Read Scaredy cat Online

Authors: Mark Billingham

Tags: #Detective, #Mystery & Detective - General, #Police Procedural, #Police, #Action & Adventure, #Serial murders, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #Fiction, #Psychological, #General & Literary Fiction, #Modern fiction, #Suspense, #Women Sleuths, #Traditional British, #Thrillers, #England, #General

Scaredy cat (3 page)

BOOK: Scaredy cat
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'I think I preferred you when you were an arse-licker, Holland...'
Thorne put his mug on the mantelpiece and bent down to light the flame-effect gas fire in the mock-Georgian fireplace. The central heating was up as high as it would go but he was still freezing. And his back was playing up. And it was pissing down...
There were plenty of questions that needed answering right now. Were the two killings genuinely connected? Apart from the date and the fact that both women were strangled, there seemed to be no other link, so was the station thing just a coincidence? King's Cross threw up other possibilities. Had he mistaken the second victim for a prostitute? Why kill one at home and one on the street?
And the biggest question of the lot: did he kill twice on the same day because he was out of control, or was killing multiple victims actually the pattern? Blood lust or compulsion? Right now, Holland and McEvoy were earning overtime trying to find out, but whichever it was, the answer was not going to be pleasant. In the eight months or so that the team had been together, they had only really worked on two major cases that were truly their own. Most of the time they'd been seconded - either individually or together - on to other investigations with other units, and then been reconvened when needed.
The aftermath of the terrorist atrocities of September 11 had seen the teams from Serious Crime involved in an operation unlike any before. Some had expressed surprise that repatriating bodies from New York should be down to them, but it made sense to Thorne. These were British citizens. They had been murdered. It wasn't complicated. The phone calls had been the hardest: thousands of people eager to trace husbands and wives, sons and daughters who hadn't been in touch and who may or may not have been in the area. So far, of the hundreds whose missing relatives never did get in touch with them, only one had been given an identifiable body to bury...
Three months on, and the Met was still stretched - tracking down Anthrax hoaxers, monitoring possible terrorist targets, chasing their tails while street crime grew to fill the hole that was left. If suddenly phone-jacking didn't seem quite so important, there were still crimes, like those that Team 3 got handed, that needed to be taken very seriously indeed.
The two cases were both.., unusual. The first was a series of gruesome killings in south-east London that bore all the hallmarks of gangland slayings. However, the bodies (when they'd been painstakingly re-assembled) were found to belong, not to drug-dealers or loan sharks, but to ordinary, law-abiding citizens. It quickly became clear that the murders were the work of one highly disturbed individual as opposed to an organised gang of them. Whether the killer - a happily married electrical engineer - had been simply trying to disguise his work, or had a psychotic fixation with the disposal methods of gangsters, was as yet unclear. He was still undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
The other case was the more disturbing, despite the lack of bodies. Guests in hotels were being targeted and robbed in their rooms. The minor physical assaults that were part and parcel of the thefts had soon begun to escalate however. Those that willingly handed over cash, Rolexes and other valuables were being tortured anyway. The knife was produced and the PIN number was demanded. The number was given and the knife was used anyway. Small cuts, nicks: wounding for pure pleasure. Thorne knew that this one liked the feel of a blade on skin, enjoyed hearing the intake of breath, and watching the thin red line fill out on the flesh and begin to drip. The robbery was becoming something else: the robber, someone else. Behind his black balaclava, he was starting to enjoy his work a little too much and it was only a matter of time until people started to die.
That was when Thorne had been brought in.
With next to no physical evidence and no real description to work from, the case had quickly become hugely frustrating. Thorne, Holland and McEvoy, in an effort to trap this latent killer, this murderer-to-be, had spent nights in some very nice hotels but without success. Their efforts had evidently been noted and the individual responsible had gone to ground.
