Dead Like You
The sixth book in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, 2010
Thursday 25 December
We all make mistakes, all of the time. Mostly trivial stuff, like forgetting to return a phone call, or to put money in a parking meter, or to pick up milk at the supermarket. But sometimes – luckily very rarely – we make the big one.
The kind of mistake that could cost us our life.
The kind of mistake Rachael Ryan made.
And she had a long time to reflect on it.
If… she had been less drunk. If… it hadn’t been so sodding freezing cold. If… it hadn’t begun to rain. If… there hadn’t been a queue of a hundred equally drunk revellers at the taxi rank in Brighton’s East Street at 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve, or, rather, Christmas morning. If… her flat had not been within walking distance, unlike her equally drunk companions, Tracey and Jade, who lived far away, on the other side of the city.
If… she had listened to Tracey and Jade telling her not to be so bloody stupid. That there were plenty of taxis. That it would only be a short wait.
His whole body stiffened with excitement. After two hours of watching, finally the woman he had been waiting for was turning into the street. She was on foot and alone. Perfect!
She was wearing a miniskirt with a shawl around her shoulders and looked a little unsteady on her legs, from drink and probably from the height of the heels. She had nice legs. But what he was really looking at was her shoes. His kind of shoes. High-heeled with ankle straps. He liked ankle straps. As she came closer, approaching beneath the sodium glare of the street lights, he could see, through his binoculars, through the rear window, that they were shiny, as he had hoped.
Very sexy shoes!
She was his kind of woman!
God, was she glad she had decided to walk! What a queue! And every taxi that had gone past since was occupied. With a fresh, windy drizzle on her face, Rachael tottered along past the shops on St James’s Street, past the Royal Sussex County Hospital, then turned right into Paston Place, where the wind became stronger, batting her long brown hair around her face. She headed down towards the seafront, then turned left into her street of Victorian terraced houses, where the wind and the rain played even more havoc with her hairdo. Not that she cared any more, not tonight. In the distance she heard the wail of a siren, an ambulance or a police car, she thought.
She walked past a small car with misted windows. Through them she saw the silhouette of a couple snogging, and she felt a twinge of sadness and a sudden yearning for Liam, whom she had dumped almost six months ago now. The bastard had been unfaithful. OK, he had pleaded with her to forgive him, but she just knew he would stray again, and again – he was that sort. All the same, she missed him a lot at times, and she wondered where he was now. What he was doing tonight. Who he was with. He’d be with a girl for sure.
Whereas she was on her own.
She and Tracey and Jade. The Three Saddo Singles, they jokingly called themselves. But there was a truth that hurt behind the humour. After two and a half years in a relationship with the man she had really believed was the one she would marry, it was hard to be alone again. Particularly at Christmas, with all its memories.
God, it had been a shitty year. In August, Princess Diana had died. Then her own life had fallen apart.
She glanced at her watch. It was 2.35. Tugging her mobile phone from her bag, she rang Jade’s number. Jade said they were still waiting in the queue. Rachael told her she was almost home. She wished her a merry Christmas. Told her to wish Tracey a merry Christmas too, and said she’d see them New Year’s Eve.
‘Hope Santa’s good to you, Rach!’ Jade said. ‘And tell him not to forget the batteries if he brings you a vibrator!’
She heard Tracey cackling in the background.
‘Sod off!’ she said with a grin.
Then she slipped the phone back into her bag and stumbled on, nearly coming a purler as one high heel of her incredibly expensive Kurt Geigers, which she’d bought last week in a sale, caught between two paving stones. She toyed for a moment with the idea of taking them off, but she was almost home now. She tottered on.
The walk and the rain had sobered her up a little, but she was still too drunk, and too coked up, not to think it was odd that at almost three on Christmas morning a man in a baseball cap a short distance in front of her was trying to lug a fridge out of a van.
He had it half out and half in as she approached. She could see he was struggling under its apparent weight and suddenly he cried out in pain.
Instinctively, because she was kind, she ran, stumbling, up to him.
‘My back! My disc! My disc has gone! Oh, Jesus!’
‘Can I help?’
It was the last thing she remembered saying.
She was hurled forward. Something wet slapped across her face. She smelt a sharp, acrid reek.
Then she blacked out.
Wednesday 31 December
Yac spoke into the metal thing on the tall brick wall. ‘Taxi!’ he said.
Then the gates opened, swanky wrought-iron ones, painted black, with gold spikes along the top. He climbed back into his white and turquoise Peugeot estate and drove up a short, twisting drive. There were bushes on either side, but he did not know what kind they were. He hadn’t got to bushes in his learning yet. Only trees.
Yac was forty-two. He wore a suit with a neatly pressed shirt and a carefully chosen tie. He liked to dress smart for work. He always shaved, combed his short dark hair forward to a slight peak and rolled deodorant under his armpits. He was aware that it was important not to smell bad. He always checked his fingernails and his toenails before leaving home. He always wound up his watch. He always checked his phone for messages. But he had only five numbers stored on the phone and only four people had his, so it wasn’t often that he received any.
He glanced at the clock on the dashboard: 6.30 p.m. Good. Thirty minutes to go before he needed to have any tea. Plenty of time. His Thermos sat on the seat beside him.
At the top the drive became circular, with a low wall in the middle enclosing a fountain that was lit up in green. Yac steered carefully around it, past a quadruple garage door and one wall of the huge house, coming to a halt by steps leading up to the front door. It was a big, importantlooking door and it was closed.
He began to fret. He didn’t like it when passengers weren’t already outside, because he never knew how long he would have to wait. And there were so many decisions.
Whether to switch the engine off. And if he switched the engine off, should he switch the lights off? But before he switched the engine off he needed to do some checks. Fuel. Three-quarters of a tank. Oil. Pressure normal. Temperature. Temperature was good. So much to remember in this taxi. Including to switch the meter on if they did not come out in five minutes. But most important of all, his drink of tea, on the hour, every hour. He checked the Thermos was still there. It was.
This wasn’t actually his taxi, it belonged to someone he knew. Yac was a journeyman driver. He drove the hours the guy who owned it did not want to drive. Mostly nights. Some nights longer than others. Tonight was New Year’s Eve. It was going to be a very long one and he had started early. But Yac didn’t mind. Night was good. Much the same as day to him, but darker.
The front door of the house was opening. He stiffened and took a deep breath, as he had been taught by his therapist. He didn’t really like passengers getting into his taxi and invading his space – except ones with nice shoes. But he had to put up with them until he could deliver them to their destination, then get them out again and be free.
They were coming out now. The man was tall and slim, his hair slicked back, wearing a tuxedo with a bow tie and holding his coat over his arm. She had a furry-looking jacket on, red hair all done nicely, flowing around her head. She looked beautiful, as if she might be a famous actress, like the ones he saw pictures of in the papers that people left in his taxi or on television of stars arriving at premieres.
But he wasn’t really looking at her; he was looking at her shoes. Black suede, three ankle straps, high heels with glinting metal around the edges of the soles.
‘Good evening,’ the man said, opening the door of the taxi for the woman. ‘Metropole Hotel, please.’
‘Nice shoes,’ Yac said to the woman, by way of reply. ‘Jimmy Choo. Uh-huh?’
She squealed in proud delight. ‘Yes, you’re right. They are!’
He recognized her intoxicating scent too, but said nothing. Oscar de la Renta Intrusion, he thought to himself. He liked it.
He started the engine and quickly ran through his mental checks. Meter on. Seat belts. Doors closed. Into gear. Handbrake off. He had not checked the tyres since dropping off the last fare, but he had done so half an hour ago, so they might still be all right. Check in mirror. As he did, he caught another glimpse of the woman’s face. Definitely beautiful. He would like to see her shoes again.
‘The main entrance,’ the man said.
Yac did the calculation in his head as he steered back down the drive: 2.516 miles. He memorized distances. He knew most of them within this city because he had memorized the streets. It was 4,428 yards to the Hilton Brighton Metropole, he recalculated; or 2.186 nautical miles, or 4.04897 kilometres, or 0.404847 of a Swedish mile. The fare would be approximately £9.20, subject to traffic.
‘Do you have high-flush or low-flush toilets in your house?’ he asked.
After a few moments of silence while Yac pulled out into the road, the man glanced at the woman, raised his eyes and said, ‘Low flush. Why?’
‘How many toilets do you have in your house? I bet you’ve got a lot, right? Uh-huh?’
‘We have enough,’ the man said.
‘I can tell you where there’s a good example of a high-flush toilet – it’s in Worthing. I could take you there to see it if you’re interested.’ Hope rose in Yac’s voice. ‘It’s a really good example. In the public toilets, near the pier.’
‘No, thank you. They’re not my thing.’
The couple in the back fell silent.
Yac drove on. He could see their faces in the glow of the street lights, in his mirror.
‘With your low-flush toilets, I bet you have some push-button ones,’ he said.
‘We do,’ the man said. ‘Yes.’ Then he put his mobile phone to his ear and answered a call.
Yac watched him in the mirror before catching the woman’s eyes. ‘You’re a size five, aren’t you? In shoes.’
‘Yes! How did you know?’
‘I can tell. I can always tell. Uh-huh.’
‘That’s very clever!’ she said.
Yac fell silent. He was probably talking too much. The guy who owned the taxi told him there had been complaints about him talking too much. The guy said people didn’t always like to talk. Yac did not want to lose his job. So he kept quiet. He thought about the woman’s shoes as he headed down to the Brighton seafront and turned left. Instantly the wind buffeted the taxi. The traffic was heavy and it was slow going. But he was right about the fare.
As he pulled up outside the entrance to the Metropole Hotel, the meter showed £9.20.
The man gave him £10 and told him to keep the change.
Yac watched them walk into the hotel. Watched the woman’s hair blowing in the wind. Watched the Jimmy Choo shoes disappearing through the revolving door. Nice shoes. He felt excited.
Excited about the night ahead.
There would be so many more shoes. Special shoes for a very special night.
Wednesday 31 December
Detective Superintendent Roy Grace stared out of his office window into the dark void of the night, at the lights of the ASDA superstore car park across the road and the distant lights of the city of Brighton and Hove beyond, and heard the howl of the gusting wind. He felt the cold draught that came though the thin pane on his cheek.
New Year’s Eve. He checked his watch: 6.15. Time to go. Time to quit his hopeless attempt at clearing his desk and head home.
It was the same every New Year’s Eve, he reflected. He always promised himself that he would tidy up, deal with all his paperwork and start the next year with a clean slate. And he always failed. He would be coming back in tomorrow to yet another hopeless mess. Even bigger than last year’s. Which had been even bigger than the one the year before.
All the Crown Prosecution files of the cases he had investigated during this past year were stacked on the floor. Next to them were small, precarious tower blocks of blue cardboard boxes and green plastic crates crammed with unresolved cases – as cold cases were now starting to be called. But he preferred the old title.
