‘Have you had a cold recently, Harry?’
Fletcher stared. ‘No.’
‘Do you sneeze a lot? Rhinitis, allergic to something, that sort of thing?’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Simple enough question, I’d have thought. Just answer.’
‘All right – no. I don’t.’
‘What, you never cough?’
‘Of course I bloody cough, everybody bloody coughs, what is this rubbish?’
‘Have you had a cough recently? Or maybe you just breathed out a bit hard when you were shifting her body, is that it?’
‘That of Olive Tredwell.’
‘He’s rattled,’ Simon said. Fletcher had looked suddenly alarmed, had twitched and swivelled about in his chair, hearing the name.
Someone came in and handed Simon a slip of paper. He looked at it, showed it to Gerry.
‘Ben,’ Simon said softly into Vanek’s earpiece, ‘forensics just sent the result through. DNA on the mirror is a match for Fletcher. You don’t need to string it out, we’ve got him. Bang it home now.’
‘Either you sneezed or coughed or breathed out heavily when you were close to the mirror in Olive Tredwell’s bedroom – maybe when you were shifting her into the chair and strapping her to it? Maybe before? Maybe you don’t remember, but it doesn’t matter all that much whether you do or you don’t, Harry.’
‘So what are you banging on about it for? It’s all bollocks anyway. You blokes make it up.’
‘No. There’s nothing made up about this bit of evidence, Harry. The DNA we obtained from a spray of saliva on Olive Tredwell’s mirror matches the DNA on the swab we took from you today. You were there, you killed Olive Tredwell. You also set fire to the shack in which Nobby Parks was sleeping, probably because you thought he’d seen you – he was a bit of a nightwatchman was Nobby, he saw a lot of things. You couldn’t risk him blabbing about you to us or the newspapers. He liked talking to the papers did Nobby and that panicked you, didn’t it? You had to shut him up. Two people dead, Harry, and you killed them both.’ Vanek leaned back and looked steadily and calmly at Fletcher. ‘So – what have you got to say?’
Whatever Serrailler was expecting – probably denial, bluster, anger, accusations about police methods, all or any of that – it was not what he got.
Fletcher stared at his hands for a moment, glanced at his solicitor, and away again, then said, ‘Yes.’
‘What the f*ck do you think? I‘m not an idiot. So yes. I killed her and I set fire to his place so I killed him as well. OK?’
‘RESULT!’ BEN VANEK stood in the corridor outside the interview room, his face one big grin.
‘Good work, Ben. But I want him for the lot.’
Ben shook his head. ‘He’s calculated, this one. He knows we’ve got cast-iron evidence, no point in arguing, but he’s worked out that we don’t have it for the others. He reckons confession for these will do him some good. Which it won’t of course.’
‘Call me bloody-minded. I hear what you’re saying, Ben, but there’s one way we might get him. I’ve just got to check something with the search team, see if my hunch is right.’
Ben looked dubious.
‘Trust me. Then I’ll have you back in there. You’re a good interviewer, you’ve got the knack. I bet you can bring this one off.’
The team who had taken apart Fletcher’s house were about to go off duty.
‘Great result, guys, thanks. Just before you go – can you help me out? Anything strike you about the place – things in it, anything unusual you noticed?’
They were silent for a few seconds, going back over it.
‘Nicely furnished, very clean – no, nothing unusual.’
‘Keep thinking. Any books, photos, trophies – anything?’
He knew what he wanted, prayed he’d get it.
‘He’s a Hammers supporter . . . got the scarf, got the sticker on the kitchen window.’
‘So are his kids, found two Hammers shirts in their room.’
‘Those kids . . . two little lads . . . photos of them everywhere, on the walls, on the sideboard, on the window ledges. Way more than you’d expect. There were the usual school photos, but the rest, loads of them, were all taken of them with him, right from babies . . . in fact, there was only one with their mum out of the lot, so far as I remember . . . I’ve got one of me with mine on the kitchen shelf but that’s it, just the one.’
‘What I wanted to hear; thanks, guys. Now get off and have a pint, you’ve earned it.’
He found Ben Vanek. ‘Listen up. You can use this.’
‘Achilles heel,’ Ben said when he’d heard. ‘Always is one.’
