‘Unless he committed the first murder and this is a copycat.’
‘Very unlikely. We haven’t made public some key details about the murder of Elinor Sanders. We’ve told the press that she was strangled with flex. But we haven’t told anyone that she was placed on a chair in front of a mirror. That information is strictly under wraps and has been from the beginning. No one has access to it apart from us and the pathologist and forensics. Rosemary Poole was treated to exactly the same ritual – whatever that means. But the two women were almost one hundred per cent certainly killed by the same man and that man was not Matthew Williams.’
‘Guv, not sure if you know this but a patrol picked up Nobby Parks again late last night, hanging about in the area of the sheltered houses. That’s the second time. He was brought in for questioning but there was no reason to hold him.’
Serrailler sighed. ‘I wish Nobby Parks would go on holiday somewhere warm for a month or two. He’s getting in our way. Someone go down there, give him a talking-to, have a look around. But he’s not a killer. However, no doubt you’re thinking I shouldn’t sound quite so confident because I got it wrong on one count. I said the profile of a killer like this would indicate that there’d be a lapse of time before he struck again. That’s because he plans very carefully and meticulously and also because he will want to savour every detail of what he’s done, go over it, picture it, for quite a long time. He can live off it. Talking of pictures, he could very well have taken photographs of his victims after death – now we’re in the age of digital nobody has to take their little roll of film to be developed at a chemist’s shop so a killer is much more likely to take the small risk of photographing the scene. But I was wrong. He killed again almost immediately. This may mean that he was afraid of something – of having been seen perhaps. If there’s the faintest doubt in his mind about anything, he has to be sure. Perhaps he thought he saw Mrs Poole’s curtain shift slightly, when he was leaving Elinor Sanders’s bungalow after murdering her. Had she seen him and might she be able to identify him?
‘A pattern is beginning to emerge. This is a man who kills old people, probably only old women. He is cunning and he plans carefully. He probably cases out the scene and watches the movements of his victims for some time before making any move. Who is likely to do that? Anyone lurking about for a while, just watching, is going to attract suspicion, but plenty of people had legitimate access to these houses – workmen, in the main. One good reason why we arrested Williams. Removal men. The same firm has moved in no fewer than three of the new occupants of these places – including Mrs Poole. I want details of all their men, backgrounds, criminal checks, the lot, and of every workman who was on the Duchess of Cornwall Close since the building started.’
‘Sorry to bring you back to Nobby Parks, guv, but he’s now been stopped twice for hanging around at night, and he’s known to wander the town regularly. We can’t just discount him.’
‘No. But Nobby Parks isn’t mentally capable of planning and carrying out this sort of murder even once, let alone twice. He scarcely bothers to hide himself – hence he’s always being picked up. He’s known to taxi drivers and late-night bar staff going home, as well as the boys on the food bus that looks out for the prostitutes and the rough sleepers down near the printworks and the canal. Still, I’m not ruling him out, you’re right. If we haven’t got his prints on file we’ll have those too. Though as the crime scenes have been near enough sterile, they aren’t going to be much use. Nobby wouldn’t have a clue how to make a crime scene as clean as these were. Now, family interviews – Mrs Sanders’s twin sister ought to be seen again, plus both Karen Fletcher, Rosemary Poole’s daughter, and her husband Harry, but we won’t get anything there. We’re looking for a psychopath, a cold-blooded murderer who kills for reasons inside his own twisted mind. Two murders do not a serial killer make, the usual definition is three or more, but two murders whose MO is virtually identical and the red light is flashing. He’ll do it again. So I want permanent but discreet police presence at the sheltered housing complex all day and all night from now on, doubling up on street patrols in any part of the town where there’s a concentration of older people – and generally an increased night-time presence. The public will have the wind well and truly up now, and justifiably.
‘Don and Clare, you need to get up to Newcastle, go to where Elinor Sanders used to live, talk to neighbours and so on, find out anything at all about who she knew, visitors, anything that might make her vulnerable to attack. It’s a long shot but we have to do this now. When her twin sister is interviewed again, delve into any links there might have been between her and Rosemary Poole, past or recent. It’s not something we looked at before but it should be checked out now.
