weeks ago, you said?”
A chuckle. “And… brick wall, mate. We’ve got a description of a bloke she was seen talking to outside the hospital the day before, but we’ve had sweet FA off that. She was an occasional drug user, tablets mostly, nicked them from her own hospital as it turned out, but that’s led us nowhere. To be honest, it was all going stone cold until your one turned up.”
“Stroke of luck,” Thorne said.
Brewer said something else, but Thorne was too busy mouthing obscenities at Kitson and Holland.
“What about forensics?”
“That was the easy bit,” Brewer said. “Looks like she scratched him when he had the bag over her head. We dug plenty of blood and skin from under her nails, so we can match the bastard up as soon as we make an arrest.”
Thorne scribbled “GOT DNA” on the piece of paper and pushed it across the desk for Holland and Kitson to see.
“You still there?”
“So, how are we going to work this?” Thorne asked.
“Not a clue, mate,” Brewer said. “I know it won’t be anything to do with me, so it don’t matter what I think. My guv’nor’s probably on the phone to your guv’nor as we speak, carving it up. Politics, budgets, all that shit. We just do what we’re told, right?”
“Just so you know… I’m not bothered about territory, anything like that,” Brewer said. “No need to worry about any of that crap. We can sort out who gets the credit once we’ve caught him, fair enough?”
Thorne knew that, whatever opinion he was rapidly forming about DI Paul Brewer—Job-pissed and probably disliked by all his colleagues—he was going to have to get along with him. He thanked him for his help, praising his initiative and insisting that the credit would most definitely go where it was due. He called him “Paul” as often as he could manage without gagging, promising him a night on the town when they eventually got together and trying to sound pleased when Brewer promised to take him up on the offer.
“It’s from an X-ray, by the way,” Brewer said.
“The piece of plastic in her hand.” Brewer sounded pleased with himself again. He waited. “There was a piece of plastic, right?”
“An X-ray of what?”
“They can’t tell us that just yet. There’s a few letters and numbers on it but they can’t make sense of them. If we’re lucky, your piece might help.”
When Thorne looked up he saw the expressions of confusion from Holland and Kitson who had only heard his side of the conversation.
“X-ray?” Kitson whispered.
Thorne put a hand over the mouthpiece, told them he’d be another minute. Brewer was saying he was on his way into a meeting but that he’d try to call again later. That his was a large Scotch and water.
“Just before you go,” Thorne said. “Is Catherine’s mother still alive?”
“No. Both parents dead, and an elder brother who was killed in a car accident a few years ago. Took us a while to trace a blood relative.”
“How did she die?”
“How did the mother die, and when?”
“No idea,” Brewer said.
“Could you find out and get back to me?”
“I suppose so.”
“Cheers, Paul, I appreciate it. What kind of Scotch do you like?”
“What’s all this about?”
“Probably nothing,” Thorne said. He looked up and locked eyes with Kitson. “Just covering my arse.”
Brewer had phoned back a few minutes before the briefing was due to start, and apologized for taking so long. He told Thorne that he’d spoken to Catherine Burke’s boyfriend, who had confirmed that her mother had died of cancer when Catherine was a young girl. Thorne had thanked him, unable to decide if he felt disappointed or relieved.
“Oh, and by the way, any single malt will do nicely,” Brewer had said.
Thorne passed the news on to Brigstocke outside the door of the Briefing Room as the troops were filing in. The DCI glanced up from the notes he had been working on for the last hour.
“Worth a try,” he said.
Thorne watched as unfamiliar faces drifted past; nodded to one or two of those drafted in quickly from other teams. “So, how’s this going to pan out?”
“We take it from here,” Brigstocke said.
“Well, no, not officially, but in terms of money and manpower we’re way more capable of doing it than they are. So, off the record, we get to run things.”
“And off the record, what happens if we mess up?”
“Then, obviously, it was always a fifty–fifty operation and the blame for any operational glitches gets shared out equally.”
“Sounds fair,” Thorne said.
Inside, it was standing room only. Muttered conversation no more than the preferred alternative to silence. One phone call had changed the complexion of the case entirely and suddenly the atmosphere was as charged as Thorne could remember in a while.
