‘I know that, I know that. Only they got to me first. They’re always harassing me, stopping me when I’m walking about doing no one any harm, bringing me back here. Only last time they had me in the station. Wrongful arrest. I could go to the papers, I said, destroying my good name. Good character. Whatever you call it.’


‘Are you really telling me they arrested you? And charged you?’


‘Obstructing the police in the course of . . . Let me go though. Had to. Nothing on me. But anyone might have seen me get taken in there, get brought out. It’s my reputation.’


‘Sue them.’ Gus meant it as a joke but that was not how Nobby took it.


‘You think I could? I reckon I’ve got a case. You want to write about it then?’


‘I doubt you could sue. I don’t know – have to check. You could try asking for compensation, say it’s meant you can’t sleep properly, had to see the doctor.’


‘I haven’t seen a doctor for thirty-six years. Wouldn’t go near them. And hospitals – forget it. Go in a hospital you come out with worse than you started. Or dead. You want one of these?’


The packet of Bourbon creams was almost full. ‘Picked them up in the car park behind the Tesco. Dropped off a trolley so they’re a bit broken. But they’re all right.’


They sat and munched for a moment. Gus looked at Nobby. Nobby looked suddenly sly.


‘I had a personal visit here,’ he said. ‘From the police.’


‘Well, I’d keep that quiet.’


‘No, no. This was the Chief Super. Mr Serrailler. Known Mr Serrailler since he was a plod. Well . . . near enough.’


‘The DCS came here to see you? Get on.’


‘Oh yes. Wanted to ask for my help.’


Gus went still. Nobby’s stories grew stories on them but he wasn’t a liar.


‘Wants me to keep my eyes and ears open when I’m out and about. They don’t have enough cops, you see, money being money, so they want my help. Sort of undercover.’


‘Right.’


‘You can smirk. There’s plenty I see and hear. I’m quiet as a cat, me.’


‘So the idea is, you hang about and tell them if you see anything suspicious?’


‘Not anything. I’m not doing their dirty for them looking for girls and rutters and reporting kids having a joint. Just to do with these murders. I’m up there a lot, round the sheltereds. I could see anything . . . cars, people slipping down alleyways. I’ve already been a great help to them. Mr Serrailler told me as much. Said it could provide vital evidence.’


‘What could?’


‘Mobile phone,’ Nobby said.


‘You’ve got a mobile?’ Gus just stopped himself from saying ‘but you don’t know anyone to ring’.


‘I have. Or I had. He took it.’


‘Serrailler?’


‘Said it could prove very helpful.’


‘Yeah, you told me. I don’t see how. Who’s been ringing you then?’


‘Nobody. Nor me ringing them. Don’t have no use for it. But I took a lot of photos, see? And they could have anything on them.’ He took down his tobacco tin and Rizlas.


‘Vital evidence.’


Forty-nine


SERRAILLER ARRIVED AT the mortuary of Bevham General just after ten. He parked up, beside de Silva’s ancient Citroën DS, which in his police view was unroadworthy but which presumably must have passed its tests. Beautiful car though, he thought, touching the long sloping bonnet. He loved classic cars but he needed one that had every sort of latest aid to driving and safety, not one that would let him down at the roadside. But after this case, he decided now, time to look for something a bit more fun.


Nick de Silva was in the middle of an autopsy on an RTA victim and began pointing out various interesting spinal fractures. Simon was hardened but felt no wish to spend too long looking closely at the body of a human being which was now barely recognisable as such. He wandered off into the waiting area, got a coffee from the machine and leafed through back copies of Modern Pathology until Nick came through, gown untied, face mask down.


‘I know you’ve sent in your report but I’m going to nag you about something . . . try and pin you down.’


‘I’m pretty careful never to let that happen.’ Nick brought his own coffee to the standard-issue foam-filled hospital sofa, model name ‘Uncomfortable’. ‘But you can always try. This is our strangulations?’


‘Is there any way you can say if the women were strangled first, then put down in the chairs in front of the mirror, or whether they were placed there, under duress, then strangled?’