‘Give it a go?’
‘Get him back in. It’s late, he’s tense, he’s been on his own for a bit, it’s all crowding in on him. He knows the score. Push it.’
He’s the one you’ve nurtured, Simon thought, the interviewer born as much as made, trained but with the extra intuition you can never buy with any amount of training. He was going to keep him, make sure he got all the practice but not exhaust him with small stuff, interviewing bottom-of-the-heap dealers in weed and petty shoplifters.
Simon went into the viewing room. Gerry was back, wanting to see this one through. There was the same tension there had been at the builders’ yard, the same hope, fear, intense focus, finger-crossing, heightened sense that they could be there. Almost there.
Fletcher came into the room with the solicitor. Serrailler watched him closely. He was not cocky but he had a confidence in the way he held himself, walked, sat, that sent out a message. I’ve given you something. I chose to give it. I go on choosing.
But he could only hope, he could not be certain, that they had no more evidence, nothing to spring on him about the other murders, not even a load of circumstantial. He had calculated the risk. He could be sure that his identity was safe too, that Lafferton would not have been told about Alan Frederick Keyes, and that even if they had linked the MOs of the ‘two’ men, they couldn’t so much as mention the Yorkshire murders. Off limits. Safe.
A calculated risk.
Ben came in, nodded to the solicitor, looked Fletcher in the eye for a second or two. Sat down.
‘Let’s be clear then, Harry. Let’s just be absolutely sure we both know the score. You have confessed to the murder of Olive Tredwell, at her home, on the night of 10 March. You have also confessed to setting the home of Norman Parks on fire deliberately, with the intent to kill Parks. Are we clear about both of these confessions?’
Fletcher glanced at his brief, then nodded.
‘Say it, please.’
‘Right. Mrs Tredwell. Do you remember her?’
‘What, you murdered her in a particularly brutal and cold-blooded manner, and you took time to do it, yet you don’t remember her? Odd that. It’s not long ago. Why do you think you don’t remember?’
‘Could it be because you’ve got mixed up?’
‘Sorry, let me be a bit clearer. Could it be because you’d already committed several other murders – all of old women, all in their houses, at night, all by strangulation with electrical flex – that you’ve blurred them all together? You can’t remember because there are so many?’
‘Are you making a direct accusation? Are you charging my client, Sergeant?’
Vanek leaned back, and was still, appearing to think deeply, perhaps to be working out his strategy, perhaps because he felt he was at a dead end. Fletcher watched him.
‘He thinks Ben’s a bit junior, not difficult to run rings round him. Look – he’s got a bit of a smirk on his face somewhere. He’s in charge, he’s got Ben cornered, not the other way round. He’s relaxed a bit, he’s the boss in this interview room, is what he’s thinking. They sent me a kid who doesn’t even shave yet, that’s disrespect. I’ll eat him up.’ Gerry could read criminals. He had the gift plus a lifetime of experience, watching them, listening to them, sussing them out.
Ben leaned back for another thirty seconds, saying nothing, apparently working out what to try next.
‘He thinks Ben’ll give up on him any minute. Cut his losses. Why not? He’s got him for two murders, why bother to struggle for a confession about the rest? Fletcher’s pretty sure we haven’t got a grain of evidence on the other killings. Look at his face again.’ Gerry was right. The expression was only just there, but Simon could see it. The confidence. The arrogance.
Ben lurched forward suddenly and leaned across the table.
‘Look at me,’ he said to Harry Fletcher. ‘Look at me and don’t look away. How old are your sons?’
Simon caught his breath.
Ben had taken the man off guard, there had been a flicker across his face and he shifted his body in the chair.
‘All right, I guess they’re five or six and maybe three? Great lads, you’re proud of them and you should be. Do you love them, Harry?’
Fletcher seemed to struggle with the wish to shout at Vanek, or punch him. His body was tense. But he said nothing.