There weren’t too many like this.
Loss of life was never treated lightly, not if you looked beyond the banter and the off-color jokes to what was in the eyes of the men and women at a crime scene. Thorne had met clever murderers and profoundly stupid ones. Those who had lost it and lashed out and those who had enjoyed themselves. Some had made him angry enough to come close to murder himself, while for others he had felt nothing but pity.
There were as many shades of killer as there were ways to end a life, but while it was Thorne’s job to catch them, the murderer was always taken seriously.
And when he murdered more than once…
“Right, thanks for gathering so quickly,” Brigstocke said. “There’s a lot to get through.”
From the back of the room, Thorne watched the notebooks open, heard fifty ballpoints click. He glanced at the door as a handful of latecomers hurried in, half expecting to see Superintendent Trevor Jesmond make a well-timed and inspirational appearance.
“As some of you know already, we received a call this morning that has changed the focus of the Emily Walker inquiry. I’ve spent most of the day since then on the phone to various senior officers from the Leicestershire constabulary…”
While Brigstocke spoke, Thorne thought about control; the exercise of it. Emily Walker’s killer had been meticulous in his preparation, in waiting to make his move and in the use of the bag to suffocate her. Now, there was every reason to believe that the same man was responsible for the death of Catherine Burke. She too had been discovered at home, with no sign of forced entry, so it seemed likely that he had planned her murder every bit as carefully as Emily Walker’s.
A man who waited and watched and then killed twice in three weeks.
“So, the investigations into these two killings will proceed separately for the time being,” Brigstocke said. “With as much cooperation between ourselves and the boys in Leicester as is required…”
Thorne felt his mouth go dry. Twice in three weeks… as far as they knew.
“… and if, as seems likely, they turn out to be linked, then we will have the necessary protocols in place.”
By and large, the briefing was about practicalities from then on, as Brigstocke outlined the way forward. Neither force would want to risk the other screwing up their investigations, so it had been agreed that each would have “read only” access to the other’s HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System) account. As the Met team’s office manager, DS Sam Karim would be responsible for all case information inputted into their account and for liaising daily with his opposite number in Leicester.
“Not a problem,” Karim said.
“Especially not if his other half’s a ‘she,’ ” someone added.
It was a “delicate” situation, Brigstocke said, and “potentially fraught,” but he trusted his team could handle it.
If his team needed any more reasons to try to make things work, Brigstocke waited until the end to give them the best one of all. He nodded, then turned to the screen behind him as the lights were flicked off. Many in the room had seen the picture of Emily Walker, but none save Brigstocke and his DIs had seen the photo of Catherine Burke that had been emailed across a few hours earlier.
The pictures had been taken from different angles, but projected next to one another, the similarity was evident… and horrifying. Though the limbs were splayed differently and there was a little more blood in one bag than the other, Thorne guessed that all eyes in the room would be drawn, eventually, to the faces. To the shock and desperation etched into each woman’s chalk-white skin, just visible through plastic fogged with her dying breath.
When he had finished talking, Brigstocke left the lights out and waited for each officer to walk out past the pictures on the screen.
Thorne was the last to leave.
“They’re nothing like each other physically,” he said. Brigstocke turned and the two detectives stood in the semi-dark, staring at the screen. “So, if we’re looking for a connection, it’s not like he’s got a type.”
“If it’s the same killer,” Brigstocke said.
“You think it might not be?”
“I’m just saying we don’t know for sure.”
“Come on, Russell, look at them…”
Brigstocke gave it a few more moments, then turned away, walked across the room and switched the lights back on. “The forensics report came in,” he said. “I haven’t had a chance to go through it properly, but they’re confirming that the celluloid fragment is a piece cut out from an X-ray.” He continued before Thorne could ask the obvious question. “No, they don’t know what it is either, but there are some very decent prints on it and they’re not Emily’s. We’ve got DNA, too. Some hairs on her sweater. Might not be the killer’s, of course, but we’ve eliminated the husband, so if our sample matches the one from Catherine Burke…”
“They’ll match,” Thorne said.
