Acting DS John Rose took DI Peterson and DC Wilson to Heckley Town Library, where they interviewed Mrs. Chadwick, the chief librarian.
John was pleased at the sideways move into this new investigation. The Georgina case had given him a taste for high-profile work, but it was bogged down now that most avenues of enquiry had petered out.
Mrs. Chadwick went through her story again and demonstrated the library’s computer to them. They came away with the names and addresses of the last twenty people to withdraw the mutilated books.
Peterson fell for the chief librarian’s charms and twice managed to boast of his friendship with Olga Friedland, Chief Executive of the Library Association. He added ‘library’ to his list of retirement activities.
“Be nice if he took the books home before he cut the pages out,” DC Wilson stated, in the car on their way back to Heckley nick.
“True, but sadly, he didn’t,” Peterson told him, passing the printout across. “Nobody appears on both lists, but maybe he took just one of them home. He must know something about fungi, he can’t have dreamed it all up.”
“We have plenty of Travellers and New Agers around these parts,” ADS Rose said. “They know all about mushrooms: which ones are good to eat, which are poisonous and which give a good trip. I’d be looking for a connection there, for a start.”
“Do many of them carry library cards?” Peterson asked with undisguised sarcasm.
“No, but they could still go in. Plenty of them are educated university dropouts and such,” John answered.
“Fine. So tomorrow you two can ask Mrs. Chadwick about any traveller types coming in for a read and a warm, then start going through the list of names.”
At the station Peterson sniffed round his allotted accommodation and gave John a list of requirements to organise, before starting back to Trent Division. In the car, driving down the M1, DC Wilson said: “They seem a friendly bunch, don’t you think?”
Peterson looked sourly across at him. “Think so?” he growled.
“Yes, guy. Don’t you?”
“Set of complacent sheepshaggers. Inbred, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Need a bloody good kick up the arse.”
Wilson smiled as he remembered the look on his boss’s face when he’d been asked if Oscar was his real name. “That Inspector Priest is a decent bloke,” he announced.
“For a bleeding Freemason,” Peterson snarled.
Chief Superintendent Tollis had left early, intending to have a previously arranged round of golf before being joined by Mrs. Tollis for dinner in the clubhouse. Peterson knocked on his door and entered the empty office. As always he was amazed how tidy the desk was. He glanced round, decided there was nothing he wanted to steal or read, and turned to leave. The phone rang.
Peterson put it to the side of his head and said: “Carapace Bonce.”
A male voice asked if he was speaking to Chief Superintendent Tollis.
The DI uttered a silent prayer of thanks that it was nobody who knew him and said: “No, sir, I’m afraid Mr. Tollis is unavailable. Who’s speaking, please?”
“My name is Alistair McLeod, editor of the UK News. Could you put me through to whoever is in charge of the Ronald Conway murder investigation in his absence.”
Peterson cursed at having been caught by the press, and all the familiar platitudes ran through his mind. “This is DI Peterson speaking. I am the investigating officer in the Ronald Conway case.
How can I help you?”
“Ah, good evening, Mr. Peterson. I presume from that that you are the one who does all the work.”
“Very astute of you, sir. I can see how you got to where you are today. Did you ring about anything in particular?”
“Well, yes. I’ve just come across a letter in my mail from someone confessing to killing him, along with a trio of other clerics. I thought you might be interested.”
“Ah! A confession, you said?”
“Well, that is good news. Confessions can be a very important part of any investigation, sir. Sometimes they are what we in the business call a Breakthrough. The first question that comes to my razor-sharp detective’s mind is… eris it signed?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Good. And the second one is, if I can trouble you to look at the end of the aforementioned document, by whom?”
“It’s from someone who calls himself… let me see… the Destroying Angel. Do you know him?”
Peterson manoeuvred himself round Tollis’s desk until he was able to sit in the Super’s big leather chair. “Alistair McLeod, of the News, I believe you said, sir.”
“That’s right. Is there anything in this I can print, or is it just some crank making mischief? I’ve looked in the files and the first two deaths were passed off as accidents. There seems to be a link between Conway and the priest called Birr, though.”
“Yes. I think you and I had better have a little talk, Alistair.”
Half an hour later he left the station to interrupt Chief Superintendent Tollis’s round of golf and tell him what he had arranged, or most of it.
From home he rang Trevor Wilson to update him and tell him to do the same with John Rose, before settling down to a relatively early meal of lamb chops, new potatoes and garden peas; with home-made cherry crumble to follow. Over it he discussed the day’s developments with Dilys.
After two small whiskies and a cup of cocoa he slept like a carved figure on the lid of a tomb, the night unbroken by any more news of death. But only just.
The Reverend Gordon Ibbotson was in a confused, mixed-up, fed-up, wish-I-were-dead mood as he swung his middle-of-the-range Audi into the vicarage drive. He reached out with his left hand to prevent the Pyrex container on the passenger seat from sliding away and spilling its cargo of home-made samos as on to the carpet.
