Chapter One – DCI Beckley
Monday 14 December 2015
Death lingers like fog weaving through frosted branches across the ashen sky.
The mangled doll-like corpse forms a stark silhouette against the estate; limbs sprawled gracelessly and bathing in blood stolen from her veins. The stench of rotting flesh blankets the air with a suffocating abattoir aroma. Crimson streaks solidify, congealing on her mottled skin, seeping beneath her and down between cracks in the pavement.
No one can save her; the deathlike pallor of her face indicates she's long been devoid of life. Her previous beauty marred by violence; nose shattered and plugged by crisp obsidian blood. It has been ten days since the last victim. This is not the end of his killing spree - it's only just begun.
Her blanched hand reaches out; four fingertips severed and taken as trophies to add to his growing collection. The calloused finger remains pointing, as if offering a clue to her murderer.
She stares at me with haunted eyes; panic and defiance locked in her pupils. This girl didn't die without a struggle. Her beaten body is partially frozen by the minus four-degree temperature. Ice shards cling to her bruised lips like sugar granules, her breath forever gone. She has been dead for several hours; left rotting proudly on display like contemporary art to be admired.
The scene projects into my mind, one I'll never be able to erase. It adds to the ghouls already lurking in my head. I don't remember the last time that I felt angst; it is clawing through my body torturing my guts in tense cramps.
I thought the first victim was an isolated incident, a one off; I was wrong. My eyes slam shut, and I see her bluish lips hung wide open, begging for mercy. Her cries echo in my ears. I want to vomit; bile is already seeping into my dry mouth thinking about the fear they encountered in their final moments.
The stunned faces rubbernecking and capturing the gore with their iPhones are as unwelcome as the blade that pierced her heart and severed her fingers. It's his signature move; mutilation for his own gratification. We are clueless as to his identity and can only surmise that a serial killer has darkened our door. A warped monster is lurking on the streets, blade clutched in his bloody hand ready to butcher his next victim. The thought instils anger and dread. I'm dealing with a ticking time bomb and the countdown to his next kill has already begun.
Press helicopter rotor blades slash the layered candyfloss clouds breaking the eerie stillness to film the morbid scene from above. Erratic camera flashes encroach the boundary as satellite trucks arrive in droves. Reporters are drawn to the police tape like maggots to flesh.
My heart contorts, panicked and afraid by the intrusion in to her privacy. I turn my back on the media glare, eyeing her snapped stilettos resting on the silvery glass blades. I imagine how the attack ensued, the killer smashing her skull from behind and catching her off guard. She crashes to her knees awaiting her execution.
Evidence triangles secure the girl's decomposing corpse and surrounding blood pool. Her clothing is disheveled; top lifted above her breasts to expose her heart and allow the knife to impale it. I picture the killer astride her, viciously choking her and coldly watching the light go out in her eyes.
A black bird swoops low, cackling raucously, distracting the vision. Crime Scene Investigators rush to secure polythene bags over the victim's head, hands and feet after copiously photographing her decomposing corpse in situ. Her statue-like body is transferred, and lays cocooned in a dark navy body bag, strapped snugly to a stretcher, as it's lifted into the black private ambulance for transportation to the mortuary.
Two forensic pathologists, Deena Shelton and Daniel Delaney, continue to document the scene. Dr Shelton is meticulous. Her acumen is razor sharp and I admire her assiduous attitude. Dr Delaney is crouched on the ground examining the blood-suffused tarmac where the victim lay dying. He's experienced but new to the unit. Paired together, they work in a harmonious fashion.
Shelton's glare is riveted, taking detailed notes with her surgical-gloved fingers. She bags the victim's coat into a large brown paper biohazard evidence bag, seals and labels it for lab analysis.
The killer is escalating fast, but his eagerness may hinder him and leave behind one vital piece of DNA, or evidence that we need to nail the son of a bitch.
CSI Investigator Amy Foster is beside the pooling bloodstain that Delaney is analysing, blood coating his sterile gloves. She packs away tools into her ribbed aluminium transit case; it's enormous against her petite frame.
Patiently, I observe Shelton, who's moved alongside the Ford CSI van. She removes blue disposable overshoes from her brown boots and secures them to avoid losing trace evidence. She's mid-thirties with brunette curls. Shelton looks at me with knowing eyes whilst unzipping the overalls over her jeans and adding them to the package.
“I'd put time of death at more than eight hours ago,” she dictates, peeling away her gloves.
“Is it the same perpetrator?”
“It's very likely. The injuries sustained are consistent with the first victim; this girl, however, is missing four fingertips rather than three. She shares a similar profile; blonde, late twenties and attractive. I'll provide more detailed findings once her body has thawed and undergone an autopsy,” Shelton answers confidently. Her tone is calm, her demeanour not perturbed by the gore.
DI Wakeman is behind her at the tape boundary deterring the press from scavenging.
Have you recovered any evidence?” I probe.
“SOCOS haven't recovered any notable hair or prints from the scene. We may find DNA or fibres when we process the body.”
She's dedicated and has a real passion for her job, you can see it in her eyes. We are similar in that sense. I need a lead in this investigation and closure, not only for the victims' families but for myself. I can't have another death on my conscience.