“Sounds like you’re counting on it.”
“He’s got plans, this bloke,” Thorne said. “It’s probably the only way we’re going to catch him.”
“As long as we do.”
Thorne leaned back against the wall and stared at the dozens of empty chairs. Already the men and women who had just left them would be settling down at computers and picking up phones; doing everything that could reasonably be done. But Thorne was beginning to sense that real progress was going to depend on the man they were after giving them something more to work with.
“I might be wrong,” Thorne said. “It might be piss-easy. One look at the stuff these Leicester boys have got and everything could get sorted.”
“Christ, I hope so,” Brigstocke said.
Thorne hoped so too, but he could not shake the feeling that this was one of those cases where a break would mean another body.
THORNE PICKED up a takeaway from the Bengal Lancer on his way home. He hadn’t bothered phoning ahead with the order, had looked forward to the cold bottle of Kingfisher, the complimentary poppadoms and the chat with the manager while he was waiting.
Louise was slumped in front of some celebrity ice-skating program when he got back. She seemed happy enough, a fair way into a bottle of red wine.
“Every cloud,” she said. She raised her glass as though she were toasting something. “Nice to have a drink again.”
Thorne went through to the kitchen, began dishing up the food. He shouted through to the living room, “You should,” then pushed the empty cartons down into the bin.
When he turned round, Louise was standing in the doorway. “Should what?”
“Should… have a drink… if you want. Relax a bit.”
“Get pissed, you mean?”
Thorne licked sauce off his fingers, stared at her. “I didn’t mean anything, Lou…”
She walked back into the living room and, after a moment, he followed her with the plates. They sat on the floor with their backs against the sofa, eating off their laps. Thorne poured himself what was left of the wine; a little over half a glass.
“Whoever killed the woman in Finchley,” he said. “Looks like he’s done it before.”
Louise chewed for a few more seconds. “That Garvey thing you told me about?”
“Well, that girl, yeah. She’s not his first.”
“Right, all I need.”
She shrugged, swallowed. “Might be exactly what you need.”
The food was as good as always: rogan josh and a creamy mutter paneer; mushroom bhaji, pilau rice and a peshwari nan to share. Louise ate quickly, helping herself to the lion’s share of the bread. Almost done, she moved her fork slowly through the last few grains of yellow rice. “Sounds like you’re going to be busy.”
Thorne glanced across, searching in vain for something in her face that might give him a clue as to how she felt about it. He hedged his bets. “It’s a hell of a big team, so we’ll have to see.”
“Listen, shall I open some more wine?”
“I really don’t mind.”
Thorne looked again and saw nothing to contradict what she’d said. He carried the plates back to the kitchen and fetched another bottle. They settled down on the sofa and watched TV in silence for a few minutes, Louise laughing more readily than Thorne when a former glamour model went sprawling on the ice. Once the show had finished, Thorne flicked through the channels, finally settling on a repeat of The Wild Geese, a film he had always loved. They watched Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris charging about in the African bush, the three just about believable as aging mercenaries.
“I talked to Phil,” Thorne said. “I meant to say.”
“Did you tell him what happened?”
“I didn’t have to.” Thorne waited to see if she would pick up on it, say something about having confided in Hendricks about the pregnancy. “He said you should call him, you know, if you want to talk.”
“I spoke to him last night,” she said.
“He was really sweet.”
On the television, Harris was begging Burton to shoot him before he was hacked to death by the enemy, but the shouting and gunfire were little more than background noise.
“Why did you tell him you were pregnant?” Thorne asked. “I thought we’d agreed to keep it a secret.”
Louise stared into her glass. “I knew he’d be chuffed.”
“We decided we wouldn’t, though, just in case this happened.”
“Right, well, it has happened, OK? So arguing about whether I should or shouldn’t have told anyone is a bit pointless now, don’t you think?” She shuffled along the sofa, a foot or so away from him, and lowered her voice. “Christ, it’s not like Phil’s going to run around announcing it.”
There were a few grains of rice and some crumbs on the carpet. Thorne inched away in the other direction and started picking them up, collecting them in his palm.