Although his work was predominantly concerned with current murders and other major crimes, Roy Grace cared about his cold cases very much, to the point that he felt a personal connection with each victim. But he had been unable to dedicate much time to these files, because it had been a strangely busy year. First, a young man had been buried alive in a coffin on his stag night. Then a vile snuff-movie ring had been busted. This had been followed by a complex case of a homicidal identity thief, before he’d successfully potted a double-killer who had faked his disappearance. But he’d had precious little acknowledgement for getting these results from his departing boss, Assistant Chief Constable Alison Vosper.
Perhaps next year would be better. Certainly it was filled with promise. A new ACC, Peter Rigg, was starting on Monday – five days’ time. Also starting on Monday, which would greatly relieve his workload, was a brand-new Cold Case Team comprised of three former senior detectives under his command.
But most important of all, his beloved Cleo was due to give birth to their child in June. And some time before then, at a date still to be sorted out, they would be getting married, so long as the one obstacle standing in their way could be removed.
His wife, Sandy.
She had disappeared nine and a half years ago, on his thirtieth birthday, and, despite all his efforts, no word had been heard from her since. He did not know whether she had been abducted or murdered, or had run off with a lover, or had had an accident, or had simply, elaborately, faked her disappearance.
For the past nine years, until his relationship with Cleo Morey had begun, Roy had spent almost all of his free time in a fruitless quest to discover what had happened to Sandy. Now he was finally putting her into the past. He had engaged a solicitor to have her declared legally dead. He hoped the process could be fast-tracked so they would be able to get married before the baby was born. Even if Sandy did turn up out of the blue, he would not be interested in resuming a life with her, he had decided. He had moved on in his own mind – or so he believed.
He shovelled several piles of documents around on his desk. By stacking one heap on top of another, it made the desk look tidier, even if the workload remained the same.
Strange how life changed, he thought. Sandy used to hate New Year’s Eve. It was such an artifice, she used to tell him. They always spent it with another couple, a police colleague, Dick Pope, and his wife, Leslie. Always in some fancy restaurant. Then afterwards Sandy would invariably analyse the entire evening and pull it apart.
With Sandy, he had come to view the advent of New Year’s Eve with decreasing enthusiasm. But now, with Cleo, he was looking forward to it hugely. They were going to spend it at home, alone together, and feast on some of their favourite foods. Bliss! The only downer was that he was the duty Senior Investigating Officer for this week, which meant he was on twenty-four-hour call – which meant he could not drink. Although he had decided he would allow himself a few sips of a glass of champagne at midnight.
He could hardly wait to get home. He was so in love with Cleo that there were frequent moments in every day when he was overcome by a deep yearning to see her, hold her, touch her, hear her voice, see her smile. He had that feeling now, and wanted nothing more than to leave and head for her house, which had now, to all intents and purposes, become his home.
Just one thing stopped him.
All those damned blue boxes and green crates on the floor. He needed to have everything in order for the Cold Case Team on Monday, the first official working day of the New Year. Which meant several hours of work still ahead of him.
So instead he sent Cleo a text with a row of kisses.
For a time, this past year, he had managed to delegate all these cold cases to a colleague. But that hadn’t worked out and now he had inherited them all back. Five unsolved major crimes out of a total number of twenty-five to be reinvestigated. Where the hell did he begin?
The words of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland came into his head suddenly: ‘Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’
So he began at the beginning. Just five minutes, he thought, then he would quit for the year and head home to Cleo. As if echoing his thoughts, his phone pinged with an incoming text. It was an even longer row of kisses.
Smiling, he opened the first file and looked at the activity report. Every six months the DNA labs they used would run checks on the DNA from their cold-case victims. You just never knew. And there had been several offenders who must have long thought they had got away with their crimes but who had successfully been brought to trial and were now in prison because of advances in DNA extraction and matching techniques.
The second file was a case that always touched Roy Grace deeply. Young Tommy Lytle. Twenty-seven years ago, at the age of eleven, Tommy had set out from school on a February afternoon to walk home. The one lead in the case was a Morris Minor van, spotted near the scene of the boy’s murder, which was later searched. From the files, it was obvious that the Senior Investigating Officer at the time was convinced the owner of the van was the offender, but they were unable to find that crucial forensic evidence that would have linked the boy to the van. The man, a weirdo loner with a history of sexual offences, was released – but, Grace knew, still very much alive.
He turned to the next file: Operation Houdini.
Names of operations were thrown up randomly by the CID computer system. Occasionally they were apt. This one was. Like a great escapologist, this particular offender had so far avoided the police net.
The Shoe Man had raped – or attempted to rape – at least five women in the Brighton area over a short period of time back in 1997, and in all likelihood had raped and killed a sixth victim whose body had never been found. And it could have been a lot more – many women are too embarrassed or traumatized to report an attack. Then suddenly the attacks appeared to have stopped. No DNA evidence had been recovered from any of the victims who had come forward at the time. But techniques for obtaining it were less effective then.
All they had to go on was the offender’s MO. Almost every criminal had a specific modus operandi. A way of doing things. His or her particular ‘signature’. And the Shoe Man had a very distinct one: he took his victim’s panties and one of her shoes. But only if they were classy shoes.
Grace hated rapists. He knew that everyone who became a victim of crime was left traumatized in some way. But most victims of burglaries and street crimes could eventually put it behind them and move on. Victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault, particularly child victims and rape victims, could never ever truly do that. Their lives were changed forever. They would spend the rest of their days living with the knowledge, struggling to cope, to hold down their revulsion, their anger and their fear.
It was a harsh fact that most people were raped by someone they knew. Rapes by total strangers were exceedingly rare, but they did happen. And it was not uncommon for these so-called ‘stranger rapists’ to take a souvenir – a trophy. Like the Shoe Man had.
Grace turned some of the pages of the thick file, glancing through comparisons with other rapes around the country. In particular, there was one case further north, from the same time period, that bore striking similarities. But that suspect had been eliminated, as evidence had established that it definitely could not have been the same person.
So, Shoe Man, Grace wondered, are you still alive? If so, where are you now?
Wednesday 31 December
Nicola Taylor was wondering when this night of hell would end, little knowing that the hell had not yet even begun.
‘Hell is other people’, Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote, and she was with him on that. And right now hell was the drunken man with the wonky bow tie on her right who was crushing every bone in her hand, and the even drunker man on her left, in a green tuxedo jacket, whose sweaty hand felt as slimy as pre-packed bacon.
And all the other 350 noisy, drunken people around her.
Both men were jerking her arms up and down, damned nearly pulling them out of their sockets as the band in the Metropole Hotel function room struck up ‘Auld Lang Syne’ on the stroke of midnight. The man on her right had a plastic Groucho Marx moustache clipped to the inside of his nostrils and the one on her left, whose slimy hand had spent much of the evening trying to work its way up her thigh, kept blowing a whistle that sounded like a duck farting.
She so totally did not want to be here. So wished to hell she had stuck to her guns and stayed home, in her comfort zone, with a bottle of wine and the television – the way she had most evenings this past year, since her husband had dumped her in favour of his twenty-four-year-old secretary.
But oh no, her friends Olivia and Becky and Deanne had all insisted there was no way they were going to allow her to get away with spending New Year’s Eve moping at home on her own. Nigel was not coming back, they assured her. The slapper was pregnant. Forget him, kiddo. There were plenty more fish in the sea. Time to get a life.
This was getting a life?
Both her arms were jerked up in the air at the same time. Then she was dragged forward in a huge surge, her feet almost falling out of her insanely expensive Marc Jacobs heels. Moments later she found herself being dragged, tripping, backwards.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot… the band played.
Yes, they bloody well should. And current ones too!
Except she could not forget. Not all those midnights on New Year’s Eve when she had stared into Nigel’s eyes and told him she loved him, and he’d told her he loved her as well. Her heart was heavy, too damned heavy. She wasn’t ready for this. Not now, not yet.
The song finally ended and Mr Pre-packed Bacon now spat his whistle out, gripped both her cheeks and planted a slobbery, lingering kiss on her lips. ‘Happy New Year!’ he burbled.
Then balloons fell from the ceiling. Paper streamers rained down on her. Jolly smiling faces surrounded her. She was hugged, kissed, fondled from every direction she turned. It went on and on and on.
Nobody would notice, she thought, if she escaped now.
She struggled across the room, weaving through the sea of people, and slipped out into the corridor. She felt a cold draught of air and smelt sweet cigarette smoke. God, how she could do with a fag right now!
She headed along the corridor, which was almost deserted, turned right and walked along into the hotel foyer, then crossed over to the lifts. She pressed the button and, when the door opened, stepped in and pressed the button for the fifth floor.
Hopefully, they’d all be too drunk to notice her absence. Maybe she should have drunk more too and then she’d have been in a better party mood. She was feeling stone cold sober and could easily have driven home, but she’d paid for a room for the night and her stuff was in there. Perhaps she’d call up some champagne from room service, watch a movie and get quietly smashed on her own.
As she stepped out of the lift, she pulled her plastic room key-card out of her silver lamé Chanel evening bag – a copy she’d bought in Dubai on a trip there with Nigel two years ago – and made her way along the corridor.
She noticed a slender blonde woman – in her forties, she guessed – a short distance ahead. She was wearing a full-length, high-necked evening dress with long sleeves and appeared to be struggling to open her door. As she drew level with her, the woman, who was extremely drunk, turned to her and slurred, ‘I can’t get this sodding thing in. Do you know how they work?’ She held out her key-card.
‘I think you have to slip it in and then out quite quickly,’ Nicola said.
‘I’ve tried that.’
‘Let me try for you.’
Nicola, helpfully, took the card and slipped it into the slot. As she pulled it out, she saw a green light and heard a click.
Almost instantaneously, she felt something damp pressed across her face. There was a sweet smell in her nostrils and her eyes felt as if they were burning. She felt a crashing blow on the back of her neck. Felt herself stumbling forward. Then the carpet slammed into her face.
Thursday 25 December
Rachael Ryan heard the snap of the man’s belt buckle in the darkness. A clank. The rustle of clothes. The sound of his breathing – rapid, feral. She had a blinding pain in her head.
‘Please don’t hurt me,’ she begged. ‘Please don’t.’
The van was rocking in the frequent gusts of wind outside and occasionally a vehicle passed, bright white light strobing through the interior from its headlamps, as terror strobed through her. It was in those moments that she could see him most clearly. The black mask tight over his head, with tiny slits for his eyes, nostrils and mouth. The baggy jeans and the tracksuit top. The small, curved knife that he gripped in his left, gloved hand, the knife he said he would blind her with if she shouted out or tried to get away.
A musty odour, like old sacks, rose from whatever thin bedding she was lying on. It mingled with the faint smell of old plastic upholstery and the sharper reek of leaking diesel oil.