“Very nice, Gordon,” Mrs. Sharmini had told him. “But perhaps just a little more generous with the turmeric next time.”
It had been the final night of his Indian cookery class, and had not gone as expected. They had all prepared their speciali ties and enjoyed a boisterous evening sampling each other’s fare and entertaining members of the other classes. The rather informal plan was that they would then all repair to the pub and continue the convivialities; after which the Reverend Ibbotson intended offering one of his classmates, whom he knew only as Pauline, a lift home.
When the subject of the pub was raised, however, heads were shaken.
“Sorry, I can’t make it,” was the common cry. A mysterious person called Ray was coming to collect Pauline from the class, no doubt attracted by the thought of sampling her shakooti rassa. The Reverend placed the lid over his sad-looking samos as and came home.
As the car jerked to a standstill on the drive the five-hundred-watt security light flicked on, dazzling the vicar with its glare and triggering off photosynthesis in his herbaceous borders. In the shadows, darker than a sea-cave, between the garage and a Pyracantha watereri, a claw-like hand tightened its grip on the shotgun.
The figure in the shadows watched the clergyman climb from the car, fumbling with keys and casserole, and unlock his front door. The intention was to wait until he was inside, then gain admittance by ringing the bell for the side entrance.
The vicar reappeared almost immediately. He’d come out again to put the car in the garage. The figure, high on the adrenalin that the role of Destroying Angel generated, withdrew into the darkness, breath held and heart pounding like a desperate prisoner hammering on a cell door.
When the Audi was safely tucked up for the night, the clergyman pulled the garage door down and locked it. He cast a brief glance across his lawn to see if any hedgehogs were foraging for worms or moths that had been scorched flightless by the security light, then pushed his front door open again. The Destroying Angel relaxed and stretched upright.
A middle-aged woman was coming up the drive and calling his name, trotting from the knees down in the way that some women do.
“Mrs. McFadden!” said the vicar, with undisguised enthusiasm.
She was lightly out of breath as she stopped before him. “Oh!” she puffed. “I saw your light come on so I thought I’d bring you your typing. You did say it was urgent.” She passed him a pink folder.
“I didn’t expect you to do it tonight, Brenda. Tomorrow would have been soon enough, but it’s very good of you. Did you have much trouble with my terrible spelling?”
She gave a little giggle. “There were one or two bits that I couldn’t understand, but I can soon correct them if I did it wrong.”
“I’m sure it will be all right. Well, this is really kind of you. I’m, er, just about to make a coffee. Would you, er, like to join me in a cup?”
“Ooh, that would be nice. Just a quick one, then.”
“Lovely. After you. I can offer you a samosa, too. Do you like…”
The door clicked shut, restricting her tastes in oriental cookery to the ears of the Reverend Gordon Ibbotson only.
One and a half hours later, cold and stiff and deep in the depression that often follows euphoria, the Destroying Angel skulked away. A decision had been made. Frustration was dangerous it led to mistakes.
One more would have been perfect, but the risk of discovery was growing every day. The time had come to conclude the preliminaries the next move must be the coup de grace.
DI Peterson found Chief Superintendent Tollis’s office not quite as pristine as it had been the evening before. His jacket, neatly draped on a hanger, was behind the door, and a sheet of paper, held down by a monogrammed Sheaffer fountain pen, broke the symmetry of his desk top.
The man himself was absent.
Peterson sat down in the hard visitor’s chair and placed a copy of the UK News on his boss’s desk. Gurgling noises told him that Tollis was in the adjoining bathroom. Probably polishing his pate, he thought.
There were a few words written on the sheet of paper. The DI leaned forward to read them. They were upside down to him, but bus conductors and detectives are trained to read upside-down writing. They said:
THE DESTROYING ANGEL REVELATIONS ABADDON a.k.a. APOLLYON THE SATANIC ANGEL OF THE BOTTOMLESS PIT
They were the Chief Superintendent’s notes for the little talk he thought he was about to give. Stone the bleeding crows, thought Peterson, whistling through his teeth at the same time. Over my dead body, he added, as an afterthought.
From the bathroom came the sound of a toilet being flushed. Peterson grabbed the newspaper again and jumped towards the door that led in from the corridor. He stood with it ajar, firmly grasping the handle, and counted to five. As the Chief Superintendent emerged from his ablutions he saw his DI apparently just entering.
“Ah, good morning, sir! Timed to perfection,” said Peterson, closing the door for the second time.
Tollis, after sitting down, carefully folded the sheet of paper and placed it in his inside pocket. “Er, yes, good morning, Peterson. Is that the, er, the UK News, did you say?”
Yes, sir. A later edition.” He passed it across the desk, headline uppermost. “Hope you managed to salvage the rest of your golf last night, sir.”