‘You love them more than you love life itself, Harry, they mean everything, everything, in the world to you. You’re a fantastic dad, they look up to you, they have fun with you, they trust you, Harry. So what’s it going to be like for them, never to see you again? That’s what you’re looking at and you know it. You will never see your lads again until they’re grown men with kids of their own and maybe not even then. We’ll pin two more murders on you and that makes four. Life, Harry. You’ve confessed to two murders. You might well get one of those down to manslaughter. You set fire to Parks’s home but there’s no way you could have been certain he was actually in there. Maybe you felt like a bit of a blaze. Maybe you wanted to teach him a lesson, but you didn’t actually plan to burn the poor old bloke to death in his bed. That happened, but I wonder if you meant it to happen? So, you could plead manslaughter on Nobby Parks. One murder, when you were in such a state after you’d found out Nobby was in the shack and you’d burned him to death, one murder committed under such stress that you were out of your mind at the time. You’ve admitted that murder, you might well get away with manslaughter for Nobby. You’re looking at, what, ten, twelve years, time off for good behaviour, maybe eight years? Your lads will be older but they won’t be adults who’ve forgotten you ever existed. But we’ve got two other murders to pin on you, Harry. You deny knowing anything about them, deny having any involvement in them. Come on, Harry. It’s looking like life, isn’t it, and for four murders – even if you do get the manslaughter – life will mean life. Your two little lads, those two in all the photographs you’ve got round the house, the lads you’re obviously so proud of and rightly . . . they’ll learn the truth and they won’t want to know they ever had a dad. Well, would you?’
Fletcher was staring at the table.
‘He’s with his kids,’ Gerry said. ‘He’s got them here with his arms round them and he’s so close to them, closer than he’s ever been. It’s got to him.’
Serrailler nodded. Not much further. Not much further.
‘You weren’t in your right mind, Harry. You were someone else. No one in their right mind would break into the bedrooms of frail old ladies who are alone at night and terrify them, drag them out of their beds, shove them down in a chair in front of a mirror so they could see themselves, see you standing behind them, watch you get out the electrical flex, watch you uncoil it and raise your hands to loop it round their necks, watch while you started to tighten it, watch themselves fight for breath, turn blue, start to choke, watch –’
‘Jesus Christ, what do you think I am? They were dead before I put them in their chairs. What kind of a person would do what you said?’
There was absolute silence.
In the viewing room, Simon and Gerry could barely breathe.
Ben stayed very still, looking intently at Fletcher. ‘Only someone not in their right mind, Harry. Someone not themselves. That’s what I think.’
Fletcher crumpled, put his head down on his arms and wept. His shoulders shook.
‘Yessss,’ Serrailler said.
IT WAS LATE. They were all knackered. Simon took Ben and Gerry to the Golden Cross and sent Cat a text to say he would be there for supper.
They did not have much energy for chat at first, simply sat with their pints in front of them, grateful that it was all over, that it had worked out. Ben was very subdued, even when Simon congratulated him again.
‘To be honest, guv, I feel grubby.’
‘You didn’t beat him up, you didn’t lie, you didn’t deceive him.’
‘Below the belt though, using his kids.’
‘Absolutely not. It made him stop in his tracks.’
‘Wiped the smirk off his face,’ Gerry added, getting up to go to the bar.
‘It was a cheat.’
‘No. You’re just tired, Ben, and you’ve got a success hangover. You nailed a man who, as Fletcher, killed four people and, in another life, killed three.’
‘He’ll play the tricks. Start being a prison altar boy within six months.’
‘Ben, he can become a Christian, an altar boy, a flipping Buddhist, he’ll have counselling and he’ll put in for every psychiatric check going, he’ll take up basketball and do his A levels and volunteer to teach reading to those who can’t. He can nail himself to a cross. None of it will make a scrap of difference. He’s not coming out. You don’t want him out, do you? Given retraining as the warden of an old people’s sheltered housing block?’
Gerry brought back the second round. ‘What about the Yorkshire stuff?’
Simon shook his head. ‘That can never come out. Mind you, the judge may have private info about Alan Keyes. He can’t use it, he can’t tell the jury about it, but it’ll be there to ensure he doesn’t let anything daft happen again. If any jury tried to mess about or come in with a not-unanimous he’d instruct them to find Fletcher guilty. No worries. There’s something else . . . as Keyes, he was acquitted for those murders but what we’ve got now counts as new evidence. If I were the Yorkshire police I’d be asking for a retrial on the old killings.’