She saw his trousers come down. Stared at his white underpants, his lean, smooth legs. He pushed his pants down. Saw his small penis, thin and stumpy like the head of a snake. Saw him rummage in his pocket with his right hand and pull something out which glinted. A square foil packet. He sliced it open with his knife, breathing even harder and squeezed something out. A condom.
Her brain was racing with wild thoughts. A condom? Was he being considerate? If he was considerate enough to use a condom, would he really use his knife on her?
‘We’re going to get the rubber on,’ he panted. ‘They can get DNA now. They can get you from DNA. I’m not leaving you a present for the police. Make me hard.’
She shuddered with revulsion as the head of the snake moved closer to her lips and saw his face suddenly lit up brightly again as another car passed. There were people outside. She heard voices in the street. Laughter. If she could just make a noise – bang on the side of the van, scream – someone would come, someone would stop him.
She wondered for a moment whether she should just try to arouse him, to make him come, then maybe he would let her go and he would disappear. But she felt too much revulsion, too much anger – and too much doubt.
Now she could hear his breathing getting even deeper. Hear him grunting. See that he was touching himself. He was just a pervert, just a weirdo fucking pervert and this was not going to happen to her!
And suddenly, fuelled by the courage from the alcohol inside her, she grabbed his sweaty, hairless scrotum and crushed his balls in both hands as hard as she could. Then, as he recoiled, gasping in pain, she tore the hood off his head and jammed her fingers into his eyes, both eyes, trying to gouge them out with her nails, screaming as loudly as she could.
Except, in her terror, as if she were trying to scream in a nightmare, only a faint croak came out instead.
Then she felt a crashing blow on the side of her head.
He smashed his fist into her again. The mask of pain and fury that was his face, all blurred, was inches from her own. She felt the fist again, then again.
Everything swam around her.
And suddenly she felt her panties being pulled off, and then he was entering her. She tried to move back, to push away, but he had her pinned.
This is not me. This is not my body.
She felt totally detached from herself. For an instant she wondered if this was a nightmare from which she could not wake. Lights flashed inside her skull. Then fused.
Thursday 1 January
Today was New Year’s Day. And the tide was in!
Yac liked it best when the tide was in. He knew the tide was in because he could feel his home moving, rising, gently rocking. Home was a Humber keel coaler called Tom Newbound, painted blue and white. He did not know why the boat had been given that name, but it was owned by a woman called Jo, who was a district nurse, and her husband, Howard, who was a carpenter. Yac had driven them home one night in his taxi and they had been kind to him. Subsequently they’d become his best friends. He adored the boat, loved to hang about on it and to help Joe with painting, or varnishing, or generally cleaning her up.
Then one day they told him they were going to live in Goa in India for a while, they did not know how long. Yac was upset at losing his friends and his visits to the boat. But they told him they wanted someone to look after their houseboat, and their cat, for them.
Yac had been here for two years now. Just before Christmas he’d had a phone call from them, telling him they were going to stay for another year at least.
Which meant he could stay here for another year at least, which made him very happy. And he had a prize from last night, a new pair of shoes, which also made him very happy…
Red leather shoes. Beautifully curved with six straps and a buckle and six-inch stilettos.
They lay on the floor beside his bunk. He had learned nautical terms. It was a bed, really, but on a ship it was called a bunk. Just like the way the toilet wasn’t called a toilet, but the heads.
He could navigate from here to any port in the UK – he had memorized all the Admiralty charts. Except the boat had no engine. One day he would like to have a boat of his own, with an engine, and then he would sail to all those places that he had stored inside his head. Uh-huh.
Bosun nuzzled his hand, which was hanging over the side of his bunk. Bosun, the big, slinky ginger tom, was the boss here. The true master of this boat. Yac knew that the cat regarded him as its servant. Yac didn’t mind. The cat had never thrown up in his taxi, like some people had.
The smell of expensive new shoe leather filled Yac’s nostrils. Oh yes. Paradise! To wake up with a new pair of shoes.
On a rising tide!
That was the best thing of all about living on the water. You never heard footsteps. Yac had tried to live in the city, but it had not worked for him. He could not stand the tantalizing sound of all those shoes clacking all around him when he was trying to sleep. There were no shoes here, out on the moorings on the River Adur at Shoreham Beach. Just the slap of water, or the silence of the mudflats. The cry of gulls. Sometimes the cry of the eight-month-old baby on the boat next door.
One day, hopefully, the infant would fall into the mud and drown.
But for now, Yac looked forward to the day ahead. To getting out of bed. To examining his new shoes. Then to cataloguing them. Then perhaps to looking through his collection, which he stored in the secret places he had found and made his own on the boat. It was where he kept, among other things, his collection of electrical wiring diagrams. Then he would go into his little office up in the bow and spend time on his laptop computer, online.
What better way could there be to start a New Year?
But first he had to remember to feed the cat.
But before doing that he had to brush his teeth.
And before that he had to use the heads.
Then he would have to run through all the checks on the boat, ticking them off from the list the owners had given him. First on the list was to check his fishing lines. Then he had to check for leaks. Leaks were not good. Then he needed to check the mooring ropes. It was a long list and working through it made him feel good. It was good to be needed.
He was needed by Mr Raj Dibdoon, who owned the taxi.
He was needed by the nurse and the carpenter, who owned his home.
He was needed by the cat.
And this morning he had a new pair of shoes!
This was a good start to a New Year.
Thursday 1 January
Carlo Diomei was tired. And when he was tired he felt low, as he did right now. He did not like these long, damp English winters. He missed the crisp, dry cold of his native Courmayeur, high up in the Italian Alps. He missed the winter snow and the summer sunshine. He missed putting on his skis on his days off and spending a few precious hours alone, away from the holidaying crowds on the busy pistes, making his own silent tracks down parts of the mountains that only he and a few local guides knew.
He had just one more year of his contract to run and then, he hoped, he would return to the mountains and, with luck, to a job managing a hotel there, back among his friends.
But for now the money was good here and the experience in this famous hotel would give him a great step up his career ladder. But, shit, what a lousy start to the New Year this was!
Normally as Duty Manager of the Brighton Metropole Hotel he worked a day shift, which enabled him to spend his precious evenings at home in his rented sea-view apartment with his wife and children, a two-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter. But the Night Manager had picked yesterday, New Year’s Eve of all nights, to go down with flu. So he’d had to come back and take over, with just a two-hour break in which to dash home, put his kids to bed, toast his wife a Happy New Year with mineral water, instead of the champagne night at home they had planned, and hurry back to work to supervise all the New Year celebrations the hotel had been hosting.
He’d now been on duty for eighteen hours straight and was exhausted. In half an hour he would hand over to his deputy and would finally go home, and celebrate by smoking a badly needed cigarette, then falling into bed and getting some even more badly needed sleep.
The phone rang in his tiny, narrow office on the other side of the wall to the front desk.
‘Carlo,’ he answered.
It was Daniela de Rosa, the Housekeeping Manager, another Italian, from Milano. A room maid was concerned about room 547. It was 12.30, half an hour past check-out time, and there was a Do Not Disturb sign still hanging on the room door. There had been no response when she knocked repeatedly, nor when she phoned the room.
He yawned. Probably someone sleeping off a night of overindulgence. Lucky them. He tapped his keyboard to check on the room’s occupant. The name was Mrs Marsha Morris. He dialled the room number himself and listened to it ringing, without answer. He called Daniela de Rosa back.
‘OK,’ he said wearily, ‘I am coming up.’
Five minutes later, he stepped out of the lift on the fifth floor and walked along the corridor, to where the Housekeeping Manager was standing, and knocked hard on the door. There was no response. He knocked again. Waited. Then, using his pass key, he opened the door slowly and stepped in.
‘Hello!’ he said quietly.
The heavy curtains were still drawn, but in the semi-darkness he could make out the shape of someone lying on the wide bed.
‘Hello!’ he said again. ‘Good morning!’
He detected the faintest movement on the bed. ‘Hello!’ he said again. ‘Good morning, Mrs Morris. Hello! Happy New Year!’
There was no response. Just a little more movement.
He felt on the wall for the light switches and pressed one. Several lights came on at once. They revealed a slender, naked woman with large breasts, long red hair and a dense triangle of brown pubic hair, spread-eagled on the bed. Her arms and legs were outstretched in a crucifix position and held in place with white cords. The reason there was no response from her was instantly clear as he stepped closer, feeling a growing spike of unease in his gullet. Part of a face towel protruded either side of duct tape pulled tight across her mouth.
‘Oh, my God!’ the Housekeeping Manager cried out.
Carlo Diomei hurried over to the bed, his tired brain trying to make sense of what he was looking at and not entirely succeeding. Was this some strange sex game? Was her husband, or boyfriend or whoever, lurking in the bathroom? The woman’s eyes looked at him in desperation.
He ran to the bathroom and flung open the door, but it was empty. He’d seen some strange things going on in hotel rooms and had to deal with some weird shit in his time, but for a moment, for the first time in his career to date, he was uncertain what he should do next. Had they interrupted some kinky sex game? Or was something else going on?
The woman looked at him with small, frightened eyes. He felt embarrassed looking down at her nakedness. Overcoming it, he tried to remove the duct tape, but as he gave the first tentative pull the woman’s head thrashed violently. Clearly it was hurting her. But he had to get it off, he was certain. Had to speak to her. So he pulled it away from her skin as gently as he could, until he was able to pluck the towel out of her mouth.
Instantly the woman began burbling and sobbing incoherently.
Thursday 1 January
It had been a long time, Roy Grace reflected, since he had felt this good on a New Year’s Day. For as far back as he could remember, except for the times when he had been on duty, the New Year always began with a blinding headache and the same overwhelming sensation of doom that accompanied his hangovers.
He had drunk even more heavily on those first New Year’s Eves since Sandy’s disappearance, when their close friends Dick and Leslie Pope would not hear of him being on his own and insisted he join in their celebrations. And, almost as if it was a legacy from Sandy, he had started to intensely dislike the festivity too.
But now, this particular New Year’s Eve had been totally different. Last night’s had been the most sober – and the most enjoyable – he could remember in his entire life.
For a start, Cleo passionately loved the whole idea of celebrating the New Year. Which made it all the more ironic that she was pregnant and therefore could not really drink very much. But he hadn’t minded; he was just happy to be with her, celebrating not just the coming year, but their future together.
And, quietly, he celebrated the fact that his irascible boss, Alison Vosper, would no longer be there to dampen his spirits on an almost daily basis. He looked forward to his first meeting with his new boss, Assistant Chief Constable Peter Rigg, on Monday.
All he had managed to glean about the man so far was that he was a stickler for detail, liked to be hands-on involved and had a short fuse with fools.
To his relief, it had been a quiet morning in the CID HQ at Sussex House, so he’d spent the time steadily working through his paperwork and making brisk progress, while keeping a regular eye on the serials – the log of all reported incidents in the city of Brighton and Hove – on the computer.
