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 (4 page)

BOOK: Scaredy cat
12.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
The rails began to hum; there was a train coming. They watched as it rumbled past, a knackered old engine pulling a couple of rusty hoppers. Within thirty seconds, the only sound was a distant sizzle and the chirrup of a grasshopper from somewhere close by. Palmer looked up. He saw the blue and pink splotches of cornflowers and foxgloves against the green of the embankment on the other side of the tracks. He saw mare's tails and periwinkles at Nicklin's feet. He saw Nicklin just staring at him, with the look that made his palms sweat and his head ache and his bladder start to fill. Still, he didn't want to do this.
It always came down to something like this. Nicklin would find him and they'd spend half an hour or so down by the railway line, chucking stones at bottles or talking about football, until Nicklin smiled that smile and the games would change. Then they'd be dumping turds through letterboxes, or lobbing eggs at buses, or... this. Palmer could hear a rustling in the long grass on the bank behind him. He wanted to turn around and see what it was, but he couldn't stop looking at Nicklin. Suddenly, Nicklin looked really sad. On the verge of tears almost. Palmer shouted to him.
'Look, it doesn't really matter does it? We can do something else...'
Nicklin nodded, tightening his fist, squeezing what was held inside.
'I know, course we can. I just thought.., you were my mate that's all. If you don't want to be mates, just say, and I'll go. Just say...'
Palmer felt light-headed. A trickle of sweat was running down his back. He couldn't bear the thought of Nicklin feeling like this. Nicklin was his best mate. He would far rather he was angry with him than feel let down. He felt himself reaching down for the cricket bat, and was elated to look up and see Nicklin beaming at him.
'That's it, Martin. I knew you would. Ready?'
Palmer nodded slowly and Nicklin started running towards him, concentrating, and his tongue poking between his teeth. The frog spread its arms and legs out as soon as Nicklin let it go and for a second it looked as if it was flying. Nicklin began to cheer as soon as he opened his hand.
'Now Mart... now.'
Palmer shut his eyes and swung the bat.
It was a wet sound. Dull and sloppy. A small vibration up his arm. Nicklin watched the whole thing, wide-eyed and yelling. His eyes never moved from the glorious blur of blood and green guts that flew gracefully into the nettles on the other side of the railway line. He spun round, his black eyes bright in expectation of the sick, shit-a-brick look on Palmer's pale spotty face. The expression that he always saw afterwards. He froze and narrowed his eyes, focusing on something else: something behind Palmer and above him. Palmer dropped the bat and turned away without looking at the stain on the blade to climb back up the bank. He stopped dead in his tracks. Next to the hole in the chain-link fence, the tall grass past her knees, stood a girl with long blonde hair. She looked the same age as him, perhaps a little older. Palmer had never seen anyone as beautiful in his whole life. The girl put two fingers into her mouth and whistled. Then she started to clap, grinning her pretty little head off.
Both Thorne and McEvoy felt distinctly uneasy as they walked across the concourse at Euston station. Neither admitted this to the other and both later wished that they had. Both, as they bought magazines and papers, grabbed last-minute teas or cold drinks, imagined the eyes of a killer on them.
He had watched Carol Garner in this same place, and followed her. Perhaps he'd been standing where they now stood when he first saw her. Reading a newspaper or listening to a walkman, or gazing through the window of a shop at socks and ties. Thorne looked at the faces of the people around him and wondered if Carol Garner had looked into the eyes of the man who would later murder her. Perhaps she'd smiled at him or asked him the time, or given him a cigarette... They walked towards the platform, past their own tattered posters requesting help and information from the public. There were similar posters at King's Cross and these had given them their only real lead thus far - a partial description. A forty-one-year-old prostitute named Margie Knight had come forward and told them about seeing a woman who she thought might have been Ruth Murray, talking to a man on York Way, a road running along the side of the station. She'd remembered because for a minute or two she'd thought it was a new girl muscling in on her patch.
It had been dark of course, but there was some light from the shop fronts on the other side of the road. 'An ordinary kind of face really. He was a big bloke though, I can tell you that. Leaning over her, talking to her about something. He was tall. Not fat, you know, just big...'