‘OK, that’s it. I’ve a press conference at two. I’ll be covering the second murder, an update on the first and the release of Matthew Williams. And remember, details of these crimes, especially any mention of the way the victims were placed in front of mirrors – none of that leaves this room. Right. Thanks, all. Let’s step this up some gears.’
Simon went to the door, expecting more close questioning from the Chief. But Paula Devenish had gone.
‘ANY CHANCE OF you both coming over for lunch on Sunday?’ Cat asked.
Judith hesitated for some time. Then, ‘Darling, I think maybe not.’
‘Si’s coming – at least if he gets off he is.’
‘I just think perhaps we won’t. Do you mind?’
Something was wrong. Judith sounded closed off and she was one of the most open people Cat knew.
‘No, of course not. But could you and I have a coffee or something? It’s just that I want to talk through something –’
‘No, for once. She’s miserable, but she’s accepted it and I’ve threatened Sam with the pains of hell if he’s nasty to her again. No, it’s me – job and plans and so on.’
‘I can come round after your lunch. Have to take some charity shop stuff in and to the chiropodist but I can be with you around two.’
It was ten past when Judith’s car turned into the drive. Watching her through the window, Cat thought she looked older, thinner – not that she had ever been fat – and had a sadness in her face that had never been there before. Obviously, things were awry between her and Richard and, just as obviously, Judith was keeping quiet about it.
‘I brought Hannah a CD of Justin Bieber – a pound from the charity shop – plus a nice copy of Lord of the Flies for Sam, all of 50p. He ought to read it, since he’s going to star.’
‘Hardly – one of the boys, not the main boy. But thanks, and the Bieber is spot on. Let’s have coffee in the sitting room, the sun’s on that side.’
She followed Judith after a few minutes, carrying the tray. ‘I feel guilty about this room. We hardly ever use it now – we live in the kitchen and the den, or else I’m working in my study.’
Judith sat down by the window. The garden was bare; the field beyond, with the white pony grazing in its winter rug, sunlit but bleak. But the sitting room was warm and retained a calmness Cat tried to keep up, because it was free of the children and their clutter, and her own work files and papers. It was a room with books, the piano, pictures and the hi-fi system, but no television.
Cat wanted to make Judith talk to her. She sat holding her coffee mug between her hands, looking out of the window at the aluminium sky. But Judith said nothing.
‘You know Gerald Hanbury has taken the financial bull by the horns,’ Cat said to break the silence. ‘Imogen House is a day-care hospice from the beginning of next month and my hours have been halved. So I have to do something else. It’s not the money – things are all right because of Chris’s life insurance which I invested and that backs us up. But I’m at a crossroads, Judith, and I feel I might get stuck there.’
‘I was thinking about that only yesterday, oddly enough, but I didn’t like to barge in and ask you.’
‘Oh, never worry about that. Advice and suggestions welcome. I wondered what Dad would say actually.’
‘He’d tell you to make your own decision.’
‘You’re done with general practice?’
‘Yes, I am. It’s changed, even more since I left it, and there’s so much I dislike about the arrangement of it now. I could do locums but they’re so badly paid that you end up working for peanuts after tax and I’d rather volunteer for something. Besides, locums are very unsatisfying. You never get to know your patients, you almost never get anything interesting because those people wait to see their own doctors – they just bring locums the sore throats. So . . .’
‘Have you enjoyed the hospice work? Has it been fulfilling?’
‘Very. That’s why I’m gutted. I know day care fills an important need and I’ll carry on, even if only for two and a half days. If they can afford that.’
Judith poured herself more coffee and sat silent for a moment. Then she said, ‘I think you have such a good brain and such a really deep interest in palliative care that maybe you ought to do something a bit more academic. You found studying again gave you a lot of satisfaction, though I know it was partly a means to the job. But would you think of doing a PhD? You could spread it out over time, as you’re working and still have the children.’
‘What would I do though? It’s a big jump to a doctorate and I don’t have a particular subject in mind.’
‘You’d find one. Go to the Cicely Saunders Institute, talk to them, read – think about what’s happened at the hospice. It will evolve. If you know you can afford it, go for it.’
‘I would still need to keep the day job. We’re not actually rich.’
‘No, but the pressure isn’t so great. Sensible Chris.’