Two cases, one arrest. A fifty per cent hit rate, and the numbers would only get worse from here on in. Some had joked that the hotel case, given a few weeks, would get passed on to the Crinkly Squad anyway, but Thorne knew differently. Anybody who enjoyed inflicting pain to the degree this man did, would need to do it again. He would resurface somewhere. The MO might be completely different, but Thorne did not doubt for a second that one day soon he would be providing a pathologist somewhere with some overtime.... Thorne took his coffee across to the sofa and picked up the file on Carol Garner. He sat for a few minutes, not opening it, just staring out into the rain and thinking about the hundreds, the thousands of different people across the capital who owed their employment to the violent death of another. Thinking about the money generated by murder.
Thinking about the industry of killing.
Dave Holland stared over the top of his computer screen at Sarah McEvoy who was avidly studying hers. He thought about his girlfriend, Sophie.
The ongoing argument which they had been having in installments for the past year, had flared up again. Sophie had a problem with Thorne. She had only met him once and had formed an opinion based entirely on what Holland himself had said about Thorne in the early days of their working relationship. So the man described by Holland over a year ago as 'obsessive' and 'arrogant' had become, in the strange folklore of Sophie's imagination, a pigheaded, self-serving lunatic whose refusal to follow procedure would one day cost him not only his career, but those of the people around him. Those who didn't know any better...
It wasn't that she didn't want Holland to do the job. She just wanted him to do it in a particular way; to be the sort of copper who keeps his head down and gets promoted, and who is universally liked. A copper who does just enough.
A copper like his father.
Once, she'd intimated that if he chose to go a different route then he would be going it alone. He had been furious at the threat and the ultimatum had been quietly forgotten.
At least, they both pretended that it had.
The arguments were never heated. The two of them were sulkers, bottlers-up. It was more a series of snipes and barbed comments, and the intensity had increased as soon as the new case had started. Yesterday evening, after a hectic day that had begun with the team briefing, Sophie had looked up at him across the kitchen table, smiled, and opened her account.
'So how many people did the great Tom Thorne piss off today then?'
He wasn't sure what upset him most about the whole thing. The assumption that as far as his career was concerned, she knew best? The lack of support? Or the fact that when it came to her assessment of Thorne, most of the time she was absolutely right?
McEvoy glanced up from her monitor and fixed him with bright green eyes. Caught you.
She was tall, 5" 7" or 5" 8", with shoulder-length, curly brown hair, a broken nose and full lips which smiled easily and, so it seemed to Holland, often. Right now, he reckoned the smile had at least three different meanings.
He didn't understand any of them.
'I heard something very strange today.' Despite the surname, she was pure North London Jewish. Her accent was flattish, hard. Sexy. 'A vicious rumour about the Weeble...' The nickname was a reference to Thorne's shape, to how hard people thought it would be to make him fall down.
Holland raised his eyebrows. Another rumour? When it came to Thorne, he'd heard most of it, but he enjoyed a good story or bit of gossip as much as anybody else.
'I heard that he likes country-and-western. Is that true?'
Holland nodded, as if confirming a terminal diagnosis. 'Yeah, he loves it.'
'What, all that yee-hah and Dolly Parton and stuff? Does he go line dancing?'
Holland laughed. 'I think it's a bit more obscure than that. He used to listen to a lot of techno and garage stuff as well, but I think that was just a phase.' He blinked slowly, remembering the almost hypnotic' noise. Remembering the case it had helped to blot out. McEvoy looked disappointed. 'Shame. He was starting to sound interesting there for a minute.'
'Oh he's.., interesting.'
Holland believed that about Thorne, if he believed anything. If interesting meant unpredictable and stubborn. If it meant refusing to admit that you might be wrong. If interesting meant determined, and vengeful, and knowing the difference between right and wrong whatever the poxy rules said. And refusing to suffer fools. And possessing the kind of passion that would always make something happen. A passion that Dave Holland, whatever other people might want him to do and be, would have killed to have even the tiniest fucking bit of... He thought about his father. A man who died a sergeant at sixty. Having done just enough.
McEvoy shrugged and her eyes dropped back to her screen. Back to the computerised catalogue of suffering and death from which the two of them were supposed, hopefully, to come up with some answers. Holland had believed that relatively, London could not be that violent a city and that their search would not be overly time-consuming. He had been wrong on both counts.
