Better to be on the safe side.
Only thing is, I hate being in a rush. That way you make a stupid mistake, you slip up because you’re in a panic, and I’ve never been in a panic, me, never once.
Not in a panic now.
But time’s not exactly on my side, is it?
JUST BEFORE EIGHT the next morning, when the Fletcher boys were fighting on the stairs, the phone rang.
‘Stop it. Stop IT. Mum, Bradley’s kicking my shin, he’s –’
‘Listen, Harvey, listen to me. Get your dad, now, it’s really important.’
There was something in his mother’s voice.
‘Dad? Mum says it’s really important.’
‘For heaven’s sake, I’m frying bacon, watching the toast . . . Go and get dressed, you two. Now.’
Harry took the phone.
‘Listen, I’ve been trying to get Mum for the last half-hour and she isn’t answering.’
‘It’s only just eight and it’s Saturday, stop fretting.’
‘She’s always up by seven, you know that, often much earlier. There’s just no reply and I’m really worried.’
Harry sighed. ‘She could be in the bath.’
‘Not all this time. Harry, will you go over there, love?’
‘But I’ve got the lads, the breakfast’s on, I’m not feeling great either . . . Tell you what, you get yourself sorted out, I’ll keep ringing her, and if I haven’t had an answer by nine, I’ll go over, take the boys.’
‘That’s too long, Harry. She might have had a fall and be lying there, she might –’
‘Half eight then. Just let me get breakfast down them and I’ll go.’
‘Or call the police . . .’
‘You can’t call the police every time an old lady doesn’t answer her phone, Kaz.’
‘But because of where she is –’
‘You’re forgetting something. They’ve got the bugger. He’s behind bars.’
Karen sighed. ‘I suppose. Yes.’
‘You’re getting yourself worked up. Still, she ought to be up and about by now. I’ll go. But if you get hold of her in the next quarter of an hour, or she rings you, do me a favour and call me, Karen. I don’t want a wild goose chase with both boys, in this weather. We’ve got freezing fog here. What time will you be back?’
‘I’ll have lunch with Elaine and then set off.’
‘Don’t leave it too late – if it comes down like this again it’ll be nasty driving. You look out for yourself.’
‘I will, sweetheart. Ring me straight away if anything’s wrong up at Mum’s.’
‘What do you take me for? I’m as concerned about Rosemary as you are.’
‘I know. I’ll be fine once I hear she’s all right.’
Harry shouted the boys down to breakfast. ‘And make it snappy. We’ve got to go and check on your gran. No messing.’
As they tumbled downstairs, he picked up the phone and dialled Rosemary’s number. It rang and rang and rang.
‘RACHEL . . .’
‘Mmmm.’ She stirred, then turned and pulled the duvet back over her.
Simon kissed her forehead. ‘Breakfast will be here in ten minutes.’
A brief pause and then she sat up. ‘What . . .?’
He laughed. ‘You remember? We decided a large breakfast in bed would be the thing.’
‘It’s not that long since we ate a fantastic dinner.’
The hotel had recently been awarded a Michelin star and it showed, not in pretentiousness but in fresh, carefully prepared dishes, full of intense flavours, and in presentation that in itself was like a work of art, yet without any over-embellishment. They had drunk Veuve Clicquot and a fine bottle of Pomerol, and come to the luxurious room with its vast bed and deep mattress and pillows in a haze of happiness. Rachel had looked at the room-service menu and they had ordered breakfast.
Simon leapt out of bed, and went to run a scalding shower. One of them had to be ready for the waiters.
When they arrived, two young men carrying the silver trays at shoulder level, they set up a table by the window, where the room overlooked the hotel’s park that sloped up to a crown of trees. The grass was frosted white, the sky brittle blue.
‘Oh my God, Simon . . .’ Rachel gazed at the breakfast, when the waiters had departed with silent and respectful smiles. ‘I don’t eat breakfast.’
‘Nor do I. All the more reason and you look beautiful.’
She did. She was. Hair pulled loosely back in a band, skin creamy-pale. He looked into her eyes. Their violet had been darker last night, in artificial light. Now, they were amethyst-bright.