Cat felt the tears well up. Yes. He had been. He was. She remembered refusing to discuss things like life insurance policies and investments for the future, burying her own head in the sand, living for the day. But sensible made Chris sound dull and he had never been dull for a moment of his life.
‘I hate people saying “it’s what they would have wanted”, when what they really mean is “it’s what I want”. But Chris would approve. He’d be proud of you, you know that.’
‘Yes. I think he would. Besides . . . well, what you just said. It is what I want. I don’t see anything wrong with that, Judith, do you?’
They finished their coffee, went into the kitchen, talked briefly about the tensions between Sam and Hannah and Simon’s case. Judith left, hugging Cat hard, in a way that she took as meaning, ‘Please, don’t ask me.’
She did not.
‘SHALL WE BRING him in, guv?’
Serrailler sighed. Nobby Parks was becoming more than a thorn in his side. He had been seen by patrols twice the previous night. The first time he was in the city centre and had been taken home. An hour later, he was spotted walking slowly down the main road away from the area of the sheltered houses. This time, he had refused to get into the car and, before the uniforms could stop him, had run, fast and over a fence, into the darkness of some scrubland near the disused railway line. The patrol had given up the chase as pointless.
Simon went along to the CID room, where the atmosphere was one of heads into computer screens or down on files, and the usual badinage was subdued. Murders did that.
‘Nobby Parks,’ he said.
There was a massed groan.
‘I know. But someone, go down to his place, give it the once-over, give him a talking-to. He’s not our man but he’s got to stop this hanging round at night.’
‘Unless he happens to see something, guv. Can’t we look on him as an unpaid extra pair of eyes?’
‘You have a point. Here’s another. If our killer’s going to strike again, he’s probably not going to go to D of C Close. Too many patrols. But if he does, even if he only starts sussing one of the places out, and if Nobby is around and if he sees Nobby, then Nobby is immediately in danger. This lunatic won’t want to kill him, it doesn’t fit his pattern and he hates stepping outside his own self-imposed frame, but he might have to shut him up. So – go down there and if necessary explain that to him. Frighten him a bit, within limits. We’ve got to keep him off the streets at night.’
JAKE THUMPED SAM on the shoulder. The news was out. It had been under wraps, as they said, secret, he’d been sworn practically on the Bible. But the previous day, he’d had a morning’s exeat to attend the film press conference in London, and today, it was all over the papers, and Sam was ten feet tall.
When he’d walked into class that morning, they’d cheered. Nice. He’d had that happen once before, after scoring the winning goal for the county junior hockey team and securing the trophy. But that had been different somehow.
‘It’s well cool. When do you start?’
‘Not yet. Spring, I think.’
‘You get to bunk off to a film set for months and months?’
‘No, I get to go for days and maybe a week on and off and I get to do extra prep, I get extra time to make sure I don’t fall behind. Yawn, yawn.’
‘Right. Still, being on a film set, being the star . . . got to be good.’
‘Not the star. That’s Piggy.’
‘Still. You’ll get stopped in the street and girls will scream at you.’
Sam shoved Jake until he tripped off the kerb. A passing van blasted its horn.
‘Bloody hell, Sambo.’
‘Hey, will you still be at nets and trials? That’s the same time.’
‘Dunno. Not that bothered.’
‘You so are, you could be captain this year. Nat Perkins hasn’t a prayer.’
‘Cricket’s all right, only I think I’ve had it really. Not sure I’d be bothering even without the film stuff.’
Jake looked at him closely. ‘You better not mean it.’
Sam lifted his arm in a vague half-wave, as he crossed the road to the bus station.
Jake watched him. Worried. Only half believing.
If this was what being in a film did even before it had started, he wasn’t happy.
The bus dropped Sam at the corner. He had a couple of hundred yards’ walk to the farmhouse, which he could see as he alighted. He’d been allowed to go to and from school on his own for the past year, so long as he had no late sports. If there was anything out of routine, Cat or sometimes Judith picked him up, or he got a lift from a friend’s parent. At the beginning Cat had stood on the doorstep waiting for the sound of the bus, once or twice even coming halfway down the road towards him, but after Sam had protested loudly and pointedly walked two paces behind her until they got to the house, she had stayed indoors. After that she had let him get soaked or frozen or up to his knees in snow, always overcome with anxiety and guilt, never admitting to either.
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