Authors: Nick Oldham
Table of Contents
BIG CITY JACKS
THE NOTHING JOB
FIGHTING FOR THE DEAD
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2012 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
This eBook edition first published in 2012 by Severn Digital an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2012 by Nick Oldham.
The right of Nick Oldham to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Oldham, Nick, 1956-
Fighting for the dead.
1. Christie, Henry (Fictitious character)âFiction.
2. Detective and mystery stories.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-326-6 (epub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8213-4 (cased)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
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Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
ope you're not the squeamish sort.' The white-coated, pasty-faced mortuary technician grinned crookedly at Detective Superintendent Henry Christie who, in turn,Â blinked, kept a stone face and said curtly, âJust open the drawer, please.'
âOkey-doke,' the technician said brightly.
The two men were inside Lancaster Public Mortuary, the squat, single-storey detached building within the grounds of Royal Lancaster Infirmary. They were standing in front of the bank of brushed-steel doors that opened into the vast refrigerated unit in which the dead were stored at an optimum temperature so that they could be kept for as long as necessary.
There were two rows of square doors and behind each was a sliding metal tray on runners on which might, or might not, be a corpse. The little card slot on each door gave the game away. A card inserted with a name scribbled on it meant the space was occupied. No card meant a vacancy.
Each row consisted of ten doors and all but one had a card in the slot. Nineteen bodies: almost a full house.
From experience, Henry knew this was pretty usual. He had once been in this mortuary during a very severe winter when the place was overflowing with cadavers. Mainly bodies of old people, hit by the freezing weather, and many had been doubled up, laid on top of each other on the sliding trays. Gruesome, slightly weird, but necessary under the circumstances.
Most of the bodies that came through here were from the hospital wards, awaiting onward transportation to an undertaker. People who had died tragically, certainly, but the causes of the deaths already known and therefore, usually, no requirement for a post-mortem.
But this was also a public mortuary. A place where bodies of people who had met sudden, untimely, unexplained, violent or accidental deaths were brought, kept, then examined to determine the cause. If there were no further complications and the local coroner was satisfied, they would then be released back to their families.
It was also a place to which murder victims were brought.
Henry Christie knew that of the nineteen bodies in the mortuary at that moment, two had been murdered.
One held no interest for him. A female, the victim of a domestic murder, who had already been subjected to a post-mortem. The offender had been arrested, charged and remanded in custody and the dead woman was due to be collected by the family's undertaker later that day.
Henry knew this because he was a senior investigating officer â SIO â on Lancashire Constabulary's Force Major Investigation Team, or FMIT, and had overseen the investigation into the woman's murder. Now all that remained for him to do was steer the case through the courts and do his best to get a life sentence for the bastard of a boyfriend who'd stabbed her forty-eight times because she hadn't made his tea for him. Henry was finished with her body and she would soon be making space for the next one.
It was the second murder victim that was of interest to Henry.
âYou sure about this?' the technician said.
Henry pursed his lips with irritation, decided to say nothing, just nodded.
âOK then, but masks and gloves first, please. Health and safety, you know,' he said patronizingly.
Henry fitted the surgical mask over his nose and mouth and eased his hands into the latex gloves with a âsnap'.
The body was behind the door on the lower far right of the unit. Henry guessed it had been moved over time. When bodies were brought into the mortuary, they were usually slotted into spaces near the double doors. If they stayed for any length of time, which was fairly unusual, they tended to get shuffled down the line, away from the door. Most bodies came and went quite quickly.
But this one had been here for over five months.
Henry glanced at the name card in the slot, which read:
âF/male. No ID. Murder Vic
The technician, mask and gloves fitted, gripped the handle of the door and swung it open, then pulled out the tray with the body on it to about two feet. It was at a level with Henry's thighs.
As is the case with all bodies stored post-mortem, it was wrapped in an off-white flimsy muslin shroud from head to toe, rather like an Egyptian mummy.