She stared at the breakfast, the silver pots of coffee and milk, the freshly squeezed orange juice in its crystal jug, the basket of warm croissants and chocolatines, the racks of toast, the butter set over a cooler of water, the plates of peeled and sliced fruit, melon, kiwi, pineapple . . .
‘Honey, strawberry jam, fig jam, marmalade, lemon marmalade . . .’ Rachel said wonderingly. ‘It’s like the picnic in The Wind in the Willows.’
‘No porridge . . . You forgot to ask for porridge, with cream and brown sugar.’
He held out her chair, opened her napkin and set it on her lap. Kissed her. Sat down opposite. The smell of the hot coffee as he poured it was so rich he closed his eyes to savour it. To savour this, now.
His mobile rang.
The station number was on the phone display.
He looked at Rachel.
‘Please answer it.’
‘It’s work. No.’
‘It’ll just ring until you do.’
‘Not if I switch it off.’
Of course he did not. He had never failed to reply to a call from work, wherever he had been, whatever the time or the day. They had the roster. They didn’t ring him on his day off with a report of a stolen bicycle.
‘Morning, guv. Sorry, but you’re going to have to come in.’
‘Another one. The sheltered housing. Mrs Rosemary Poole, number 1 Duchess of Cornwall Close. Exactly the same MO, every detail.’
‘How did we find out?’
‘The lady’s son-in-law called us. His wife had been ringing her without getting an answer, so he tried and when he got no reply he went over there. Had to take his two kids, he was in charge overnight while his wife was away.’
‘They didn’t . . .’
‘No, he left them in the car. They didn’t see anything but he was in a pretty bad state . . . they’re all here at the station now. Car’s fetching the mother, she’s in no fit state to drive.’
‘On my way.’
Simon stood holding the phone, staring out at the frozen park. ‘Fuck,’ he said. ‘Fuck, f*ck and f*ck again. Sorry, Rachel, I’m –’
‘For heaven’s sake . . . what’s happened?’
He told her as he was getting dressed. The breakfast table stood, laden with untouched food and drink, beside the window.
‘Eat,’ he said, slipping on his shoes, ‘enjoy it, eat for me as well. I’m so sorry.’
‘Simon, it’s your job. I’m fine.’
She put her hand to his face and kissed him. ‘Now, go.’
She watched him stride quickly away down the hotel corridor.
The scene at Duchess of Cornwall Close was depressingly familiar. Vans. Forensics. Red-and-white tape. Uniform guarding the door. Only the bungalow was different.
He went straight into the bedroom. Same. Same horrible scene all over again. Rosemary Poole had been placed – presumably forced down – into a wicker chair in front of her dressing-table mirror. The same electrical cord was pulled tightly into a knot round her neck. She was wearing her nightdress but her feet were bare. The bed was as it must have been when she got or was pulled out of it. A blue china mug of milk, skin formed on the surface, stood next to an Ian Rankin paperback. A pair of reading glasses was on the floor. And some nail-clippers. Nothing seemed to have been disturbed, nothing taken. Killing for killing’s sake.
The pathologist came in as Serrailler was looking at the woman’s image in the mirror, the hideously distorted face, blue throat, bulging eyes.
Nick de Silva sighed. ‘You’ve got to get this monster.’
‘Thought we had.’
‘Do we know who she is?’
‘Yes. Nice woman. Friend of the previous victim, she was very shaken up about it.’
The pathologist was looking closely at her neck, touching nothing yet.
‘He knows what he’s doing. But what’s this sadism all about, Simon? Setting them to stare at their own dead faces?’
‘Is that what he does? Or does he strangle them while they’re watching?’
‘No. Or, I don’t think so. That would be difficult even for a strong man, unless he half does it, then puts them in the chair when they’re no longer able to resist. Difficult to fight a man off when you’re also fighting for your breath.’ Nick lifted the woman’s hands one by one and examined each finger, each nail. ‘No sign of skin under the nails which would mean she’d scratched at him . . . but it could be too small for the na*ed eye to see. We’ll find that out.’ He looked at her bare feet. ‘Bet it’s the same as the other one: she’d recently cut her toenails.’
