There’s a moment you say ‘No’. You mean it as well. No. Then a moment you say ‘No’ but you don’t mean it. Not long, then the moment when it’s ‘Yes’.
Nothing like that moment.
Until the next, when you’re on your way.
Until the next, when you’re there.
Until the next, when they hear something and then they see you and then they realise you’re there. Then it’s all the moments after . . .
SERRAILLER NEEDED TO think slowly and deeply, with a notebook and pen, and he thought best if he was out of the office. It was too early for the pub and the Cypriot deli would be packed. He got a large takeaway coffee and drove out to the Hill. The sun was out and he sat on the lee side with his back to the Wern Stone. It was sheltered and almost warm, though he turned up the collar of his waxed jacket.
He could never have said that he enjoyed working on a murder – who could? He had a vivid picture in the front of his mind, of the elderly lady sitting in her own bedroom chair, flex tight round her neck, facing her own image in death, as she may well have been made to face it in her last moments of life. She would have seen her killer standing behind her. In death, the most unique, private, intimate moment of everyone’s existence, others stood behind her and looked into the same mirror, seeing their own images behind hers – the uniforms who had been called to her body, the forensics, the pathologist. He himself.
But the worse the case the stronger his determination and the keener his focus, and even though the word ‘enjoy’ had no place, Simon found this part by far the most interesting – the thinking through, the search for parallels, motives, method, the careful piecing together of every detail which might help him towards such a murderer by letting the man gradually into his mind. What kind of a person did this? What was his background, his past, his state of mind, his usual daily life, his work, his family? And then what triggered such hideous, calculating violence? This was no killing in a rush of anger, or in self-defence; this was a careful, methodically planned killing of a particular kind, for a particular reason.
He made notes about everything he had observed at the crime scene, sketched the layout of the bungalow, then of the new close, then mapped out the area surrounding it – main roads, side roads, trees, bushes, shrubs, hedges, ditches, grass verges. He marked his map of Lafferton in red and green felt tips, circling, underlining.
He sipped his coffee, thinking differently now, not about the place but about people, real people, killers he had known through his police career. As he remembered them he listed their names, crossing many out almost immediately because their murders had been a part of robberies gone wrong, family feuds, domestic violence, city-centre punch-ups, revenge against cops – careless, messy killings, unpremeditated, done by stupid people who had left their crime scenes cluttered with evidence, or handed themselves in, or been caught within minutes. There were too many of them, and though he had a very good memory, inevitably some had been forgotten because they were open-and-shut cases and, so far as murders went, uninteresting.
It was the others he went over in detail now. The sun was warm on his face, there was no one on the Hill, he could dive down into the past and recover faces, conversations, physical details, and link them to the present, as well as to what he had learned in his profiler’s training, a course which had been intense and absorbing, and which he had updated a couple of times in the last few years.
‘Think yourself into his mind. You are him. Be him now. Think like him, fear what he fears, boast to yourself like he does, plan it all out in the same way. Build up the resentments and the obsession, going back years. Forget everything else. This occupies your every waking thought and your dreams as well.’
He finished his coffee and got up. A black Labrador bounded round the corner, snuffling at Serrailler’s jacket, the owner in pursuit. A fire engine went along the perimeter road, sirens blaring. The peace and quiet on the Hill had been good while it lasted.
Fifteen minutes later he was back in the station, had moved the press conference back to four o’clock and called the team into the incident room. The whiteboard already had photographs of the dead woman, the exterior and interiors of her bungalow, and of the whole Close, and a list of residents, with a red tick beside those who had been interviewed.
‘Take a good look at this.’ Serrailler pointed to the photograph of Elinor Sanders, facing her own dead image in the dressing-table mirror. ‘Look hard. Because this is what should motivate you for the next however many hours and days, working round the clock if we have to. It should be in front of you when you’re asking questions, handing out leaflets, doing door to door, measuring out how many paces between here and there . . . whatever routine bit of the job. This is Elinor Sanders. This is a lady who was starting a new life, in a new sheltered housing complex where she ought to have felt totally safe and secure, a lady who was sleeping peacefully in her own bed, after having made her first local friend, the neighbour who lives opposite. And who died like this. She was wakened by an intruder, dragged out of her bed, pushed down into the chair in front of her mirror, and then strangled with a piece of electrical flex. As she was forced to watch. Imagine that for a moment. Forced to watch yourself being murdered. That would rank as a war crime. So what does it rank as here and now in an ordinary peacetime city?