As expected, there had been a few incidents in the bars, pubs and clubs, mostly fights and a few handbag thefts. He noted a couple of minor road traffic collisions, a domestic – a couple fighting – a complaint about noise from a party, a lost dog, a stolen moped and a naked man reported running down Western Road. But now a serious entry had appeared. It was a reported rape, at Brighton’s smart Metropole Hotel, which had popped on to the screen a few minutes ago, at 12.55 p.m.
There were four principal categories of rape: stranger, acquaintance, date and partner. At this moment there was no mention on the serial of which this might be. New Year’s Eve was the kind of time when some men got blind drunk and forced themselves on their dates or partners, and in all likelihood this incident would be in one of those categories. Serious enough, but not something likely to involve Major Crime.
Twenty minutes later he was about to head across the road to the ASDA supermarket, which doubled as the CID HQ canteen, to buy himself a sandwich for lunch, when his internal phone rang.
It was David Alcorn, a detective inspector he knew and liked a lot. Alcorn was based at the city’s busy main police station in John Street, where Grace himself had spent much of his early career as a detective, before moving to the CID HQ at Sussex House.
‘Happy New Year, Roy,’ Alcorn said in his usual blunt, sardonic voice. From the tone of his voice, happy had just fallen off a cliff.
‘You too, David. Did you have a good night?’
‘Yeah. Well, it was all right. Had to keep off the booze a bit to be here for seven this morning. You?’
‘Quiet, but nice – thanks.’
‘Thought I’d better give you a heads-up, Roy. Looks like we might have a stranger rape at the Metropole.’
He filled him in on the sketchy details. A Uniform Response Team had attended the hotel and called in CID. A Sexual Offences Liaison Officer or SOLO was now on her way over to accompany the victim to the recently opened specialist rape unit, the Sexual
Assault Referral Centre or SARC, in Crawley, a post-war town located in the geographical centre of Sussex.
Grace jotted down the details, such as Alcorn could give him, on a notepad. ‘Thanks, David,’ he said. ‘Keep me updated on this. Let me know if you need any help from my team.’
There was a slight pause and he sensed the hesitation in the DI’s voice. ‘Roy, there’s something that could make this a bit politically sensitive.’
‘The victim had been at a do last night at the Metropole. I’m informed that a number of police brass were at a table at this same function.’
‘The Chief Constable and his wife, for starters.’
Shit, Grace thought, but did not say.
‘The Deputy CC. And one assistant chief constable. You get my drift?’
Grace got his drift.
‘Maybe I should send someone from Major Crime up to accompany the SOLO. What do you think? As a formality.’
‘I think that would be a good plan.’
Grace quickly ran through his options. In particular he was concerned about his new boss. If ACC Peter Rigg was truly a stickler for detail, then he damned well had to start off on the right footing – and to cover himself as best he could.
‘OK. Thanks, David. I’ll send someone up there right away. In the meantime, can you get me a list of all attendees of that event?’
‘That’s already in hand.’
‘And all the guests staying there, plus all the staff – I would imagine there might have been extra staff drafted in for last night.’
‘I’m on to all of that.’ Alcorn sounded just slightly miffed, as if Grace was doubting his abilities.
‘Of course. Sorry.’
Immediately after he ended the call, he rang DC Emma-Jane Boutwood, one of the few members of his team who was in today.
She was also one of the detectives he had tasked with working through the mountains of bureaucracy required by the Crown Prosecution Service for Operation Neptune, a large and harrowing human-trafficking investigation he had been running in the weeks before Christmas.
It took her only a few moments to reach him from her desk in the large, open-plan Detectives’ Room just beyond his door. He noticed she was limping a little as she came into his office – still not fully recovered from the horrific injuries she had sustained in a pursuit last summer, when she had been crushed against a wall by a van. Despite multiple fractures and losing her spleen, she had insisted on cutting short her advised convalescence period to get back to work as quickly as possible.
‘Hi, E-J,’ he said. ‘Have a seat.’
Grace had just begun to run through the sketchy details David Alcorn had given him and to explain the delicate political situation when his internal phone suddenly rang again.
‘Roy Grace,’ he answered, raising a finger to E-J to ask her to wait.
‘Detective Superintendent Grace,’ said a chirpy, friendly voice with a posh, public-school accent. ‘How do you do? This is Peter Rigg here.’
Shit, Grace thought again.
‘Sir,’ he replied. ‘Very nice to – er – um – hear from you. I thought you weren’t actually starting until Monday, sir.’
‘Do you have a problem with that?’
Oh boy, Roy Grace thought, his heart sinking. The New Year was barely twelve hours old and they had their first serious crime. And the new ACC hadn’t even officially started and he’d managed to piss him off already.
He was conscious of E-J’s eyes on him, and her ears scooping this all up.
‘No, sir, absolutely not. This is actually fortuitous timing. It would seem we have our first critical incident of the year. It’s too early to tell at this moment, but it has potential for a lot of unwelcome media coverage.’
Grace then signalled to E-J that he needed privacy and she left the room, closing the door.
For the next couple of minutes he ran through what was happening. Fortunately, the new Assistant Chief Constable continued in a friendly vein.
When Grace had finished, Rigg said, ‘You’re going up there yourself, I take it?’
Roy hesitated. With the highly specialized and skilled team at Crawley, there was no actual need for him to be there at this stage, and his time would be far better employed here in the office, dealing with paperwork and keeping up to speed on the incident via the phone. But he decided that was not what the new ACC wanted to hear.
‘Yes, sir. I’m on my way shortly,’ he replied.
‘Good. Keep me informed.’
Grace assured him he would.
As he hung up, thinking hard, his door opened and the morose face and shaven dome of Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson appeared. His eyes, against his black skin, looked tired and dulled. They reminded Grace of the eyes of fish that had been dead too long, the kind Cleo had told him he should avoid on a fishmonger’s slab.
‘Yo, old-timer,’ Branson said. ‘Reckon this year’s going to be any less shitty than last?’
‘Nope!’ Grace said. ‘The years never get less shitty. All we can do is try to learn to cope with that fact.’
‘Well, you’re a sack-load of goodwill this morning,’ Branson said, slumping his huge frame down into the chair E-J had just vacated.
Even his brown suit, garish tie and cream shirt looked tired and rumpled, as if they’d also been on a slab too long, which worried Grace about his friend. Glenn Branson was normally always sharply dressed, but in recent months his marriage breakup had sent him on a downward spiral.
‘Wasn’t the best year for me last year, was it? Halfway through I got shot and three-quarters of the way through my wife threw me out.’
‘Look on the bright side. You didn’t die and you got to trash my collection of vinyls.’
‘Thanks a bunch.’
‘Want to take a drive with me?’ Grace asked.
Branson shrugged. ‘A drive? Yeah, sure. Where?’
Grace was interrupted by his radio phone ringing. It was David Alcorn calling again to give him an update.
‘Something that might be significant, Roy. Apparently some of the victim’s clothes are missing. Sounds like the offender might have taken them. In particular her shoes.’ He hesitated a moment. ‘I seem to remember there was someone doing that a few years back, wasn’t there?’
‘Yes, but he took just one shoe and the underwear,’ Grace replied, his voice quiet all of a sudden. ‘What else has been taken?’
‘We haven’t got much out of her. I understand she’s in total shock.’
No surprise there, he thought grimly. His eyes went down to one of the blue boxes on the floor – the one containing the cold-case file on the Shoe Man. He pondered for a moment.
That was twelve years ago. Hopefully it was just a coincidence.
But even as he thought that a wintry gust rippled through his veins.
Thursday 25 December
They were moving. Driving somewhere. Rachael Ryan could hear the steady, dull boom of the exhaust and she was breathing in lungfuls of its fumes. She could hear the sound of the tyres sluicing on the wet road. Could feel every bump jarring her through the sacking on which she lay trussed up, arms behind her back, unable to move or speak. All she could see was the top of the back of his baseball cap in the driver’s cab up front and his ears sticking out.
She was frozen with cold, with terror. Her mouth and throat were parched and her head ached terribly from when he had hit her. Her whole body hurt. She felt nauseous with disgust – dirty, filthy. She desperately wanted a shower, hot water, soap, shampoo. Wanted to wash herself inside and out.
She felt the van going around a corner. She could see daylight. Grey daylight. Christmas morning. She should be in her flat, opening the stocking her mother had posted to her. Every year of her childhood and still now, at twenty-two, she had a Christmas stocking.
She began crying. She could hear the clunk-clop of windscreen wipers. Suddenly, Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind’ began playing loudly and crackly on the radio. She could see the man’s head swaying to the music.
Elton John had sung that song at Prince Diana’s funeral, with new lyrics. Rachael remembered that day so vividly. She had been one of the hundreds of thousands of mourners outside Westminster Abbey, listening to that song, watching the funeral on one of the huge television screens. She had camped the night on the pavement, and the day before had spent a big part of her week’s wages from her job on the help desk in the customer relations department of American Express in Brighton on a bouquet of flowers that she had placed, alongside the thousands of others, in front of Kensington Palace.
She had idolized the Princess. Something had died inside her the day Diana died.
Now a new nightmare had begun.
The van braked sharply to a halt and she slid forward a few inches. She tried again to move her hands and her legs, which were agonizingly cramped. But she could move nothing.
It was Christmas morning and her parents were expecting her for a glass of champagne and then Christmas lunch – followed by the Queen’s speech. A tradition, every year, like the stocking.
She tried again to speak, to plead with the man, but her mouth was taped shut. She needed to pee and had already once, some time ago, soiled herself. She could not do that again. There was a ringing sound. Her mobile phone; she recognized the Nokia ring-tone. The man turned his head for an instant, then looked to the front again. The van moved forward. Through her blurry eyes and the smeared windscreen she saw a green traffic light pass by. Then she saw buildings on her left that she recognized. Gamley’s, the toyshop. They were on Church Road, Hove. Heading west.
Her phone stopped. A short while later she heard a beep-beep, signalling a message.
Tracey and Jade?
Or her parents calling to wish her Happy Christmas? Her mother anxious to know if she liked her stocking?
How long before they started to worry about her?
Oh, Christ! Who the hell is this man?
She rolled over to her left as the van made a sharp right turn. Then a left turn. Then another turn. And stopped.
The song stopped. A cheery male voice began talking about where the wonderful Elton John was spending his Christmas.
The man got out, leaving the engine running. The fumes and her fear were making her more and more nauseous. She was desperate for water.
Suddenly he came back into the van. They moved forward, into
increasing darkness. Then the engine was switched off and there was a moment of complete silence as the radio went off too. The man disappeared.
There was a metallic clang as the driver’s door shut.
Then another metallic clang, cutting out all light.
She lay still, whimpering in fear, in total darkness.
