The bitter smell of percolating coffee filled the fifth-floor conference room. One wall was solid glass patio doors at the far end opening out onto a balcony the others festooned with scribble-covered flip charts and whiteboards.
Sabir unfurled the top of his Burger King bag and pulled out a handful of fries as he lumbered across the beige carpet. I followed him.
Two men and two women were clustered at the far end of the room, perching on the edge of tables, gathered around a stocky man with salt-and-ginger hair and a face gouged deep with creases and wrinkles. Detective Chief Superintendent Dickie. He hooked a thumb at the nearest whiteboard. Aye, and make sure you pull all the CCTV footage they ve got, this time, Maggie. Don t let the buggers fob you off; should all still be on file.
One of the women nodded no-nonsense pageboy haircut bobbing around her long, thin face. Yes, Chief. She scribbled something down in a notebook.
DCS Dickie settled back in his seat and smiled at a lump of muscle with no chin. Byron?
Yes, right The huge sergeant straightened his wire-rimmed glasses. When Helen went missing last year, Tayside Police talked to all of her friends, classmates, and everyone at the hairdressers she worked in on Saturdays. No one saw anything. Stable enough home life, wanted to go to university to study law. No boyfriend. Liked gerbils, Lady Gaga, and reading. He turned and pointed at a corkboard covered in about thirty head-and-shoulder shots of young girls, all reported missing within the last twelve months: just before their thirteenth birthday.
Rebecca s photograph used to be up there
One of the pictures had a red border around it ribbon held in place with brass thumbtacks. That would be Helen McMillan: hair like polished copper, grinning, wearing a white shirt and what looked like a school tie.
A frown crossed Byron s face. According to Bremner, she was only a twenty-five per cent match with the victim profile.
Sitting on the other side of the group, DS Gillis ran a hand down his chest-length Viking beard, long blond curls tied in a ponytail at the back of his head. When he spoke, it was in a Morningside-sixty-Benson- amp;-Hedges-a-day growl. Far as we know, Helen s never kept a diary, so we ve no idea if she was planning to meet anyone the day she was abducted. Told her mother she was going window shopping after the hairdressers shut on Saturday wanted a new phone for her birthday. Last sighting we have is her leaving the Vodaphone shop in the Overgate Centre at five thirty-seven. After that: nothing.
Dickie made a note on the whiteboard. Our boy seems to have a thing for shopping centres. What about social networking?
Sabir cleared his throat. Goin through everything again: got this new pattern-recognition software that spiders her friends too. So far it s all about who s gorra crush on who, and aren t Five Star Six dreeeemy. He clapped a hand down on my shoulder. It smelled of chips. In other news.
Everyone looked, and nodded well, except for that hairy tosser, DS Gillis a couple even waved.
A smile deepened the wrinkles around the chief superintendent s mouth. Detective Constable Ash Henderson, as I live and wheeze. To what do we owe Then quickly faded. Something s happened, hasn t it?
At two thirty yesterday afternoon, a team of council workers were repairing a sewage main in Castleview. I pulled out the photograph I d shown Sabir and handed it to Dickie. It was an eight-by-ten big glossy blow-up of a trench. The earth was dark, almost black, in sharp contrast to the bright yellow council digger in the background. A tattered fringe of black plastic surrounded a scattered mess of pale bone, ribs and femurs and tibia all scraped into a jumble by the digger s back hoe. The skull lay on its side, the right temple crushed and gouged. We got a match on the dental records last night. It s Hannah Kelly.
Holy, crap DS Gillis tugged at his Viking beard, grinning. We got one! We finally got one.
Bloody brilliant. Dickie stood and grabbed my hand, pumping it up and down. Finally some forensic evidence. Real, proper, physical evidence. Not half-remembered interviews, or grainy security camera footage showing sod all: actual evidence. He let go of my hand and for a moment it looked as if he was moving in for a hug.
I backed up a step. We found another body at three this morning. Same area.
Sabir flipped a laptop open with one hand, the other clutching a half-eaten burger. Where? The fingers of his left hand danced across the keyboard and a ceiling-mounted projector whirred into life, turning the wall by the door into one big screen: Google Earth booting up.