‘No. No way I can tell. There’s just a chance your forensics might though.’ He was silent for a moment, thinking. ‘Both of them were fairly close to the mirrors, as I remember.’


‘About where any woman would sit if they were doing their hair.’


‘Well, if that’s near enough, and they were not dead when they were placed there, then they could have exhaled sharply enough for saliva to have gone out from the mouth on the breath, and been sprayed very finely on the mirror, or even on the dressing-table surface. If it’s there, your guys can find it – should have found it by now actually. Have you had forensics’ full reports yet?’


‘Yes. Nothing on either of the mirrors.’


‘Get them to go over the surfaces again. Dressing table, drawers, glass. Kick arse. Forensics aren’t what they were; not since they stopped being done in-house. Next thing, they’ll be privatising us. I’ve got to get back.’


‘How long before you decide your RTA victim is dead?’


‘Oh, I’ve done that one – I’ve got two more from the same crash now. The bypass pile-up.’


‘Shit, yes. I’ve clearly been too tied up in CID trivia.’


Half a dozen emails and messages had come through to his mobile but the signal on this side of the hospital was too weak to pick anything up. Simon walked round to the busy front entrance, the usual main highway of ambulances, patients in wheelchairs, paramedics, nurses and lost visitors. He would go to the League of Friends café, get a sandwich and another coffee, call that lunch, and answer his messages before he headed back. But then, down the long corridor, he saw Rachel, unmistakable to him even though he only glimpsed her back.


When he caught her up in a few strides and touched her arm, she spun round with shock.


‘Darling? What’s happened?’


She was pale and looked stricken with anxiety and confusion, almost uncertain even where she was or who he was.


She leaned against him with relief, but then pulled back. ‘No.’


He understood. ‘I’m going to get coffee – come with me.’


‘I . . . I couldn’t drink anything . . .’


‘Just sit with me then.’ He guided her gently forwards, his hand firm on her shoulder. The place was as busy as usual, but as usual, too, someone was always just leaving and they got a table.


‘It’s been the worst twelve hours of my life. Kenneth woke up hardly able to breathe and the oxygen didn’t seem to help him. The doctor came out – he’s pretty good, though I know it’s what we pay for, and he rang for an ambulance within a minute. He’s in intensive care – it’s pneumonia and he’s very ill but I came out because they were intubating him and it’s terrible to watch.’


‘They don’t want you to watch – it’s a tricky procedure.’


‘I was just wandering round wondering where to go or what I should do. I was going to get a paper or something but . . . I couldn’t even find my way to the shop.’


‘Do they know how to reach you?’


She looked appalled.


‘Right. I’ll take you back.’


He took her to the bank of lifts and put her into one for the intensive care floor. He did not touch her, just watched the doors close. Rachel could not look at him.


Fifty


THERE WAS A message from the press officer to call her, but as her lines were busy Serrailler drove back to the station and went down to her office instead.


‘Thought you might have been on my tail never mind me on yours,’ she said.


‘When do I get time to read newspapers? I look to you.’


‘Download the apps onto your iPad.’


‘Still wouldn’t have time. Besides, I’m old-fashioned, I like the nice crackle of newspaper between my hands.’


‘I bet you like the nice feel of a hardback book as well.’


‘Don’t start me.’


‘Yes, well, I wouldn’t read half the books I do, and I read a lot –’


‘– if you didn’t have a Kindle. Heard it all from my sister. Right, what’ve you got?’


‘You’re going to love this.’


The daily papers were all on a big table. Anything of particular interest Simon could mark and it would be on his computer in electronic version within seconds. The Daily Mail was on top of the pile, opened at a large photograph of Nobby Parks.


‘Police use me as their spy,’ says man living in rubbish dump. ‘They’re even relying on photos from mobile phone I found, for “vital evidence”.’


The interview with Nobby was colourful, rich in elaborate detail about his shack and its contents, outraged in tone, and implying that the Lafferton force was so cash-strapped it had to borrow Nobby’s phone, disregarding the fact that they knew it was stolen, and so undermanned and incompetent that they had to use him as an undercover night-time investigator. Simon imagined only too well what fun Nobby had had enriching the story of his own visit to the shack. How much had they paid him? Fifty? A fiver more like.