Friday 26 December
Suited and booted and proudly wearing the smart red paisley tie that Sandy had given him yesterday for Christmas, Roy passed on his left the blue door marked Superintendent and on his right the one marked Chief Superintendent. Roy often wondered whether he’d ever get to make Chief Superintendent.
The whole building felt deserted this Boxing Day morning, apart from a few members of the Operation Houdini team in the Incident Room on the top floor. They were still working around the clock to try to catch the serial rapist known as the Shoe Man.
As he waited for the kettle to boil, he thought for a moment about the Chief Superintendent’s cap. With its band of silver to distinguish it from the lesser ranks, it was, no question, very covetable. But he wondered if he was smart enough to rise to such a rank – and doubted it.
One thing Roy Grace had learned about Sandy, in their years of marriage, was that she had at times a perfectionist view of how she wanted her particular world to be – and a very short fuse if any aspect failed her expectations. On a number of occasions, her sudden flare of temper at an inept waiter or shop assistant had left him feeling acutely embarrassed. But that spirit in her was part of what had attracted him to her in the first place. She had all the support and enthusiasm in the world for success, however big or small, but he just had to remember that, for Sandy, failure was never an option.
Which explained, in part, her deep resentment, and occasional outbursts of anger, that, after years of trying almost every fertility treatment possible, she was still unable to conceive the baby they both so desperately wanted.
Humming the words of Eric Clapton’s ‘Change the World’ – which for some reason had popped into his head – Roy Grace carried his mug of coffee down to his desk in the deserted open-plan Detectives’ Room on the second floor of Brighton’s John Street police station, with its rows of partitioned desks, its manky blue carpet, its crammed pigeonholes and its view to the east of the white walls and gleaming blue windows of the American Express headquarters. Then he logged on to the clunky, slow computer system to check the overnight serials. While he waited for it to load, he took a sip of coffee and fancied a cigarette, silently cursing the ban on smoking in police offices which had recently been introduced.
An attempt had been made, as it was every year, to bring some Christmas cheer into the place. There were paper-chains hanging from the ceiling. Bits of tinsel draped along the tops of the partitions. Christmas cards on several desks.
Sandy was deeply unimpressed that this was the second Christmas in three years that he had found himself on duty. And, as she quite rightly pointed out, it was a lousy week to be working. Even most of the local villains, off their trolleys with drink or off their faces with drugs, were in their homes or their lairs.
Christmas was the peak period for sudden deaths and for suicides. It might be a happy few days for those with friends and families, but it was a desperate, wretched time for the lonely, particularly the elderly lonely ones who didn’t even have enough money to heat their homes properly. But it was a quiet period for serious crimes – the kind that could get an ambitious young detective sergeant like himself noticed by his peers and give him the chance to show his abilities.
That was about to change.
Very unusually, the phones had been quiet. Normally they rang all around the room constantly.
As the first serials appeared, his internal phone suddenly rang.
‘CID,’ he answered.
It was a Force Control Room operator, from the centre which handled and graded all enquiries.
‘Hi, Roy. Happy Christmas.’
‘You too, Doreen,’ he said.
‘Got a possible misper,’ she said. ‘Rachael Ryan, twenty-two, left her friends on Christmas Eve at the cab rank on East Street to walk home. She did not show up for Christmas lunch at her parents and did not answer her home phone or mobile. Her parents visited her flat in Eastern Terrace, Kemp Town, at 3 p.m. yesterday and there was no response. They’ve informed us this is out of character and they are concerned.’
Grace took down the addresses of Rachael Ryan and her parents and told her he would investigate.
The current police policy was to allow several days for a missing person to turn up before assigning any resources, unless they were a minor, an elderly adult or someone identified as being vulnerable. But with today promising to be quiet, he decided he’d rather be out doing something than sitting here on his backside.
The twenty-nine-year-old Detective Sergeant got up and walked along a few rows of desks to one of his colleagues who was in today, DS Norman Potting. Some fifteen years his senior, Potting was an old sweat, a career detective sergeant who had never been promoted, partly because of his politically incorrect attitude, partly because of his chaotic domestic life, and partly because, like many police officers, including Grace’s late father, Potting preferred frontline work rather than taking on the bureaucratic responsibilitiesthat came with promotion. Grace was one of the few here who actually liked the man and enjoyed listening to his ‘war stories’ – as police tales of past incidents were known – because he felt he could learn something from them; and besides, he felt a little sorry for the guy.
The Detective Sergeant was intently pecking at his keyboard with his right index finger. ‘Bloody new technology,’ he grumbled in his thick Devon burr as Grace’s shadow fell over him. A reek of tobacco smoke rose from the man. ‘I’ve had two lessons, still can’t make sodding head nor tail of this. What’s wrong with the old system we all know?’
‘It’s called progress,’ Grace said.
‘Hrrr. Progress like allowing all sorts into the force?’
Ignoring this, Grace replied, ‘There’s a reported misper that I’m not very happy about. You busy? Or got time to come with me to make some enquiries?’
Potting hauled himself to his feet. ‘Anything to break the mahogany, as my old auntie would say,’ he replied. ‘Have a good Christmas, Roy?’
‘Short and sweet. All six hours of it that I spent at home, that is.’
‘At least you have a home,’ Potting said morosely.
‘I’m living in a bedsit. Threw me out, didn’t she? Not much fun, wishing your kids a merry Xmas from a payphone in the corridor. Eating an ASDA Christmas Dinner for One in front of the telly.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Grace replied. He genuinely was.
‘Know why women are like hurricanes, Roy?’
Grace shook his head.
‘Because when they arrive they’re wet and wild. When they leave they take your house and car.’
Grace humoured him with a thin, wintry smile.
‘It’s all right for you – you’re happily married. Good luck to you. But just watch out,’ Potting went on. ‘Watch out for when they turn. Trust me, this is my second bloody disaster. Should have learned my lesson first time around. Women think coppers are dead sexy until they marry ’em. Then they realize we’re not what they thought. You’re lucky if yours is different.’
Grace nodded but said nothing. Potting’s words were uncomfortably close to the truth. He had never been interested in opera of any kind. But recently Sandy had dragged him to an amateur operatic society performance of The Pirates of Penzance. She had nudged him continually during the song ‘A Policeman’s Lot is not a Happy One’.
Afterwards she had asked him, teasing, if he thought those words were wrong.
He’d replied that yes, they were wrong. He was very happy with his lot.
Later, in bed, she’d whispered to him that perhaps the lyrics needed to be changed. That they should have sung, ‘A policeman’s wife’s lot is not a happy one.’
Thursday 1 January
Several of the houses in the residential street outside the hospital had Christmas lights in the windows and wreaths on the front door. They’d be coming down soon for another year, Grace thought a little sadly, slowing as they approached the entrance to the squat slab of stained concrete and garishly curtained windows of Crawley Hospital. He liked the magical spell that the Christmas break cast on the world, even when he had to work through it.
The building had no doubt looked a lot more impressive under the sunny blue sky of the architect’s original impression than it did on a wet January morning. Grace thought that the architect had probably failed to take into account the blinds blocking half of its windows, the dozens of cars parked higgledy-piggledy outside, the plethora of signs and the weather stains on the walls.
Glenn Branson normally liked to terrify him by showing off his driving skills, but today he had allowed his colleague to drive here, freeing him to concentrate on giving Roy the full download on his lousy Christmas week. Glenn’s marriage, which had hit new lows in the weeks building up to Christmas, had deteriorated even further on Christmas Day itself.
Already livid that his wife, Ari, had changed the locks on their house, his temper had boiled over on Christmas morning when he’d arrived laden with gifts for his two young children and she’d refused to let him in. A massively powerful former nightclub bouncer, Glenn kicked open the front door, to find, as he suspected, her new lover ensconced in his house, playing with his children, in front of his Christmas tree, for God’s sake!
She had dialled the nines and he had narrowly escaped being arrested by the Response Team patrol car that had turned up from East Brighton Division – which would have put paid to his career.
‘So what would you have done?’ Glenn said.
‘Probably the same. But that doesn’t make it OK.’
‘Yeah.’ He was quiet for a moment, then said, ‘You’re right. But when I saw that dickhead personal trainer playing the X-Box with my kids, I could have fucking ripped his head off and played basketball with it.’
‘You’re going to have to keep a lid on it somehow, matey. I don’t want you screwing your career up over this.’
Branson just stared through the windscreen at the rain outside. Then he said bleakly, ‘What does it matter? Nothing matters any more.’
Roy Grace loved this guy, this big, well-meaning, kind-hearted man-mountain. He’d first encountered him some years back, when Glenn was a freshly promoted detective constable. He had recognized in him so many aspects of himself – drive, ambition. And Glenn had that key element it took to make a good policeman – high emotional intelligence. Since then, Grace had mentored him. But now, with his disintegrating marriage and his failing control of his temper, Glenn was dangerously close to losing the plot.
He was also dangerously close to damaging their deep friendship. For the past few months Branson had been his lodger, at his home just off the Hove seafront. Grace did not mind about that, as he was now effectively living with Cleo in her town house in the North Laine district of central Brighton. But he did mind Branson’s meddling with his precious record collection and the constant criticism of his taste in music.
Such as now.
In the absence of having his own car – his beloved Alfa Romeo, which had been destroyed in a chase some months earlier and was still the subject of an insurance wrangle – Grace was reduced to using pool cars, which were all small Fords or Hyundai Getzs. He had just mastered an iPod gadget that Cleo had given him for Christmas which played his music through any car’s radio system and had been showing off to Branson on the way here.
‘Who’s this?’ Branson asked, in a sudden change of focus as the music changed.
He listened for a moment. ‘She’s so derivative.’
‘I like her,’ Grace said defiantly.
They listened in silence for a few moments, until he spotted an empty slot and steered into it. ‘You’re soft in the head for women vocalists,’ Branson said. ‘That’s your problem.’
‘I do actually like her. OK?’
‘Cleo likes her too,’ he retorted. ‘She gave me this for Christmas. Want me to tell her you think she’s sad?’
Branson raised his huge, smooth hands. ‘Whoahhhh!’
‘Respect!’ Branson said. But his voice was almost quiet and humourless.
All three spaces reserved for the police were taken, but as today was a public holiday there were plenty of empty spots all around. Grace pulled into one, switched off the ignition and they climbed out of the car. Then they hurried through the rain around the side of the hospital.
‘Did you and Ari ever argue over music?’
‘Why?’ Branson asked.
Most visitors to this complex of buildings would not even have noticed the small white sign with blue lettering saying SATURN CENTRE, pointing along a nondescript pathway bordered by the hospital wall on one side and bushes on the other. It looked as if it might be the route to the dustbins.