‘Let me give you an idea about the sort of person who did this. Cunning. Stealthy – walked between the houses and broke into Mrs Sanders’s bungalow in the middle of the night without being heard or seen – so far as we know up to now anyway. He’s planned this. He planned a murder. Not a burglary. Nothing was taken. Her purse, with over fifty pounds in it, was in her handbag; there was a small jewellery case on the chest which was untouched – nothing of huge value but quite enough to make it worth stealing by an opportunist thief. Forensics found no prints at all, so, unsurprisingly, he wore gloves. He no doubt carried the flex with which she was strangled – she isn’t very likely to have had that lying about or stored in a cupboard. Motive? We don’t know but it wasn’t sexual in the usual sense – the path. found no evidence. She had just moved hundreds of miles, from Newcastle, to be closer to her twin so she didn’t know anyone locally – other than the neighbour she met yesterday. Her death isn’t likely to be related to some sort of long-standing quarrel. No, this bears all the hallmarks of our worst nightmare – the mad but clever, ruthless killer, who murders for sick reasons of his own. Is this the first time? We’re obviously trawling HOLMES and details are out there with every other force. This sort of murder is rarely a one-off. But every killer starts somewhere so this could easily be a first. Which implies the first of – how many? Several? Two? The guy who did it is happy at this moment. He did it and he got whatever weird kick he was hoping to get. He’s going over and over the night in his mind. He hasn’t forgotten a single detail – they never do. He gloats over them. Chances are he took photographs. Like that one up there. Chances are he has an identical picture and maybe others up on his wall, and that he’s gazing at them, getting more kicks that way. This is a dangerous killer and we have to get him. We will get him. But it is the sort of case that is likely to be solved in the course of some painstaking, routine, repetitive police work.’
‘Unless he makes a mistake.’
‘The chance discovery, yes. But we’re not dealing with someone careless and stupid here. He will anticipate every last little thing. People like him don’t make many mistakes, though sometimes luck goes against them, no matter how careful their planning. We need that luck. But I think we’ve got time on our side because he won’t do this again in a hurry. He has weeks to enjoy feasting on this murder. He’ll squeeze the orange dry before he starts getting restless and planning his next. That planning takes time as well. He won’t be in a hurry. That’s where we have a head start.’
‘How long are we talking, guv?’
‘No idea – but I’m pretty sure not days. So let’s use the time we’ve been given. Right . . . house to house within this area . . .’
He drew a red marker pen round Duchess of Cornwall Close and then a second ring within a two-mile radius. ‘We’re liaising with Newcastle – it might be necessary for someone to go up there but not at the moment. The key to this murder is likely to be not “who?” as in Elinor Sanders but “who” as in an elderly lady. I think the only reason she was killed was her age. And witnesses – if there were any it was one of the neighbours and we’re going to talk to them again and again and again, and I don’t need to remind you how carefully that has to be handled.’
‘What about random people out on the road – whatever route he took in his car, he’s going to be noticed, isn’t he? At two or three in the morning?’
‘Is he? Surprising number of people drive about at night and we’ve no idea what sort of vehicle we’re looking for. But I’ll ask for the usual info at the press conf. He isn’t going to be driving anything that would draw attention to himself of course – no home-sprayed fuchsia-pink Mini Cooper, it’ll be a carefully maintained two-a-penny Focus in silver grey without any “I’ve been to the Safari Park” stickers or other paraphernalia. He wants to blend in, look anonymous. I repeat, he’s clever and careful and his attention to detail will be second to none. Don’t underestimate him. Right, off you go – and take another close look at that photo as you leave. Elinor Sanders. She’s why we’re doing this job. We owe her.’