‘Time of death?’
‘Maybe a bit earlier than the previous one. She’s been dead for nine or ten hours, at a guess.’
‘Around midnight then. I’ll leave you to it. Anything else you spot before you get her in, let me know, will you? On her, around her . . . anything that sorts this one from the last.’
‘Will do. But this isn’t a copycat, Simon. This is the same guy, and he’s an expert.’
Serrailler saw the car from the top of the road, before he reached the police station. By the time he had parked, the Chief Constable was in the building and her driver was reversing into a convenient space.
Despite the fact that he got on well with Paula Devenish, he knew what was coming. The Chief took no prisoners.
Ben Vanek was coming down the stairs and made a sympathetic face, jerking his thumb towards the CID room. Simon nodded. ‘You OK?’
‘I’m off to an arrest. Patrol in Bevham pulled over a black 4 x 4 with bull bars, for having a broken tail light – and a load of gear in the back taken in a ram raid last night. Result.’
Simon headed on up the stairs. Hesitated. Go on into the CID room, or wait until the Chief came to his office?
No. Get stuck in there. He turned down the corridor.
The CID room was full. People were at their desks, faces at computer screens, ears to phones. The Chief was walking round, keeping a low profile, having a word here and there, not interfering or holding up the work. Waiting for him then.
‘Morning, ma’am. Sorry, I didn’t realise you were coming in or I’d have driven straight here.’
‘Duchess of Cornwall Close. I’ll do a brief in about half an hour.’
‘I’ll come in on that, but can we have a word first?’
His secretary had the coffee ready, cups not mugs, milk hot, biscuits chocolate. Polly had things done before Simon had thought of them.
Paula Devenish sat down and drank half the cup of coffee before she spoke.
‘Simon, I did come in to have a quick word about all of this but there’s something else before we get to the murders. Don’t look alarmed, you’re my best DCS, this isn’t a dressing-down.’
‘I’ve jumped to some over-hasty conclusions, I know that.’
‘This sort of case puts immense pressure on the SIO, I know only too well . . . the pressure to be seen to be acting, succeeding, making an arrest, putting an end to it all. But I’ll come to that . . . Listen, you’ll hear about this tomorrow but I’m telling you and a couple of other people in advance – I’m retiring.’
It was the last thing Serrailler had expected. The Chief had been very ill the previous year and on sick leave for several months but she had returned in great heart, full of energy and new initiatives. Any of them would have said she was certain to go on in the job until she reached the age limit. She had six years before that.
‘I’m not going to explain why at the moment, but I hope you’ll come and have a drink and I’ll tell you more about it.’
‘Are you staying in the police?’
‘No. If I were I’d be staying on here – I’ve got the perfect job.’
‘I take it as a compliment that you’ve told me before it’s official.’
‘You can take it as that – you might also think of another reason.’
But he had no idea.
‘I think you should apply.’ She held up her hand. ‘I would dearly like you to be my successor, though of course I won’t have any influence. But let’s stop right here because you’ve a briefing to take.’ She finished her coffee and stood up.
Serrailler had got his head together by the time they walked in but the others in the room were immediately on edge when they saw the Chief. She was very much liked and respected but they were always ready to feel defensive if she became closely involved with a particular job.
Knowing that, she sat at the back.
Simon pointed to the whiteboard and a blown-up photograph of the sheltered housing complex. The two bungalows in which the women had been murdered were outlined in red. Beside them were their photographs – the one of Elinor Sanders taken some ten years before, that of Rosemary Poole just a few weeks ago, with her grandsons at Christmas.
There was also the ID photo of Matt Williams.
Serrailler pointed to it, then took it down. ‘That was our prime suspect, Matthew Williams, electrician. He has been released from our custody without a stain on his character.’
‘And he’s kicking up a hell of a stink,’ Joanne said. ‘Official complaint, compensation, the lot.’
‘It’ll get him nowhere. Yes, the evidence was circumstantial but there was quite a pile of it – there was every reason to arrest and charge him and I’d do the same again. But of course a second murder, in the same area and with exactly the same MO, was committed while Williams was our guest.’
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