In fact it housed Sussex’s first Sexual Assault Referral Centre. A dedicated unit, recently opened by the Chief Constable, like others around England it showed a marked change in the way rape victims were treated. Grace could remember a time, not so long ago, when traumatized rape victims had to walk through a police station and frequently be interviewed by cynical male officers. All that had now changed and this centre was the latest development.
Here the victims, who were in a deeply vulnerable state, would be seen by trained same-sex officers and psychologists – professionals who would do their very best to comfort them and put them at their ease, while at the same time having to go through the brutal task of establishing the truth.
One of the hardest things facing Sexual Offences Liaison Officers was the fact that the victims actually had to be treated as crime scenes themselves, their clothes and their bodies potentially containing vital trace evidence. Time, as in all investigations, was crucial. Many rape victims took days, weeks or even years before they went to the police, and many never reported their attacks ever, not wanting to relive their most tormented experience.
Branson and Grace hurried past a black wheelie bin, then a row of traffic cones incongruously stacked there, and reached the door. Grace pressed the bell and moments later the door was opened. They were ushered in, and out of the elements, by a woman staff member he knew, but whose name he had momentarily forgotten.
‘Happy New Year, Roy!’ she said.
He saw her looking at Glenn and desperately racked his brains for her name. Then it came to him!
‘Glenn, this is Brenda Keys – Brenda, this is DS Glenn Branson, one of my colleagues in the Major Crime Branch.’
‘Nice to meet you, Detective Sergeant,’ she said.
Brenda Keys was a trained interviewer who had processed victims in Brighton and other parts of the county before this facility was established. A kind, intelligent-looking woman with short brown hair and large glasses, she was always dressed quietly and conservatively, as she was today, in her black slacks and a grey V-neck over a blouse.
You could tell you were inside one of the modern generation of interview suites with your eyes shut, Grace thought. They all smelt of new carpets and fresh paint and had a deadened, soundproofed atmosphere.
This one was a labyrinth of rooms behind closed pine doors, with a central reception area carpeted in beige. The cream-painted walls were hung with framed, brightly coloured and artily photographed prints of familiar Sussex scenes – beach huts on the Hove promenade, the Jack and Jill windmills at Clayton, Brighton Pier. It all felt well intentioned, but as if someone had tried just a bit too hard to distance the victims who came here from the horrors they had experienced.
They signed themselves in and Brenda Keys brought them up to speed. As she did so, a door opened along the corridor and a heavily built female uniformed constable with spikes of short black hair rising from her head, as if she had stuck her fingers into an electrical socket, ambled towards them with a genial smile
‘Constable Rowland, sir,’ she said. ‘Detective Superintendent Grace?’
‘Yes – and this is DS Branson.’
‘They’re in Interview One – only just started. The SOLO, DC Westmore, is talking to the victim and DS Robertson’s observing. Would you like to go into the observation room?’
‘Is there room for us both?’
‘I’ll put another chair in. Can I get you anything to drink?
‘I’d murder a coffee,’ Grace said. ‘Muddy, no sugar.’
Branson asked for a Diet Coke.
They followed the constable down the corridor, past doors marked Medical Examination Room, Meeting Room, then Interview Room.
A short distance along she opened another door with no sign on it and they went in. The observation room was a small space, with a narrow white worktop on which sat a row of computers. A flat-screen monitor was fixed to the wall, displaying the CCTV feed from the adjoining interview room. The Detective Sergeant who had first attended at the Metropole Hotel, a boyish-looking man in his late twenties with a shaven fuzz of fair hair, was seated at the desk, an open notebook in front of him and a bottle of water with the cap removed. He was wearing an ill-fitting grey suit and a purple tie with a massive knot, and he had the clammy pallor of a man fighting a massive hangover.
Grace introduced himself and Glenn, then they sat down, Grace on a hard secretarial swivel chair which the Constable had wheeled in.
The screen gave a static view of a small, windowless room furnished with a blue settee, a blue armchair and a small round table on which sat a large box of Kleenex. It was carpeted in a cheerless dark grey and the walls were painted a cold off-white. A second camera and a microphone were mounted high up.
The victim, a frightened-looking woman in her thirties, in a white towelling dressing gown with the letters MH monogrammed on the chest, sat, hunched up like a ball on the sofa, arms wrapped around her midriff. She was thin, with an attractive but pale face, and streaked mascara. Her long red hair was in a messy tangle.
Across the table from her sat DC Claire Westmore, the Sexual Offences Liaison Officer. She was mirroring the victim, sitting with the same posture, arms wrapped around her midriff too.
The police had learned, over the years, the most effective ways to obtain information from victims and witnesses during interviews. The first principle concerned dress code. Never wear anything that might distract the subject, such as stripes or vivid colours. DC Westmore was dressed appropriately, in a plain blue open-neck shirt beneath a navy V-neck jumper, black trousers and plain black shoes. Her shoulder-length fair hair was swept back from her face and cinched with a band. A simple silver choker was the only jewellery she was wearing.
The second principle was to put the victim or witness in the dominant position, to relax them, which was why the interviewee – Nicola Taylor – was on the sofa, while the DC was on the single chair.
Mirroring was a classic interview technique. If you mirrored everything that the subject did, sometimes it would put them at ease to such an extent that they began to mirror the interviewer. When that happened, the interviewer then had control and the victim would acquiesce, relating to the interviewer – and, in interview parlance, start to cough.
Grace jotted down occasional notes as Westmore, in her gentle Scouse accent, slowly and skilfully attempted to coax a response from the traumatized, silent woman. A high percentage of rape victims suffer immediate post-traumatic stress disorder, their agitated state limiting the time they are able to concentrate and focus. Westmore was intelligently making the best of this by following the guidelines to go to the most recent event first and then work backwards.
Over his years as a detective Grace had learned, from numerous interviewing courses he had attended, something that he was fond of telling team members: there is no such thing as a bad witness – only a bad interviewer.
But this DC seemed to know exactly what she was doing.
‘I know this must be very difficult for you to talk about, Nicola,’ she said. ‘But it would help me to understand what’s happened and really help in trying to find out who has done this to you. You don’t have to tell me today if you don’t want to.’
The woman stared ahead in silence, wringing her hands together, shaking.
Grace felt desperately sorry for her.
The SOLO began wringing her hands too. After some moments, she asked, ‘You were at a New Year’s Eve dinner at the Metropole with some friends, I understand?’
Tears were rolling down the woman’s cheeks.
‘Is there anything at all you can tell me today?’
She shook her head suddenly.
‘OK. That’s not a problem,’ Claire Westmore said. She sat in silence for a short while, then she asked, ‘At this dinner, did you have very much to drink?’
The woman shook her head.
‘So you weren’t drunk?’
‘Why do you think I was drunk?’ she snapped back suddenly.
The SOLO smiled. ‘It’s one of those evenings when we all let our guard down a little. I don’t drink very much. But New Year’s Eve I tend to get wrecked! It’s the one time of year!’
Nicola Taylor looked down at her hands. ‘Is that what you think?’ she said quietly. ‘That I was wrecked?’
‘I’m here to help you. I’m not making any assumptions, Nicola.’
‘I was stone cold sober,’ she said bitterly.
Grace was pleased to see the woman reacting. That was a positive sign.
‘I’m not judging you, Nicola. I’d just like to know what happened. I honestly do understand how difficult it is to speak about what you have been through and I want to help you in any way I can. I can only do that if I understand exactly what’s happened to you.’
A long silence.
Branson drank some of his Coke. Grace sipped his coffee.
‘We can end this chat whenever you want, Nicola. If you would rather we leave it until tomorrow, that’s fine. Or the next day. Whatever you feel is best. I just want to help you. That’s all I care about.’
Another long silence.
Then Nicola Taylor suddenly blurted out the word, ‘Shoes!’
She fell silent again.
‘Do you like shoes, Nicola?’ the SOLO probed. When there was no response she said chattily, ‘Shoes are my big weakness. I was in New York before Christmas with my husband. I nearly bought some Fendi boots – they cost eight hundred and fifty dollars!’
‘Mine were Marc Jacobs,’ Nicola Taylor said, almost whispering.
‘Marc Jacobs? I love his shoes!’ she replied. ‘Were they taken with your clothes?’
Another long silence.
Then the woman said, ‘He made me do things with them.’
‘What kind of things? Try – try to tell me.’
Nicola Taylor started to cry again. Then, in between her sobs, she began talking in graphic detail, but slowly, with long periods of silence in between, as she tried to compose herself, and sometimes just plain let go, waves of nausea making her retch.
As they listened in the observation room, Glenn Branson turned to his colleague and winced.
Grace acknowledged him, feeling very uncomfortable. But as he listened now, he was thinking hard. Thinking back to that cold-case file on his office floor, which he had read through only very recently. Thinking back to 1997. Recalling dates. A pattern. An MO. Thinking about statements given by victims back then, some of which he had re-read not long ago.
That same wintry gust he had felt earlier was rippling through his veins again.
Friday 26 December
‘Thermometer says tonight!’ Sandy said, with that twinkle in her brilliant blue eyes that got to Roy Grace every time.
They were sitting in front of the television. Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation had become a kind of ritual, a movie they traditionally watched every Boxing Day night. The sheer stupidity of the disasters normally made Roy laugh out aloud. But tonight he was silent.
‘Hello?’ Sandy said. ‘Hello, Detective Sergeant! Anyone home?’
He nodded, crushing out his cigarette in the ashtray. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘You’re not thinking about work, are you, my darling? Not tonight. We didn’t have a proper Christmas, so let’s at least enjoy what’s left of Boxing Day. Let’s make something special out of it.’
‘I know,’ Roy said. ‘It’s just-’
‘It’s always, It’s just…’ she said.
‘I’m sorry. I had to deal with a family who didn’t have a Christmas or a Boxing Day celebration, OK? Their daughter left her friends early on Christmas morning and never arrived home. Her parents are frantic. I – I have to do what I can for them. For her.’
‘So? She’s probably busy shagging some bloke she met in a club.’
‘No. Not her pattern.’
‘Oh, sod it, Detective Sergeant Grace! You told me yourself about the number of people who get reported missing by loved ones every year. Around two hundred and thirty thousand in the UK alone, you said, and most of them turn up within thirty days!’
‘And eleven thousand, five hundred don’t.’
‘I have a feeling about this one.’
Sandy stroked his nose. ‘I love yours, Copper!’ She kissed it. ‘We have to make love tonight. I checked my temperature and it seems like I might be ovulating.’
Roy Grace grinned and stared into her eyes. When colleagues, off duty, got wrecked in the bar upstairs at Brighton nick or out in pubs, and talk turned, as it always did among men, to football – something in which he had little interest – or to birds, the girls got divided fifty-fifty into those that blokes fancied because of their tits and those that blokes fancied because of their legs. But Roy Grace could honestly say that the first thing he had fancied about Sandy was her mesmerizing blue eyes.