“I honestly wouldn’t have minded if you’d told anyone,” Louise said.
“I did think about it.”
“Who would you have told?”
Thorne smiled. “Probably Phil.”
They moved back to each other and Thorne asked if she’d mind if he turned off the TV and put a CD on. Normally she might have rolled her eyes and insisted that it was one of hers, or repeated a joke she’d heard from Holland or Hendricks about Thorne’s dubious taste in music. Tonight she was happy enough to nod and stretch out. Thorne put on a Gram Parsons anthology and returned to the sofa, lifted up Louise’s legs and slid in underneath. They listened to “Hearts on Fire” and “Brass Buttons,” poured out what was left of the wine.
“So, what did Phil say?”
“Stuff you’d expect, really,” Louise said. “How there’s usually a good reason for these things and how the body knows what it’s doing. Knows when there’s something wrong.” She took a healthy slurp of wine and was struggling suddenly to keep a straight face.
“He said it might well have been because the baby was going to look like you.” She was laughing now. “That a miscarriage was the preferred option.”
“He made me laugh,” she said, closing her eyes. “I needed that.”
She began to drift off soon after that and Thorne was not too far behind. He was sound asleep before ten-thirty, with Gram and Emmylou singing “Brand New Heartache,” the clink of cutlery from the kitchen as Elvis licked the plates clean, and Louise’s feet in his lap.
The band playing at the Rocket earlier that evening had been fantastic, easily as good as any of the so-called indie bands Alex had heard in the charts recently. They had something to say, and decent songs, and there was a bit more about them than the right kind of skinny jeans and nice arses. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the guitarist was a dead ringer for the lead singer from Razorlight…
She loved the heat and the noise; how it felt being in a crowd. She’d been soaked in sweat each time she’d gone outside for a cigarette, and shivering by the time she’d finished it. Afterwards, when the band had packed up, they’d set up some decks and the dance music had started. Some of her friends had stayed on, and were still there as far as she knew, but she’d been about ready to head home by then.
What was it Greg had said about caning it?
She pushed open the door to the flat and listened for voices.
Alex had seen her brother earlier in the bar, but only for a few minutes. Long enough for him to tell her he’d rather die than watch a band called The Bastard Thieves, and for her to clock the figure with whom he was exchanging the lingering, lustful stares. There’d been no sign of him once the gig had finished, but she wasn’t surprised.
She guessed he’d decided to get an early night.
There were lights on upstairs, but she couldn’t hear anything and wondered if perhaps she’d interrupted something. If they’d heard her coming in and were lying there in Greg’s bed, giggling and whispering to each other.
She climbed the stairs, singing softly to herself and keeping a good grip of the handrail. At the top, she threw her coat across the banister then stood there for a few moments, pissed and stupidly gleeful.
Then she crept along the corridor to Greg’s door.
There was no light coming from underneath. She pressed her ear to the flaking wood, but couldn’t hear anything: no giggles and certainly no creaking bed-springs. She reached down and slowly turned the handle. The door was locked.
Alex turned and walked back towards the kitchen, her steps not quite as gentle as she thought they were, trying to decide if she could be bothered making the cheese on toast she was suddenly craving.
She felt genuinely pleased for Greg, and hoped, even if it turned out to be no more than a one-night stand, that he at least enjoyed himself. That he took full advantage.
Her brother did not get lucky very often.
Excerpted from Bloodline by Billingham, Mark Copyright © 2011 by Billingham, Mark. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
"There's something incredibly reassuring about opening a Mark Billingham book, because you know you're in the hands of one of the most consistently entertaining, insightful crime writers working today. BLOODLINE maintains his streak handily: It's chilling, moody, humane, and very, very smart."--(Gillian Flynn, author of the New York Times bestseller Dark Places)
"Rich, heady, and gripping. A boss performance by Billingham, through and through." --(George Pelecanos, bestselling author of The Way Home (and producer/writer of HBO's The Wire)
With each of his books, Mark Billingham gets better and better. These are stories and characters you don't want to leave.
Tom Thorne is the new superstar detective...Mark Billingham is the new-wave leader of crime fiction.