Looking for murders committed on the same day had sounded fairly straightforward, but Thorne was not a man who did things by half. Both time-frame and search criteria were broadening all the time. McEvoy and Holland had begun by looking for strangulations first and then widened things from there. They couldn't rule out assaults as they might be the work of the same man who had now perhaps graduated to full-blown murder. Even discounting domestics and gang-related attacks, it was a big job. To check thoroughly, to go back far enough to find a pattern - if indeed there was one - was going to take time.
Holland looked up at the clock. Another twenty minutes and they could call it a night. He tried to picture Thorne in a Stetson and cowboy boots but the image wouldn't stick.
Thorne was too dangerous to be a figure of fun. Johnny Cash made good music to read post-mortem reports by. This, after all, was someone who once famously sang about shooting a man just to watch him die. Whether this was big talk or just a very bad case of boredom, he sang as if he knew a great deal about death. Thorne wondered, as he read the words Phil Hendricks had used to describe the manner of Carol Garner's death, how much he really knew. Now, the man with a voice like the long, slow tumble towards hell was singing about flesh and blood needing flesh and blood. Thorne certainly didn't require it, but the proof was there on his lap, right in front of him - the proof that sometimes, flesh and blood needed to destroy flesh and blood, too. The body of the second victim, Ruth Murray, had been examined by another pathologist. Thorne had seen the initial report which confirmed strangulation as the cause of death and revealed that tissue had been removed from beneath the victim's fingernails for DNA-testing. He wasn't going to get too excited just yet. It sounded promising, but he would wait to see what Hendricks had to say once he'd carried out a second PM.
Thorne had once thought strangulation, as ways of dying went, to be a fairly soft option. It could surely not be as terrible as being repeatedly stabbed or bludgeoned. It was certainly not on a par with drowning, or suffocating or swallowing bleach. He'd thought this, until he'd read his first PM report on a victim of manual strangulation. In many ways, the use of the bare hands to throttle - the flesh on flesh - made it the very worst type of killing. There was no weapon to separate killer from victim. In most cases the victim would lapse into unconsciousness quickly, but the damage inflicted could be massive, often leaving the victim as bloody and bruised as if they had been attacked with a hammer. Carol Garner had died from asphyxia due to the compression of the carotid arteries, her body displaying virtually every classic trait consistent with violent strangulation.
The eyes were open, the eyeballs distended, the corneas and skin around the eyes showing signs of hemorrhage. The neck was a mass of bruises, some nearly an inch in diameter and there were bloody, half-moon-shaped indentations from the nails on the fingers and thumbs of the killer.
Thorne's hands drifted towards his throat. He closed his eyes. Was that chocolate bar his, Charlie? Did he give it you to keep you quiet? Or did he produce it himself, afterwards, and eat it slowly, watching her, while you were crying?
There was massive bruising and abrasion to the floor of the mouth, the epiglottis and the lining of the larynx. The tongue had been all but bitten clean through. The crocoid cartilage was crushed, the thyroid cartilage virtually unrecognisable and the hyoid bone was fractured. It was this internal damage which most clearly indicated the severity of the attack which led to Carol Garner's death. Did you see it happen, Charlie? Did he shut you out of the room, or did you stand and scream, and beat your tiny fists on his back and watch your mummy's eyeballs bulging out of their sockets?
Thorne leaned down to pick up the coffee that he'd left on the floor by the sofa. It was stone cold. He looked at his watch. He'd been immersed in the details of death for well over an hour. Thorne was as disturbed as always by this.., capacity he had. He'd tried reading crime fiction once but it had not suited him at all. He could barely read any so-called thriller for more than a few minutes without starting to drift away, and yet a jargon-filled description of ruined flesh had him riveted. He was confident that there was nothing overly perverse in this. He could honestly say that he had never enjoyed watching an autopsy.
The truth was that an intimate knowledge of real killers and real victims made him a difficult reader to please.