He remembered the first time they met. It was a few days after Easter and his father had died a month before from bowel cancer. His mother had just been diagnosed with secondaries from breast cancer. He was a probationary police officer and feeling about as low as it was possible to feel. Some colleagues had encouraged him to join them for an evening at the dogs.
With little enthusiasm he’d turned up to the Brighton and Hove greyhound stadium and found himself seated across from a beautiful, bubbly young woman whose name he failed to clock. After some minutes busily chatting to a guy sitting beside her, she had leaned across the table to Grace and said, ‘I’ve been given a tip! Always bet on any dog that does its business before it races!’
‘You mean watch and see if it has a crap?’
‘Very sharp,’ she’d said. ‘You must be a detective!’
‘No,’ he’d replied, ‘not yet. But I’d like to be one day.’
So, while eating his prawn cocktail, he’d carefully watched the dogs for the first race being paraded out towards the starting gate. No. 5 had stopped for a serious dump. When the woman from the Tote had come round, the girl had bet a fiver on it and, to show off, he’d bet a tenner on it that he could ill afford to lose. The dog had romped home last by about twelve lengths.
On their first date, three nights later, he had kissed her in the darkness to the sound of the echoing roar of the sea beneath Brighton’s Palace Pier. ‘You owe me a tenner,’ he’d then said.
‘I think I got a bargain!’ she replied, fumbling in her handbag, pulling out a banknote and dropping it down the inside of his shirt.
He looked at Sandy now, in front of the television. She was even more beautiful than when they had first met. He loved her face, the smells of her body and of her hair; he loved her humour, her intelligence. And he loved the way she took all life in her stride. Sure, she had been angry that he’d been on duty over Christmas, but she understood because she wanted him to succeed.
That was his dream. Their dream.
Then the phone rang.
Sandy answered it, said coldly, ‘Yes he is,’ and handed the receiver to Roy.
He listened, jotted down an address on the back of a Christmas card, then said, ‘I’ll be there in ten minutes.’
Sandy glared at him and shook a cigarette out of the packet. Chevy Chase continued his antics on the screen.
‘It’s Boxing Night, for Christ’s sake!’ she said, reaching for the lighter. ‘You don’t make it easy for me to quit, do you?’
‘I’ll be back as quickly as I can. I have to go and see this witness – a man who claims he saw a man pushing a woman into a van in the early hours.’
‘Why can’t you see him tomorrow?’ she demanded petulantly.
‘Because this girl’s life may be at risk, OK?’
She gave him a wry smile. ‘Off you go, Detective Sergeant Grace. Go and save the sodding world.’
Thursday 1 January
‘You seem very distracted tonight. Are you OK, my love?’ Cleo said.
Roy Grace was sitting on one of the huge red sofas in the living room of her town house in a converted warehouse development, and Humphrey, getting larger and heavier by the day, was sitting on him. The black puppy, nestled comfortably in his lap, was pulling surreptitiously at the strands of wool of his baggy jumper as if his game plan was to unravel it entirely before his master noticed. The plan was working, because Roy was so engrossed in the pages of case-file notes on Operation Houdini he was reading that he had not noticed what the dog was doing.
The first reported sexual assault in Operation Houdini had been on 15 October 1997. It was a botched attack on a young woman late one evening in a twitten – a narrow alleyway – in the North Laine district of Brighton. A man walking his dog had come to her rescue before her assailant had removed her panties, but he had run off with one of her shoes. The next was, unfortunately, more successful. A woman who had attended a Halloween ball at the Grand Hotel at the end of the month had been seized in the corridor of the hotel by a man dressed as a woman and was not found by hotel staff until the morning, bound and gagged.
Cleo, curled up on the sofa opposite him, wrapped in a camel poncho over woollen black leggings, was reading a tome on the ancient Greeks for her Open University philosophy degree studies. Pages of her typed and handwritten notes, all plastered with yellow Post-its, were spread out around her. Her long blonde hair tumbled across her face and every few minutes she would sweep it back with her hand. Grace always loved watching her do that.
A Ruarri Joseph CD was playing on the hi-fi and on the muted television screen Sean Connery, in Thunderball, held a beautiful woman in an urgent clinch. During the past week, since Christmas, Cleo had developed a craving for king prawn kormas and they were waiting for the delivery of tonight’s meal – their fourth curry in five days. Grace didn’t mind, but tonight he was giving his system a rest with some plain tandoori chicken.
Also on the table sat one of Grace’s Christmas presents to Cleo, a big new goldfish bowl, replacing the one that had been smashed by an intruder the previous year. Its incumbent, which she had named Fish-2, was busily exploring its environment of weed and a miniature submerged Greek temple in sharp, nervy darts. Next to it was a stack of three books that had been Glenn Branson’s Christmas present to him. Bloke’s 100 Top Tips for Surviving Pregnancy, The Expectant Father and You’re Pregnant Too, Mate!
‘Yup, I’m fine,’ he said, looking up with a smile.
Cleo smiled back and he felt a sudden rush of such intense happiness and serenity that he wished he could just stop the clock now and freeze time. Make this moment last forever.
‘And I’d rather share your company,’ Ruarri Joseph was singing to his acoustic guitar, and yes, Grace thought, I’d rather share your company, my darling Cleo, than anyone else’s on this planet.
He wanted to stay here, on this sofa, in this room, staring longingly at this woman he loved so deeply, who was carrying their child, and never, ever leave it.
‘It’s New Year’s Day,’ Cleo said, raising her glass of water and taking a tiny sip. ‘I think you should stop working now and relax! We’ll all be back in the fray on Monday.’
‘Right, like the example you’re setting, working on your degree. Is that relaxing?’
‘Yes, it is! I love doing this. It’s not work for me. What you’re doing is work.’
‘Someone should tell criminals they’re not permitted to offend during public holidays,’ he said with a grin.
‘Yep, and someone should tell old people they shouldn’t die over the Christmas break. It’s very antisocial! Morticians are entitled to holidays too!’
‘How many today?’
‘Five,’ she said. ‘Poor sods. Well, actually three of them were yesterday.’
‘So they had the decency to wait for Christmas.’
‘But couldn’t face the prospect of another year.’
‘I hope I never get like that,’ he said. ‘To the point where I can’t face the prospect of another year.’
‘Did you ever read Ernest Hemingway?’ she asked.
Grace shook his head, acutely aware of how ignorant he was compared to Cleo. He’d read so little in his life.
‘He’s one of my favourite writers. I’m going to make you read him one day! He wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” That’s you. You’re stronger, aren’t you?’
‘I hope so – but I sometimes wonder.’
‘You have to be stronger than ever now, Detective Superintendent.’ She patted her stomach. ‘There are two of us who need you.’
‘And all the dead people who need you!’ he retorted.
‘And the dead who need you too.’
That was true, he thought ruefully, glancing at the file again. All those blue boxes and green crates on his office floor. Most of them representing victims who were waiting from beyond the grave for him to bring their assailants to justice.
Would today’s rape victim, Nicola Taylor, get to see the man who did this brought to justice? Or would she end up one day as just a name on a plastic tag on one of those cold-case files?
‘I’m reading about a Greek statesman called Pericles,’ she said. ‘He wasn’t really a philosopher, but he said something very true. “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” That’s one of the many reasons I love you, Detective Superintendent Grace. You’re going to leave good things woven into the lives of others.’
‘I try,’ he said, and looked back down at the files on the Shoe Man.
‘You poor love, your mind really is somewhere else tonight.’
He shrugged. ‘I’m sorry. I hate rapists. It was pretty harrowing today up in Crawley.’
‘You haven’t really talked about it.’
‘Do you want to hear about it?’
‘Yes, I do. I really do want to hear about it. I want to know everything you learn about the world that our child is going to be born into. What did this man to do her?’
Grace picked up his bottle of Peroni from the floor, took a long pull on it, draining it, and could have done with another. But instead he put it down and thought back to this morning.
‘He made her masturbate with the heel of her shoe. It was some expensive designer shoe. Marc Joseph or something.’
‘Marc Jacobs?’ she asked.
He nodded. ‘Yes. That was the name. Are they expensive?’
‘One of the top designers. He made her masturbate? You mean using the heel like a dildo?’
‘Yes. So, do you know much about shoes?’ he asked, a little surprised.
He loved the way Cleo dressed, but when they were out together she rarely looked in shoe-shop or fashion-shop windows. Whereas Sandy used to all the time, sometimes driving him to distraction.
‘Roy, darling, all women know about shoes! They’re part of a woman’s femininity. When a woman puts on a great pair of shoes, she feels sexy! So, he just watched her doing this to herself?’
‘Six-inch stilettos, she said,’ he replied. ‘He made her push the heel all the way in repeatedly, while he touched himself.’
‘That’s horrible. Sick bastard.’
‘It gets worse.’
‘He made her turn over, face down, then he pushed the heel right up her back passage. OK? Enough?’
‘So he didn’t actually rape her? In the sense that I understand it?’
‘Yes, he did, but that was later. And he had problems getting an erection.’
After some moments’ silent thought she said, ‘Why, Roy? What makes someone like that?
He shrugged. ‘I talked to a psychologist this afternoon. But he didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Stranger rape – which this one looks like – is rarely about sex. It’s more about hatred of women and power over them.’
‘Do you think there’s a connection between whoever did this and your file on the Shoe Man?’
‘That’s why I’m reading it. Could be coincidence. Or a copycat. Or the original rapist reoffending.’
‘So what do you think?’
‘The Shoe Man did the same things to some of his victims. He also had problems getting an erection. And he always took one of his victim’s shoes.’
‘This woman today – did he take one of her shoes?’
‘He took both, and all her clothes. And from what the victim has said so far, it sounds like he might be a transvestite.’
‘So there’s a slight difference.’
‘What’s your instinct? What does your copper’s nose tell you?’
‘Not to jump to conclusions. But…’ He fell silent.
He stared at the file.
Saturday 3 January
Ask people to recall where they were and what they were doing at the moment – the exact moment – they heard about the planes striking the Twin Towers on 9/11, or about Princess Diana’s death, or that John Lennon had been shot or, if they are old enough, that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas, and most will be able to tell you, with crystal clarity.
Roxy Pearce was different. The defining moments in her life came on those days when she finally bought the shoes that she had been lusting after. She could tell you exactly what was happening in the world on the day she acquired her first Christian Louboutins. Her first Ferragamos. Her first Manolo Blahniks.
But today, all those gleaming leather treasures languishing in her cupboards paled into insignificance as she strutted around the grey-carpeted floor of Brighton’s Ritzy Shoes emporium.
‘Oh yes! Oh, God, yes!’
She looked at her ankles. Pale, slightly blue from the veins beneath the surface, they were too thin and bony. Never before her best feature, today they were transformed. They were, she had to admit, one pair of drop-dead-beautiful ankles. The thin black straps wrapped themselves like sensuous, living, passionate fronds around the white skin either side of the protruding bone.