Actually, more like zilch, except for a pack of his tobacco.


‘Fun, isn’t it? What do you want me to do?’


‘I’m assuming they’ve rung to get a comment.’


‘Phones haven’t stopped. That and “When can Lafferton’s old people sleep safe in their beds?”’


‘Do nothing. I’m not available for comment. This is all rubbish except the phone stuff and I was well within my rights to take that.’


‘He’s popped in as well, by the way.’


‘Nobby? What, asking when’s he taking delivery of his Queen’s Police Medal?’


‘When’s he getting a receipt for his mobile phone.’


‘Shit. I’ll do one and get someone round with it or that’ll be in the papers.’


‘It already is.’


Fifty-one


SIMON SHUT HIS door and asked for no calls. He then sat down and reread the summary of the files Nathan had supplied, including every detail of the Yorkshire murders, and of the last day of Alan Keyes’s trial, until he was doubly sure. Then he picked up the phone to the National Fingerprint Board. He was not going to delegate any of this.


He gave Keyes’s full name, age and last-known address, and asked for a fingerprint check.


In a small anonymous-looking office some distance from both Lafferton and the NFB, an alert flashed up on one particular computer. The message, that Lafferton Police had put in a query about the prints of ‘Alan Frederick Keyes’, came through to one particular officer, who logged it in a file, code-named ‘Jogging Sparrow’, only accessible by two passwords, known only to the same officer.


The message came back to Serrailler. ‘No matches.’


Keyes had been removed from the system. He no longer existed. He had a new identity.


Apart from Keyes himself, only one organisation knew what that identity was.


Simon made another phone call. It was answered by a woman. She gave no name, only said, ‘Floor Five.’


When he repeated his details and enquiry, he was transferred.


An anonymous voice said, ‘Forty-four.’


‘This is DCS Simon Serrailler of Lafferton Police. I am SIO on a murder inquiry, two separate incidents, two victims. The MO indicates close similarities with murders committed in Yorkshire in 2001. Alan Frederick Keyes was arrested and charged but acquitted on trial. I’ve reason to suppose that Keyes now has a new police ID and this is a formal request for information about that.’


‘Forty-four’ – whoever he was – had not interrupted Simon, nor given his name. Now he said, ‘Let me have your details again, please.’


Serrailler gave him his full name, rank and number, contact details. ‘Can I stress the urgency of this? We’ve got two dead women. I don’t want any more, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate.’


‘Everything is logged. Someone will get back to you.’


The man in the small anonymous-looking office closed down the file he had been working on and opened a new one, as a sub-file to ‘Jogging Sparrow’, and reported the call in detail. He then closed the file, and put through an internal request on the closed network for a check on Serrailler, and a second, for full info, via HOLMES, on the Lafferton murders. Both were headed ‘Priority’.


He then accessed ‘Jogging Sparrow’ and began to read up details of the three Yorkshire murders. By the time the HOLMES report came through, he had the full picture in his head. He then read the details about the ongoing Lafferton cases.


He accessed ‘Jogging Sparrow’ again, after inputting the two passwords, and immediately being given two new ones, for use the next time, via the computer.


It was like opening a box within a box within a box, each with a different key. A lot of people would have found the process, and the information in the file, beyond exciting. But police officers who worked in this section were not easily excited. That was one of the reasons they were picked and why the work suited them.


The screen opened up for the third time. In front of him were the full details of a man who had once been Alan Frederick Keyes. This was his new biography, details of his invented past, parents, birth date and place, his national insurance number, passport and driving licence, his school examinations record, dental and medical info – whatever anyone could ever want to know.


The officer read it all through carefully again, memorising what he needed. On a separate sub-file were details of the ‘contact’ originally in charge of Keyes. That member of CID had retired. Keyes had been assigned to a new police ‘contact’, whose details were on the next page. They had not changed for the last four years.


The officer wrote down a name and a mobile number, closed and locked the file. The next time he logged on, he would enter the new passwords, for one-time-only use.

***

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