I settled on the edge of a desk. McDermid Avenue.
McDermid Avenue A rattle of keys and the map swooped in on the north-east of Scotland, then Oldcastle: the glittering curl of the Kings River cutting it in half. Then closer, until Castle Hill covered the whole wall the twisted cobbled streets surrounding the castle, the green expanse of King s Park, the rectangular Sixties bulk of the hospital. Closer streets lined with trees, terraced sandstone houses with slate roofs and long back gardens. McDermid Avenue appeared dead centre, growing until it was big enough to make out individual cars. The houses backed onto a rectangle of scrub, bushes, and trees an overgrown park criss-crossed with paths.
DCS Dickie walked over, until he was close enough to throw a shadow across the projected street. Where s the burial site? He shifted from foot to foot, rubbing his fingertips together.
Probably thought this was it: all we needed to do was ID the house where the bodies were buried, find out who lived there nine years ago, arrest them, and everyone could go home. Poor sod.
I nudged Sabir to the side, brushed sesame seeds off the laptop s keyboard, then swirled the mouse pointer over the parkland behind the houses. Double clicked about an inch away from the ruins of a bandstand, deep inside a patch of brambles. The screen lurched in again, but this time the satellite photo resolution wasn t high enough, so everything turned into large fuzzy pixels.
Dickie s shoulders slumped a little. Oh
Not quite so easy.
I zoomed out, until McDermid Avenue was joined on the screen by another cluster of streets: Jordan Place, Hill Terrace, and Gordon Street, all of them backing onto the park.
The woman with the bowl haircut whistled. Got be, what, sixty eighty houses there?
I shook my head. A lot of these places got subdivided up into flats in the seventies, you re looking at about three hundred households with access to the park.
A small pause, then Byron jerked his chin up. Yes, but we ve got somewhere to start now, don t we? We ve got three hundred possible leads instead of none at all. This is still a result.
I rolled the lump of Blu-Tack in my palms until it was sticky, then tore it into four bits and stuck the sheet of paper on the wall, completing the set. Eight homemade birthday cards, blown up to A3 on the hotel photocopier. I d laid them out in two rows of four, the oldest top left, the latest one bottom right. All the Polaroids had a number scratched into the top-left corner of the picture: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. One every year, for eight years.
The first card showed Hannah Kelly strapped to a chair in a filthy room, eyes wide, tears shining on her cheeks, a rectangle of silver duct tape covering her mouth. She was fully dressed in this one, wearing the same clothes she d had on the day she d gone missing: tan-leather cropped jacket, strappy pink top with some sort of logo on it, a pink tartan miniskirt, black tights, and biker boots. Cable-ties were just visible against the dark leather around her ankles, both hands behind her back.
She still had all her hair long, midnight black, poker straight.
She d been missing for twelve months and four days by the time the card arrived in the post.
Hannah wasn t naked until number five. Not fully anyway. And by then she was a mass of cuts and bruises, little circular burns angry-red on her pale skin.
That familiar cold weight settled in my chest.
Eight cards. This was what the future was going to look like: Rebecca s photo, year after year, getting worse. Making sure I knew what he d done to her. Making sure I saw every
Ash, are you OK? Dickie was staring at me.
I cleared my throat. Yeah, just long night last night, waiting for those dental results. I went and helped myself to the stewed coffee in the conference-room percolator, leaving everyone else to stare at the time-lapse torture session. Then one by one they drifted away, until there was no one left but DCS Dickie and the only member of the team I didn t recognize. The other woman the one who d sat quietly, taking notes while everyone else had celebrated the discovery of Hannah Kelly s body. The only one who didn t look like a police officer.
She was peering up at the cards through a pair of heavy-framed glasses, one hand fidgeting with a long strand of curly brown hair. Her other arm was wrapped around herself, as if she was trying to hold something in. Stripy grey top, blue jeans, and red Converse Hi-tops, a tan leather satchel slung over one shoulder. Standing next to Dickie, she made it look like bring-your-daughter-to-work-day.
Maybe granddaughter she couldn t have been a day over twenty-two.