Chapter Two - Kate
Monday 14 December 2015
Someone once told me that I didn't have to be afraid. Fear isn't real. Like the ghosts of my childhood nightmares, it's an illusion. My father lied to comfort and protect me from the real world, so I would fall back to sleep.
I want to be little again; innocent and naïve. Today's world is cruel. Anxiety and fear are an intrinsic part of life. We fear the unknown, losing who we love, and we fear death. The only thing we ought to fear is fear itself, the feeling of unrelenting terror that paralyses your soul.
She felt it when he killed her.
I share her fear, a violent wave of adrenalin flushing through me. Two bodies have been unearthed on the Millbrook Estate in Weston-super-Mare, both stabbed in the heart within days of each other. They were young, with full lives ahead of them. Now they are just statistics among the 600-700 annual UK murder count.
Only these women are not just data to me, they were killed on my patch and now I must face the bloodshed and report the horrific details.
A child, aged six or seven, sits alone in the graffiti-covered playing area alongside a discarded syringe. I want to scoop her into my arms and take her away to safety. I stare into her gentle, watery eyes. She softens me, but I feel icy cold.
My eye line shifts to a hooded figure draped in gold chains outside Londis, dealing cocaine to a scrawny teenager. Beside him rests a homeless man clutching a frayed blanket up to his matted, bearded chin. His bloodshot eyes dart at me momentarily from beneath his worn woollen hat. Panic fills me. I don't like it here. I don’t feel safe.
A swarm of police uniforms inhabit Lasmerton Drive. A tall, athletic detective stands authoritatively in the distance, tucked safely behind the police tape to elude the press. I suspect he's in charge and cannot catch his attention.
The sharp wind and its icy pellets penetrate my silk blouse and grip my pale flesh. I think of the victim lying alone in the dark, gradually freezing like an ice pop. No one deserves to suffer a brutal death, let alone be abandoned, like a chicken carcass for foxes to devour.
The forensic figures photograph the crimson and slowly darkening bloodstains. Sparse ash leaves rustle in the trees above, inhabited by a lone ill-omened magpie. It directs a malevolent gaze over its beak and our eyes interlock. In the morbid surroundings, its presence unnerves me and sets my heart racing, my mind reciting the nursery rhyme “One for Sorrow.” The incessant tune replays in my ears. I flinch and shudder it away.
“This is a crime scene, you cannot go beyond this point,” a voice orders.
I break our stare, encountering a plump police officer with vapour billowing from his mouth. His stern, russet eyes probe my presence. I offer my hand instinctively, which he ignores. His formidable stare burns holes in my face from behind his beard, which has white wisps. His sky-grey suit trousers are too short, hugging his chubby ankles and exposing off-white socks. He's pushing 50 and, despite his dumpy appearance, he has a threatening demeanour which throws me off guard.
My eyes are drawn away to the sea of white suits rummaging through the alleyway gathering forensics. Tiny yellow numbered triangles dot the pathway as evidence markers. Attentively, I peer through my new purple Michael Kors glasses, focusing on the blood-tinged ice and an article of clothing. It's dark in colour, either navy or black. The tape pulls across my waist as I hover, scrutinising the scene wondering what else has been unearthed.
Low stratus clouds loom above, sending me into a trance. A storm is impending.
I think about the killer and what motivates him to inflict pain and suffering on women. The chilling faces of Jeffrey Dahmer, Arthur Shawcross and Dennis Nilsen flash across my mind. Dahmer raped, tortured and strangled his 17 victims during his reign of terror before dismembering their bodies and reducing their remains in drums of acid.
Shawcross, AKA the Genesee River killer, murdered countless women and ate their genitalia, while Nilsen mutilated students and homeless men and flushed their body parts.
Each of them is superseded by chilling images of Fred and Rosemary West, Britain's biggest serial killers. The “ordinary” couple tortured, raped and murdered at least ten women, including their own children, in a spree that lasted over a quarter of a century. They concealed their dismembered treasures inside their “House of Horrors”.
Such acts of sadism are incomprehensible. My nerves tingle at the vivid recollections and I shake my head instinctively, forcing the imprint of their disturbing faces to the back of my mind.
Fear tremors crawl through me and ricochet up my spine. I wonder if he's lurking, watching the CSIs conduct their investigations. It's common for killers to obsess with the police investigation, revisit the scene and relive their gratification.
You envisage the appearance of a psychotic killer; how they would behave. They're more likely to be one of the anonymous faces you pass on the street or sit across from you on the train. You'll never remember them because they are the average Joe or Jane, with an ordinary appearance camouflaging their tormented minds.
I wonder whether the killer has been building up to this new deviant personality, if he's a tourist or an ex-con; theories roam my mind. Someone must know who he is or have noticed him lurking out of place.
I wonder if he's a thrill killer, sneaking up on random lone women. According to my source, that seems improbable. It appears that he has a type; blonde, young and pretty. He's meticulous and hunts his prey.
My numb fingertips twist my hair tips as I revisit the deadly stare of the magpie. I turn my back on the bloodshed and quicken my footsteps to safety. I contemplate the women and guilt detonates and discharges through my body like a lightning bolt because deep in the pit of my belly, I'm relieved I don't fit the profile.