“Yes, thank you. You did the right thing, bringing me news of a development like this.” Actually he’d rather enjoyed the interruption, in front of several of the club worthies, and it had given him a suitable excuse to explain his collapse over the last fifteen holes. He turned the page. “They don’t get much on a sheet, do they?”
Peterson practised his upside-down reading skills on the naked bimbo his chief had exposed. “No, sir. They do tend to come to a point rather quickly. I’ve arranged the press conference for nine o’clock, and the hand-out should be ready before it ends.”
“Oh! I was hoping to see it first. Any chance of an advance copy?”
“Sorry about that, Mr. Tollis. Problems with the photocopier. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Nine o’clock. Right. Well, I suggest you make the introductions and hand over to me. That fine by you, Peterson?”
“No problem, sir. Just what I’d planned myself.”
The press conference was deliberately convened in the smaller of the conference rooms, which was Tollis’s first disappointment of the morning. No television was invited, which was his second. The room rapidly filled with representatives from all the local papers, many of whom doubled for the nationals, local radio, and people from the agencies. Peterson hid himself in the toilet, with the handouts he had carefully composed, and smoked several cigarettes.
At five past the hour he called the meeting to order. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here so promptly. First of all I have to say that you are in a nonsmoking area. Violators will be drenched by the automatic sprinkler system.” Individuals in his audience groaned their disapproval. “Filthy habit,” he told them. “Do you good to be without for half an hour.” To his left he sensed Chief Superintendent Tollis throwing him a get-on-with-it look. “But we didn’t bring you here to lecture you on the evils of the weed. No doubt you have all read today’s UK News. It’s probably your compulsive reading as you devour your morning muesli. And no doubt you also noticed that they are claiming an exclusive story, concerning the murders of two men of the Church, namely the Reverend Ronald Conway and Father Declan Birr.”
He briefly outlined the two cases, stressing the similarities and the discoveries of the pictures of fungi. He also told them about the deaths of the other two priests. From the corner of his eye he could see Tollis impatiently smoothing his notes.
“Last night,” he went on, ‘there was a development; and this is where we are asking for your cooperation. Mr. Alistair McLeod, editor of the News, received a confession from someone claiming to be the murderer of all four deceased. This person called himself… wait for it… the Destroying Angel.”
A murmur ran round the room. Tollis threw himself back against his chair. Peterson continued: “We are certain that he was responsible for the last two murders, but the first two are very doubtful. At my request, Mr. McLeod kindly agreed to print the story without using the name Destroying Angel, although it did reduce the impact somewhat. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank him for his responsible attitude. The purpose of this meeting is to put the facts before the rest of you and to ask you not to describe the killer in the way he describes himself.”
“Why?” someone cried.
“Why? I’ll tell you why. First of all, we don’t want him glamorised.
I realise that in this aspect we differ, but glamorisation leads to copycats, and the last thing I want is deranged individuals all over the place bumping off the clergy. To you, no news is bad news, but I prefer the quiet life. Secondly, we want to catch him. The letter he sent to the News is being given every test known to the forensic scientist, but unfortunately it was handled by a hundred people before it reached them. We’d like to frustrate him into writing again, but this time we’ll be ready for it. Sadly, our best chances of apprehending him are when he tries to kill again. With your cooperation, maybe we can goad him into doing something foolish before then. I have a hand-out here which gives details of the deaths and what we would like you to print and not print. Any questions, before I hand you over to Chief Superintendent Tollis?”
Several hands were raised. Peterson gestured to an elderly man whom he knew worked for an agency. He stood up to speak. “Thank you,” he began. “Inspector, can I get this clear: there is a serial killer on the loose who describes himself as the Destroying Angel, and you are seriously asking the press not to use it?”
“Yes, that’s right. You can print the story, but not the name. That’s what I’m asking.”
“So what do you want us to call him?”
“Well, the killer, I suppose. You’re the wizards with words.”
“But he has to have a name. All serial killers have names.”
Peterson looked thoughtful. “I don’t know. Call him… how about… call him…” He was floundering, but inspiration came from nowhere, welcome as an empty taxi in a blizzard. Call him… the Mushroom Man,” he said.
A buzz of approval ran through the room; the Mushroom Man it was. He noticed Tollis screwing up his notes, his knuckles standing out like a row of snowy mountain peaks against his suntanned hands. “And now,”
Peterson told them, “I’d like to introduce Chief Superintendent Tollis, who is officer in charge of the enquiry. I’m sure he will be more than ready to answer your questions, and far more ably than me. Mr.
Tollis got to his feet. “No, no,” he told them. “I think Inspector Peterson has covered everything. I’ll just remind you how much we value your cooperation and bid you good morning.”
He turned and left. Peterson was alarmed to see a blood vessel on his chiefs head pulsing like a neon sign with a loose connection, and briefly wondered if he’d really done it this time. “Thank you… sir,” he called after him.