I joined them. Heat leached out of the coffee mug and into my fingers, soothing grating joints. Hannah s parents don t know yet.
Dickie stared at the last photograph in the set, the one that arrived two months ago on Hannah s birthday. She was slumped in the chair, her long black hair shaved off, her scalp a mess of cuts and bruises, the word Bitch carved into her forehead, eyes screwed shut, tears making glistening trails through the blood on her cheeks. Dickie sniffed. Do you want me to tell them?
I sighed. Shook my head. I ll do it when I get back to Oldcastle. They know me.
Hmm A pause. Speaking of which Dickie nodded at the young woman in the stripy top. You two met?
Hi. She stopped playing with her hair. Dr McDonald. Well, Alice really. I mean you can call me Alice if you like, or Dr McDonald, I suppose, or sometimes people call me Doc, but I don t really like that very much, Alice is OK though
Ash. I held my hand out for shaking. She just looked at it.
Right, great, thanks for the offer, but I don t really do physical contact with people I barely know. I mean there s all sorts of bacterial and hygiene issues involved are you the sort of person who washes his hands when he goes to the toilet, do you pick your nose, are you one of those men who scratch and sniff not to mention the whole personal space thing.
Complete. And utter. Freakshow.
She cleared her throat. Sorry. I get a little flustered with unfamiliar social interactions, but I m working on it, I mean I m fine with Detective Chief Superintendent Dickie, aren t I, Chief Superintendent, I don t gabble with you at all, do I, tell him I don t gabble.
Dickie smiled. As of yesterday, Dr McDonald s our new forensic psychologist.
Ah. Set a freak to catch a freak What happened to the last one?
She wrapped her arm tighter around herself. I really think we need to visit the burial site. The Birthday Boy didn t pick this spot at random, he must have known it was going to be safe, that they wouldn t be discovered for years, and if it was me killing girls and burying them I d want to keep them close so I knew they were safe. Wouldn t you? I mean it s all about power and possession, isn t it? Dr McDonald stared at the white toes of her red Converse Hi-tops.
I glanced over her head at Dickie. And she doesn t talk like this when it s just the two of you?
Hardly ever. He raised his hand, as if he was about to pat her on the shoulder.
She flinched. Backed up a step.
Dickie sighed. I ll em leave you to it then. He put his hand in his pocket, out of harm s way. Ash? You hurrying back to Oldcastle, or have you got a minute?
Hurrying back? Still hadn t decided if I was pointing the Rustmobile towards Newcastle and putting my foot down. Long as you need.
So, I slid the glass door shut, and leaned on the safety rail, does she provide her own straitjacket, or does that come out of your budget?
The view from the balcony outside the meeting room was every bit as dismal as Sabir had promised: overlooking the dual carriageway and the Kingsway Retail Park. Huge glass and metal sheds bordering a lopsided triangle of parking spaces. Up above, the sky was solid grey, the light cold and thin through the pouring rain. At least it was relatively dry here the balcony for the room above kept the worst of the weather off.
Cigarette butts made soggy drifts in the corners, little orange cylinders swelling on the damp tiles. DS Gillis was down the other end, puffing away the smoke clinging to his beard as if it was smouldering grumbling into a mobile phone, pacing back and forth.
DCS Dickie sparked up a cigarette, took a long, deep drag, then rested his elbows on the safety rail, one hand rubbing at the bags under his eyes. How s the arthritis?
I flexed my hands, the joints ached. Been worse. How s the ulcer?
You know, when I took on this bloody investigation, I was untouchable. Top of my game, going places Remember the Pearson murders? Another puff. Now look at me.
So what did happen to your last profiler?
Dickie made a gun of his thumb and forefingers, stuck it to his temple, and pulled the trigger. All over a hotel bedroom in Bristol, three weeks ago. He glanced over his shoulder, towards the meeting room. Dr McDonald might be a nut-job, but at least we won t be sponging her brains off the walls anytime soon. Well touch wood.
I turned, looking back through the glass doors. She was still standing in front of the blown-up birthday cards, fiddling with her hair. Staring up at Hannah Kelly s bleeding body. I forced a smile into my voice, laid it on thick. Not really your fault though, is it? The Birthday Boy was always going to be a bastard to catch.