THE ST MICHAEL’S Singers were rehearsing Bach’s St John Passion for Easter and Cat had come in late, slipping into her place to a glare from the conductor. She had then come in late twice when singing, to a sharp nudge from her neighbouring soprano.
‘Stressed?’ Mel McAllister asked as they nudged their way through the throng to the bar of the Cross Keys later.
‘Sorry, sorry . . . I should have been up to speed and I wasn’t. I need an evening with the score and a CD.’
‘Thought your days were calmer now you’re not a GP. Dry white wine?’
‘Small one, yes please – but it’s my turn.’
‘Oh, turn, schturn. You grab a table . . .’
Cat did, the last one, in the far corner near the toilet door, with the wobbly chair leg. She pretended not to see the choirmaster waving to summon her over.
‘End of a bad week?’ Mel set down their drinks.
‘And it’s only Thursday. I was called in to a finance committee meeting this morning. The moment I walked in I knew. When Sir John was chair he always tried to give you the good news first, put a brave face on . . . not Gerald Hanbury. Face like a hangman.’
‘That would figure.’
Gerald Hanbury had taken over as chair of the Imogen House Board of Trustees the previous autumn, when he had retired as a High Court judge, but as he was not a man who understood the meaning of the word ‘retire’ he had filled a number of high-profile public and charitable roles within weeks. He was a steady pair of hands, sharp, focused and dedicated, but he was also a man at ease with bad news and there had been a look on his face that Cat had thought almost greedy when she had walked into the room.
She had walked out of it forty minutes later not only shocked and distressed but angry – angry that she had been kept out of the loop until matters were decided, sidelined as if she were the man who delivered the supplies twice a week.
John Lowther would never have behaved in that way. He would have consulted, discussed, asked for advice, counselled – even if the decision had been the same in the end.
During the last year of his chairmanship the financial position of the hospice had become so bad that a four-bedded ward had been closed and, a few months later, two further beds had gone. Things had apparently improved, and the day centre had taken up at least some of the slack. But although the centre cost less to run than the beds and although they had a loyal and active body of friends and supporters, the whole place drained money and the recession had hit hard.
The decision had been taken, apparently irrevocably, to turn Imogen House into a day-care hospice only. The remaining wards would be closed within the next three months and the area absorbed into treatment and consultation rooms for people to attend as outpatients.
‘But my aunt went to a day-care-only hospice for almost a year and it was great, she saw the doctors, got treatment, and there was a social life to it as well – had her hair done every week right to the end and that did her a power of good. It isn’t all bad, surely? Not as if they’re closing it altogether.’
‘I know. I’m in a bit of a minority on the subject of day-care-only.’ Cat finished half her wine at once. ‘Pros and cons, but my view is that we need both. There really is no substitute for inpatient care for a lot of people. The latest thing is hospice at home – it’s being bigged up as great for the patients but the real reason is financial. As ever. I know a lot of professionals disagree with me so maybe my feelings are based on resentment at being kept out of the decision until it was made. I always liked doing home visits and I’d get some of that back of course.’
‘And you’ll still be the boss, won’t you?’
‘In theory, but it will mean far fewer hours. It’s a downgrade, whatever good spin they put on it – which they will.’
‘So – what will you do?’
Cat shook her head. ‘Too soon to know. Lots of thinking.’
‘No, thanks, I’ve got to get home. Hannah was due to hear about this film part today but they’ve delayed. No text from her, so I suppose that means more waiting. Poor child needs it to be resolved one way or the other. By the way, did you hear the rumour about what we’re singing after Easter?’
‘I hope it isn’t Bach again – not that I don’t love Bach . . .’
‘No, Hans Werner Henze.’ Cat pulled her scarf round her neck and smiled sweetly. ‘But as I said – it could be just a rumour.’
As usual, she had parked outside Simon’s building in Cathedral Close. His car was not there – she knew he was heading up the murder inquiry and likely to be working round the clock so she sent him a quick cheering text. Her phone beeped almost at once, so she’d hit him at a lucky moment. But the text was from Judith who was in charge at the farmhouse, as usual on Cat’s choir night.
Are you on your way?