She'd claimed that the look she'd had was not good enough to make it worth her trying to do an e-fit. Helping the police was not something Margie felt particularly comfortable with.
Thorne stared at the poster. Carol Garner's death distilled into a single grainy photograph and a phone number. They'd shown a picture from the Rail track CCTV footage on the local news and though there had been plenty of sightings, nobody had picked up on anyone who might have been following her.
They couldn't be one hundred per cent sure of course, that anyone had been following her. The station thing might yet prove to have been pure coincidence. The killer could have picked her up on the underground or on the walk home from Balham tube station.
Somehow though, Thorne was pretty sure that this was where he'd first seen Carol Garner. Chosen her.
He'd sat through that CCTY= footage a hundred times, scanning the faces of the people around her, as she and her son walked blithely towards the escalator. Men with briefcases, striding along and braying into mobile phones. Men with rucksacks, sauntering. Some meeting people or hurrying home, or hanging around for one of a hundred different reasons. Some who looked dangerous, and others who looked all but invisible. If you looked at them long enough you could see anything. Except what you needed to see.
In the end, his eyes always drifted back to Carol and Charlie, hand in hand and deep in conversation. Charlie was laughing, clutching tightly to his book, the hood of his anorak up. Thorne always found something horribly poignant about these CCTV pictures; these utilitarian clips of people in public places. The figures seemed real enough, close enough, that you could reach out and help them, prevent what you knew was about to happen. The fact that you couldn't, the fact that this recent past would inevitably become a terrible future, served only to increase the sense of sheer helplessness. The fuzzy, jumpy quality of the film touched him in a way that no album of treasured photos or home-video ever could. The jerky footage of Jamie Bulger being led away through that shopping centre to his death; or ten-year-old Damilola Taylor, skipping along a concrete walkway, minutes away from bleeding to death in a piss-spattered stairwell on a Peckham estate; or even a Princess - and Thorne was no great fan - smiling and pushing open the back door of a Paris hotel. These pictures clutched at his guts, and squeezed, every single time. The images of the dead, just before death.
Now, Carol and Charlie Garner strolling across a busy station concourse; relaxed and happy in a way that could only ever be captured on film when the subject was unaware they were being filmed at all. Unaware that they were being watched. By a camera, or by a killer. What should have been a ninety-minute train journey took closer to two hours, and nobody seemed hugely surprised. Thorne and McEvoy flicked through papers and chatted, and generally put the world to rights. The small talk was easy and enjoyable. It passed the time, and besides, each of them knew instinctively that they would not feel much like chatting on the return journey. They were still an hour from Birmingham, and McEvoy was on her way back from the solitary smoking carriage for the fourth or fifth time. She caught sight of Thorne, his head buried in the paper, as she weaved her way down the carriage and it struck her how, from a distance, he looked like somebody you would try and avoid sitting next to. Up close of course, once you'd been around him a while, there was a warmth in the eyes; something that drew you in, in spite of yourself. But at first glance, he was, to say the very least.., intimidating. As she sat back down and picked up her magazine, Thorne glanced up and gave her the look of the reformed smoker - jealous as hell, but trying to be disapproving. She wondered what their fellow travelers made of the pair of them. They were both dressed reasonably smartly: she in a blue wool coat and skirt, and Thorne in his ubiquitous black leather jacket. She was carrying a briefcase, but she seriously doubted that anyone would mistake them for business types. Not Thorne anyway. Her minder perhaps. Dodgy-looking elder brother, or even her dad, at a real push...
'What's so funny?'
She looked up. Still smiling. Maybe even her slightly older bit of rough. 'Nothing. Just an article in this magazine...'
Robert and Mary Enright, Carol Garner's parents, lived a few miles south of Birmingham city centre, in Kings Heath, a ten-minute cab ride from New Street station. Theirs was a purpose-built, two bedroom house on a modern estate, a short walk from shops and buses. The sort of place that a couple in their early sixties might move to. A quiet place where people like them could relax and enjoy retirement, with little to worry about, now that their children were settled. Settled perhaps, but never safe.