Thorne had seen enough wild-eyed gunmen and bloodied blades, and soft-spoken, heavy-lidded perverts. He'd seen plenty of batterers and arsonists and smiling poisoners. He'd seen more than his fair share of damaged bodies: some dead, and others more damaged still, left behind to remember.
He'd seen holes in flesh and holes in lives. Thorne picked up his coffee cup and was heading for the kitchen to make another when the doorbell rang.
Hendricks was standing on the doorstep wearing a floor-length black leather coat and watch cap. He was brandishing a blue-striped plastic bag that was threatening to break at any instant thanks to the vast quantity of cheap lager it contained. The accent hardly suited dramatic declamation, but he did his best. 'Let us drink beer and talk of death.'
Thorne turned and headed back inside. Neither of them was big on ceremony. 'It sounds like you've already started on the drinking bit...'
Hendricks slammed the outer door and followed Thorne inside.
'I've been doing both, mate. I've been with Dr Duggan most of the day...' He closed the inner door and moved into the living room.
'He the one who did the first post-mortem on Ruth Murray?'
'She. Emma Duggan. Very good, and very fanciable, if you like that kind of thing.'
Thorne shook his head and reached into the plastic bag that Hendricks was now cradling gently. 'Formaldehyde does nothing for me, sorry.'
'And I've spent the last few hours up to my elbows in Ruth Murray myself, so yes,' Hendricks said, dumping the .bag on the sofa, 'I did have a couple on the way over.'
While Hendricks took off his coat, Thorne opened a beer and picked up the CD remote control. He switched Cash's Solitary Man back to the beginning. The guitar kicked in on 'I Won't Back Down'. Thorne took the chair and Hendricks the sofa. It was a familiar and comfortable arrangement that, bar a few awkward weeks the year before, had been repeated at least weekly since Thorne had first moved in nearly eighteen months ago. He'd rattled around in the big house in Highbury for three years after his divorce, before finally taking the plunge and buying the flat He still hadn't got used to the place. He did like the oatmeal IKEA sofa a lot better now it had a few beer stains, but though the place was at last starting to look worn, it had become no more welcoming.
The person responsible for most of the stains grunted, at home now and ready to talk about death.
'So...?' Thorne was trying not to sound impatient.
'So... interesting.'
The phone rang. Thorne sighed, pulled himself out of the chair and marched across to where the cordless phone stood, near the front door.
'Thorne...'
'Sir, it's Holland...'
'Nothing so far then?' He could hear the confusion in the silence from the other end. 'Don't worry, Holland, I can always tell if you're excited. Your voice goes up an octave.'
'Sir . . .'
'So, nothing at all? Maybe we need to widen things geographically as well...'
'There were a couple that looked likely, but there were arrests on both of them and the only other ones, two assaults.., and two women stabbed on the same day in July, didn't pan out timing-wise.'
'Sure?'
'Positive. McEvoy double-checked. Couldn't have been the same killer who did both. Even if... you know, the times of death were a bit off.., he'd have needed a helicopter to have done both of them.'
'OK, knock it on the head ... like you weren't about to anyway. Tomorrow you might have more luck. I'm sure this wasn't his first time. You'll get something. Besides, you won't have any distractions.'
'Sorry?'
'I'm taking DS McEvoy with me to Birmingham.'
It took Holland a few seconds to work out why Thorne might be going to Birmingham, and why he would want Sarah McEvoy to go with him. Once he had, he was grateful that he would be the one stuck in front of a computer all day.
Then, after he'd hung up, Holland started to wonder what Thorne had meant by 'distractions'.
'Tell me about interesting.' Hendricks looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. Thorne went on. 'Ruth Murray. "Interesting", you said.'
Ruth Murray. 32. Married with, thankfully, no children. Hers actually the first body to be found, wedged in behind a large metal rubbish bin in a road behind King's Cross station.
Hendricks had helped himself to the meagre contents of Thorne's fridge while he'd been on the phone to Holland, and his reply was broken up as he attempted to swallow an enormous bite of a cheese sandwich. 'I'm writing it up... first thing tomorrow...'