âI need to see the whole body, please. Unwrapped.' Henry sensed a certain hesitation from the mortuary technician. âAnd yes, I'm certain I do. And I'm not squeamish.'
The technician wheeled a gurney from the side of the room, adjusted the height with a pneumatic foot pump that made little farting noises and slid it into place an inch underneath the tray. He then smoothly pulled out the tray on its hard rubber runners, onto the gurney in a well-practised move. He closed the fridge unit door, but not before Henry got a quick glance inside and saw the rest of the bodies lying on their respective trays, all the way down the unit. Eighteen people, all there for different reasons â but also the same one: they shared death in common.
The gurney was steered across the tiled floor and into the post-mortem examination room.
A steel slab occupied the centre of this room. On it lay the body of an old man, dissected from gullet to groin, his body prised open, ribcage missing, all organs removed, his body cavity like a hollow cave. The top of his skull had also been sawn off and the brain removed.
The pathologist and his assistant who were carrying out this examination, their backs to Henry, were working at a stainless-steel sink and draining board. Henry saw a sliced-up heart and a mass of body organs slopped gruesomely into a pile on the board, all having been dissected and examined. Blood ran into the sink.
The pathologist was holding up the dead man's brain in the palm of his left hand, reminiscent, Henry thought, of a gore-fest version of
. The pathologist was slicing the brain with a razor-sharp knife.
Henry looked away, focusing on his body of interest.
The technician carefully unwrapped the shroud, revealing the corpse. Henry watched, his features still set hard behind the face mask, thinking how difficult it was to do a catch-up on what was essentially a cold case. Much better to be in at the death, he thought humourlessly. Almost six months down the line was no time to be picking up a murder investigation.
The body was that of a teenage girl, estimated age seventeen to nineteen.
Henry cringed. It felt like he had only just wound up an investigation into the nasty murder of a teenage girl and now here he was, looking into another. It was this kind of thing that could tip an unstable SIO over the edge. Good job Henry was sound in mind and body .Â .Â . âI wish,' he thought, and concentrated on the task in hand.
Five months in the chiller had given the girl a frosty sheen, but in no way could it disguise what had happened to her.
Beaten, strangled .Â .Â . horrifically. Henry knew the details, had them in the file, and looking at her simply confirmed what he'd already read. But he had to look, see the flesh, get a true feel for the murder. Looking at photos in a file told him nothing, gave him no sense or feeling of the crime.
The purple mark made by the ligature to half-strangle her was still deeply indented in her neck. It was believed a man's neck tie had done this. On her cheek there was also the pattern of the sole of one of the shoes that had stamped on her face, which could possibly be useful if a suspect was ever identified.
The injuries around her head and shoulders, chest and lower stomach, where she had been kicked, stamped on and punched, could still be seen in spite of the terrible scars left by the post-mortem itself.
Her head was an appalling, distorted mess, having been jumped on repeatedly by someone wearing heavy shoes. The dislodgement of her lower jaw, broken in many places and with terrific force, her facial features smashed beyond recognition, did not stop Henry from realizing this had once been a very pretty girl.
His eyes took in all these things. His imagination worked to recreate her last moments of life. He did not like what it saw.
Then he took hold of her left arm, cold like a twig in winter, and turned it gently outwards, to inspect the many needle marks on the inside of her elbow. An addict.
And probably a prostitute, the original investigation had concluded.
That meant an individual who took risks, put herself in possibly dangerous situations and maybe, Henry had heard whispered, got what was coming to her.
His nostrils dilated as he thought, âScrew that.' No one deserves a death like this.
The technician stood back as Henry stepped around the gurney, taking in all aspects of the body. As he stood at her feet and looked up across the body, he saw that, with the jaw having been broken so badly, the girl's mouth was skewed wide open, and with her head tilted back, Henry could see the top set of her teeth, right to the back of the mouth.
He frowned and had to peer to confirm what he saw.
Then, taking his time to walk back alongside the body on the opposite side, he came back to the head.