By the time we know he s got them, it s a year too late. The trail s cold. No witnesses, or they can t remember, or they make shit up because they watch too much telly and think it s what we want to hear. Dickie flicked the ash from the end of his cigarette, then stared at the glowing tip. I m up for retirement in four months. Eight years working the same bloody case and not one single sodding clue Until now. His eyes narrowed, wreathed in smoke.
Two bodies, probably more on the way. We ll get DNA, fibres, and we ll catch the bastard. And I ll take my gold watch and march off home to Lossiemouth with my head held high, while the Birthday Boy rots in a shite-smeared cell for the rest of his unnatural little life.
You coming to help with the door-to-doors?
A pause. Any chance you could take Dr McDonald back to Oldcastle with you? Show her the body recovery site, let her get a feel for the place?
Yeah, because babysitting a mentally unstable psychologist was right up there on my list of life goals. You re not coming?
Dickie pulled a face, curling the corners of his mouth down.
Do you know why I m still here, Ash? Why they didn t boot me off the case and get someone else in?
No other bugger wants the job?
A nod. Career suicide. Speaking of which I need another favour. He stood up straight, one hand rubbing at the small of his back. Our last psychologist, Bremner, didn t just top himself, he took his notes with him. Burned the lot in the hotel bin: disabled the smoke detector, set fire to everything, then bang.
I tucked my hands in my pockets. It was getting colder. Always thought he was a bit of a prick.
Managed to screw something up on the servers too. Every psychological document we had poof, up in smoke. Sabir tried recovering the data, but Bremner cocked up so long ago all the backups were shagged too. Dickie took one last draw on his cigarette, then sent its glowing corpse sailing out into the rain. Not wanting to speak ill of the dead, or anything, but still
What s the favour?
Well, you re still friends with Henry, aren t you?
Henry who? Frown. What, Forrester? The occasional Christmas card maybe, but I ve not seen him for years.
Thing is, Dr McDonald has to start again from scratch; be a big help if she could discuss the case with him. Maybe see if he s got any of his original files?
So give him a call. Get him to courier everything over.
Down the other end of the balcony, Gillis snapped his phone shut, then ground his cigarette out against the wall and let it fall to the tiles at his feet.
Dickie stared out across the retail park. She says she needs to see him. Face to face.
Gillis lumbered over. You tell him yet?
Tell him what?
A smile cracked the space between the cigarette-stained moustache and bristling beard. Shetland. You re taking the Doc up to see your old mate, Forrester.
I pulled my shoulders back, chin up. Take her yourself. You re the one looks like a bloody Viking.
The old git doesn t want anything to do with the case. We need his help. You re his friend. Go up there and talk him round.
Dickie sighed. Come on, Ash, you know what Henry s like: once he digs his heels in
I scowled at them. Shetland?
Gillis squinted back. You don t want to help us catch the bastard? Really? What kind of cop are you?
It s only a couple of days, Ash: three or four tops. I ll square it with your boss.
Dr McDonald wasn t the only mental one. I m not going to Shetland! We just turned up two bodies and
It s going to be nothing but hanging around waiting for lab reports in Oldcastle now anyway. That and processing three hundred door-to-doors. Dickie nodded towards the meeting room, where Dr McDonald was gazing up at the birthday cards. When we catch the Birthday Boy we ll need her up to speed for the interviews. I want a full confession, in stone, not something he can wriggle out of in court six months later thanks to some slimy defence lawyer.
I m not your bloody childminder! Get someone else to
I stared out into the rain Four days about as far away from Oldcastle as it was possible to get and still be in the UK. Four days where Mrs Kerrigan s thugs couldn t find me. And maybe, once Henry had seen how much of a disaster Dickie s new criminal psychologist was, he d drag his wrinkly arse out of retirement and help me catch the bastard who d murdered Rebecca. Four days to convince the old sod that four years in Shetland was penance enough for what happened to Philip Skinner. It was time to get back to work.
I nodded. OK. Flying from Aberdeen or Edinburgh?
Gillis s smile grew wider. Funny you should ask that