Mary Enright, whose world had so recently turned upside down, greeted them warmly and showed them into a small and unbearably hot living room. She was a short, contained woman. She produced tea almost instantly.
'Robert won't be long. He's taken Charlie over to the park. There's a nice playground, you know, a roundabout and some swings, it's very popular actually. To tell you the truth, I think Robert gets more out of it than Charlie does at the moment. He needs to get out of the house, you know, breathe a bit. Things have been a bit tense to be honest...'
McEvoy sipped her tea and nodded, full of understanding, or the appearance of it. Thorne looked around the stifling room, happy to let his sergeant keep the conversation going. Both just waiting to see the boy. Both dreading it.
The few child's books and toys, arranged neatly next to the sofa, seemed horribly out of place among the ornaments, antimacassars and gardening books. The house smelt of beeswax and liniment. It wasn't a place where a child was at home yet. Thorne noticed that there were already a few Christmas cards on the bookshelf in the corner. Greetings from those who didn't know. He wondered whether the Enrights would celebrate anyway, for their grandson's sake. Grief often came down to going through the motions. And often, so did investigating the cause of it. Charlie Garner had already been interviewed. As per procedure this had been done by specially trained officers under strictly controlled conditions. The interviews had taken place at a house in Birmingham owned and maintained jointly by local social services and West Midlands police. It was a simple modern house much like any other, except for the fully equipped medical examination suite and state-of-the-art recording facilities.
Charlie had been given toys to play with, and officers from the Child Protection Team had chatted to him while the entire process was monitored from an adjoining room. Thorne had watched recordings of all the interviews. Charlie had been a little shy at first, but once his trust had been won he'd become lively and talkative, about everything save what had happened to his mother...
Thorne wasn't sure he could get anything out of the boy. He didn't know if there was anything to get. He was certain that he had to try.
He was just summoning up the courage to ask if they might turn the radiator down a notch or two, when he heard the key in the front door. He and McEvoy stood up in unison and so quickly that Mary Enright looked quite alarmed for a moment.
Robert Enright shook hands and said, 'pleased to meet you', but his watery blue eyes told a different story. In stark contrast to his wife, he was very tall and had clearly once been fit, but where she was spry and alert, he seemed merely to drift, hollowed out and vague.
Death hit people differently. She was getting by. He had all but given up.
He slumped on to the sofa while his wife scuttled off to make more tea. 'Charlie's gone up to his room I think. He'll be down in a minute.'
His voice was deep and gentle, the heavy Brummie accent lending a weariness to it that it almost certainly didn't need. Thorne nodded. He had heard the thump thump of the boy's feet charging upstairs as soon as the front door had shut.
'Good time in the park?'
The old man shrugged. Stupid question. Fuck off out of my house, away from me and my family. 'It's starting to get cold...'
Mary bustled in, handed her husband his tea and attempted to kill the time until Charlie arrived with aimless chatter. She talked to Thorne and McEvoy about their journey up and how difficult their work must be, and how her friend had a son who was a sergeant in Leicester, and how she knew all about the pressures of the job. Thorne thought: it doesn't get any more difficult than this. The old man leaned forward suddenly and fixed Thorne with a hard look. 'What are you going to ask him?' Serious, unblinking... Thorne turned to McEvoy, sensing that this would be better coming from her. This, indeed, was why he'd wanted her along. She picked up her cue. 'We don't necessarily need to ask him anything. We just want to get an idea of what he remembers really. Has he talked about what happened at all?'
'No.' Quickly.
'Nothing at all? I mean he might have said something that just sounded like a joke, you know, or a--'
'I said no.' Louder now, unashamedly aggressive. McEvoy's eyes flicked to Mary, asking for help if she knew how to give it. She picked up her husband's hand and placed it on her knee. She took her hand away and held it up for Thorne and McEvoy's inspection.
'Bob worked in the Jewelry Quarter for forty years. He made this wedding ring in 1965. Made Carol's as well, four years ago. Sort of came out of retirement for it, didn't you?' She laughed and patted her husband's hand but he said nothing. 'See, we didn't have Carol until late.'
BOOK: Scaredy cat
12.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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