'I won't be here first thing tomorrow.'
'I'll have it on your desk by midday, all right...?'
'Just give me the highlights, please.'
Hendricks wiped his mouth, swung his legs off the sofa and turned to face Thorne. There were important things to be said. 'OK, well first off, don't get too excited about the skin under her fingernails.'
'Because . . . ?'
'Because most of it's probably hers.' He explained before Thorne had a chance to ask him to. 'It's quite common with strangulations. The victim often scratches their own neck in an attempt to remove the ligature.., or in this case the killer's hands.' As Hendricks explained, his hands automatically went to his neck and Thorne watched them scrabbling at the flesh. 'She had good nails.., made a right mess of her neck. She might have scratched him as well though, so it's worth looking at.'
'Carol Garner didn't have good nails?'
Hendricks shook his head. 'Badly bitten ...' Thorne wondered if she'd begun biting her nails after her husband had been killed. Looking at her baby son and seeing his father. Never dreaming that the boy would be an orphan before his fourth birthday.
'But...'
'What?' Thorne leant forward, on the edge of his chair. Hendricks had been saving something up. Always the need to show off just a little.
'We might ... might, have another DNA source. Duggan missed something.'
'But you said...'
'She was good. Yeah, she is. Just not as good as me.'
Thorne could not keep the irritation out of his voice. 'For fuck's sake, Phil, can we cut the Quincy crap?'
'All right ... look, once it had been established that there hadn't been a sexual assault, Duggan didn't see any point in looking for bodily fluids. It was a fair enough presumption really; the body was fully clothed, same as Carol Garner. But I'd checked when I did the PM on her, so I looked anyway...'
Thorne held his breath. He could feel the excitement building in the same place it always did: at the base of his skull. A tingling, a buzzing, a low throb of excitement and revulsion in advance of the detail to come. He hated it when it was sexual. There was always a slightly higher chance of a result, but still, he hated it. Hendricks was equally excited. 'It was Luminol and UV that did it in the end. Tiny patches all over her face and on her arms. It took me ages to work out what it was; it was actually more about working out what it wasn't...'
Thorne nodded. It was good news; if they caught him it almost certainly guaranteed a conviction, but it sickened him just the same. It was no consolation that the killer would probably have done it after Ruth Murray had been killed. If anything, it made it worse.
'Forty-eight hours then?'
Hendricks held up a hand. 'Yeah, hopefully. There's really only a minuscule amount of the stuff and to be honest, I'm not even sure we can get anything. There may be some cellular material, but I've certainly never heard of it being done...'
Thorne stood up. 'Hang on, Phil, I'm lost here.., are we not talking about sperm?'
Hendricks shook his head. 'Tears mate. Dried tears.'
Thorne's mouth actually fell open a little. Hendricks casually reached down for another can of beer. 'Fucker wasn't wanking while he was killing her, Tom, he was weeping.'
***********
1983
Nicklin walked back towards the railway line, his right hand hanging awkwardly, cradling his clammy treasure. In his other hand was the last of a melting chocolate bar. He pushed what was left of it into his mouth, threw the wrapper onto the floor and turned around. He was twenty feet or so away, ready for his run-up, but Palmer had put the bat down.
Nicklin's face reddened. He had a good mind to stroll back and start smacking Palmer over the head with it, but he stayed calm. 'Come on Mart, pick the bat up. This is going to be brilliant.'
The bigger boy shook his head, squinting at Nicklin and raising a hand to shield his eyes from the sun. 'I don't want to.'
'Why not?'
'I just don't want to.' They stared at each other for a while. 'Why can't I bowl? You're much better at batting than me...'
'You can bowl next time.'
Palmer looked vaguely sick. 'Are we going to do it again? But how...?'
Nicklin laughed. 'There's loads of them round here. Now stop pissing around, Martin. Pick the bat up.'
Palmer said nothing, thinking about the two more weeks until they went back to school.
BOOK: Scaredy cat
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