She was sex on legs!
She stared in the mirror. Sex on legs stared back at her! Sleek black hair, a great figure, she definitely looked a lot younger than a woman three months short of her thirty-seventh birthday.
‘What do you think?’ she said to the assistant, staring at her reflection again. At the tall stilettos, the curved sole, the magical black gloss of the leather.
‘They were made for you!’ the confident thirty-year-old salesgirl said. ‘They were just absolutely made for you!’
‘I think so!’ Roxy squealed. ‘You think so too?’
She was so excited that several people in the shop glanced round at her. Brighton was busy this first Saturday morning of the new year. The bargain hunters were out in force as the Christmas sales headed into their second week and some prices came down even more.
One customer in the shop did not glance round. Anyone looking would have seen an elegantly dressed middle-aged woman with a long dark coat over a high roll-neck jumper and expensive-looking high-heeled boots. Only if they peeled back the top of the roll-neck would they have spotted the giveaway Adam’s apple.
The man in drag did not glance round, because he was already looking at Roxy. He had been observing her discreetly from the moment she’d asked to try on those shoes.
‘Jimmy Choo just has it!’ the assistant said. ‘He really knows what works.’
‘And you really do think these look good on me? They’re not very easy to walk in.’
Roxy was nervous. Well, £485 was a lot of money, particularly at the moment, when her husband’s software solutions business was in near meltdown and her own small PR agency was barely washing its face.
But she had to have them!
OK, £485 could buy an awful lot of things.
But none would give her the pleasure of these shoes!
She wanted to show them off to her friends. But more than anything she wanted to wear them for Iannis, her crazily sexy lover of just six weeks. OK, not the first lover she’d had in twelve years of marriage, but the best, oh yes. Oh yes!
Just thinking about him brought a big grin to her face. Then a twist of pain in her heart. She had been through it all twice before and knew she should have learned from experience. Christmas was the worst time for lovers having an affair. It was when workplaces shut down and most people got drawn into family stuff. Although they had no kids of their own – neither she nor Dermot had ever wanted any – she’d been forced to accompany her husband to his family in Londonderry for four whole days over Christmas, and then another four, following straight on, with her parents – the ageing Ps, as Dermot called them – in the remote wilds of Norfolk.
On the one day they had planned to meet, before the end of the year, Iannis, who owned two Greek restaurants in Brighton and a couple more in Worthing and Eastbourne, had had to fly unexpectedly to Athens to visit his father, who’d had a heart attack.
This afternoon they were going to be seeing each other for the first time since the day before Christmas Eve – and it felt more like a month. Two months. A year. Forever! She longed for him. Yearned for him. Craved him.
And, she had now decided, she wanted to wear these shoes for him!
Iannis was into feet. He loved to take off her shoes, breathe in their scents, smell them all over, then inhale, as if he was tasting a fine wine in front of a proud sommelier. Maybe he’d like her to keep her Jimmy Choos on today! The thought was turning her on so much she was feeling dangerously moist.
‘You know the great thing with these shoes is you can dress up or down with them,’ the assistant continued. ‘They look terrific with your jeans.’
‘You think so?’
It was a stupid question. Of course the assistant thought so. She was going to say they looked good on her if she came in wrapped in a bin liner full of sardine heads.
Roxy was wearing these leg-hugging, ripped DKNYs because Iannis said she had a great arse in jeans. He liked to unzip them and pull them slowly down, telling her in that rich, deep accent of his that it was like unpeeling beautiful ripe fruit. She liked all the romantic tosh he spoke. Dermot never did anything sexy these days. His idea of foreplay was to walk across the bedroom in his socks and Y-fronts and fart twice.
‘I do!’ the assistant said earnestly.
‘I don’t suppose there’s any discount on these? Not part of the sale or anything?’
‘I’m afraid not, no. I’m sorry. They are new stock, only just in.’
‘That’s my luck!’
‘Would you like to see the handbag that goes with them?’
‘I’d better not,’ she said. ‘I daren’t.’
But the assistant showed it to her anyway. And it was gorgeous. Roxy rapidly reached the conclusion that, having seen the two together, the shoes now looked quite naked without the bag. If she didn’t buy that bag, she would regret it later, she knew.
Because the shop was so busy, and because her thoughts were totally on how she could keep the receipt concealed from Dermot, she took no notice at all of any of the other customers, including the one in the roll-neck jumper, who was examining a pair of shoes a short distance behind her. Roxy was thinking she’d have to grab her credit card statement when it came in and burn it. And anyway, it was her own money, wasn’t it?
‘Are you on our mailing list, madam?’ the assistant asked.
‘If you could let me have your postcode I’ll bring your details up.’
She gave it to the assistant, who tapped it into the computer beside the till.
Behind Roxy, the man jotted something down quickly on a small electronic notepad. Moments later her address appeared. But the man didn’t need to read the screen.
‘Mrs Pearce, 76 The Droveway?’
‘That’s right,’ Roxy said.
‘Right. That’s a total of one thousand, one hundred and twenty-three pounds. How would you like to pay?’
Roxy handed over her credit card.
The man in drag slipped out of the shop, swinging his hips. He actually had developed, with much practice, quite a sexy walk, he thought. He was absorbed into the teeming mass of shoppers in the Brighton Lanes within moments, his heels clicking on the dry, cold pavement.
Saturday 3 January
It was always quiet in these anticlimactic days following New Year’s Eve. It was the end of the holidays, people were back to work, and more broke this year than usual. It was hardly surprising, thought PC Ian Upperton of the Brighton and Hove Road Policing Unit, that there weren’t many people out and about on this freezing January Saturday afternoon, despite the sales being in full swing.
His colleague, PC Tony Omotoso, was behind the wheel of the BMW estate, heading south in the falling darkness, past Rotting-dean pond and then on down towards the seafront, where he turned right at the lights. The south-westerly wind, straight off the Channel, buffeted the car. It was 4.30 p.m. One final cruise along above the cliffs, past St Dunstan’s home for blind servicemen and Roedean school for posh girls, then along the seafront and back up to their base for a cup of tea, and wait there on the radio for the remainder of their shift.
There were some days, Upperton felt, when you could almost feel electricity in the air and you knew things were going to happen. But he felt nothing this afternoon. He looked forward to getting home, seeing his wife and kids, taking the dogs for a walk, then a quiet evening in front of the telly. And to the next three days, which he had off.
As they drove up the hill, where the 30-mph limit gave way to a 50-mph one, a little Mazda MX-2 sports car roared past them in the outside lane, way too fast.
‘Is the driver effing blind?’ Tony Omotoso said.
Drivers usually braked when they saw a police patrol car, and not many dared to pass a police car, even when it was being driven at several miles per hour under the limit. The Mazda driver had either stolen it, was a headcase or had simply not seen them. It was pretty hard not to see them, even in the gloom, with the luminous Battenberg markings and POLICE in high-visibility lettering covering every panel of the car.
The tail lights were rapidly pulling away into the distance.
Omotoso floored the accelerator. Upperton leaned forward, switched on the flashing lights, siren and onboard speed camera, then tugged on his shoulder strap, to take the slack out of it. His colleague’s pursuit-driving always made him nervous.
They caught up with the Mazda rapidly, clocking it at 75 mph before it slowed going down the dip towards the roundabout. Then, to their astonishment, it accelerated away again, hard, as it left the roundabout. The ANPR fixed to the dashboard, which automatically read all number plates in front of it and fed the information into the government-licensing computer, remained silent, indicating that the car had not been reported stolen and that its paperwork was in order.
This time the speed camera dial showed 81 mph.
‘Time for a chat,’ said Upperton.
Omotoso accelerated directly behind the Mazda, flashing his headlights. This was a moment when they always wondered whether a car would try to do a runner, or be sensible and stop.
Brake lights came on sharply. The left-hand indicator began winking, then the car pulled over. From the silhouette they could see through the rear window, there appeared to be just one occupant, a female driver. She was looking over her shoulder anxiously at them.
Upperton switched the siren off, left the blue lights flashing and switched on the emergency red hazard flashers. Then he got out of the car and, pushing against the wind, walked around to the driver’s door, keeping a wary eye out for cars coming along the road behind them.
The woman wound down the window part-way and peered out at him nervously. She was in her early forties, he guessed, with a mass of frizzed hair around a rather severe, but not unattractive, face. Her lipstick seemed to have been put on clumsily and her mascara had run, as if she had been crying.
‘I’m sorry, Officer,’ she said, her voice sounding edgy and slurred. ‘I think I might have been going a bit fast.’
Upperton knelt to get as close to her face as possible, in order to smell her breath. But he didn’t need to. If he’d lit a match at this moment, flames would have probably shot out of her mouth. There was also a strong smell of cigarette smoke in the car.
‘Got bad eyesight, have you, madam?’
‘No – er – no. I had my eyes tested quite recently. My vision’s near perfect.’
‘So you always overtake police cars at high speed, do you?’
‘Oh, bugger, did I? I didn’t see you! I’m sorry. I’ve just had a row with my ex-husband – we’ve got a business together, you see. And I-’
‘Have you been drinking, madam?’
‘Just a glass of wine – at lunchtime. Just one small glass.’
It smelt more like she’d drunk an entire bottle of brandy to him.
‘Could you switch your engine off, madam, and step out of the car. I’m going to ask you to take a breath test.’
‘You’re not going to book me, are you, Officer?’ She slurred even more than before now. ‘You see – I need the car for my business. I’ve already got some points on my licence.’
No surprise there, he thought.
She unclipped her seat belt, then clambered out. Upperton had to put his arm out to stop her staggering further into the road. It was unnecessary to get her to blow into the machine, he thought. All he needed to do was hold it within a twenty-yard radius and the reading would go off the scale.
Friday 9 March
‘Johnny!’ his mother bellowed from her bedroom. ‘Shut up! Shut that noise up! Do you hear me?’
Standing on the chair in his bedroom, he removed another of the nails clenched between his lips, held it against the wall and struck it with his claw hammer. Blam! Blam! Blam!
‘JOHNNY, BLOODY WELL STOP THAT NOISE! NOW! STOP IT!’ She was screaming now.
Lying neatly on the floor, exactly the same distance apart, were each of his prized collection of high-flush lavatory chains. All fifteen of them. He’d found them in skips around Brighton – well, all except two, which he had stolen from toilets.
He took another nail from his mouth. Lined it up. Began hammering.
His mother ran into the room, reeking of Shalimar perfume. She wore a black silk camisole, fish-net stockings with suspenders not yet fastened, harsh make-up and a wig of blonde ringlets that was slightly askew. She was standing on one black stiletto-heeled shoe and holding the other in her hand, raised, like a weapon.
‘DO YOU HEAR ME?’
Ignoring her, he began hammering.
‘ARE YOU BLEEDIN’ DEAF? JOHNNY?’
‘I’m not Johnny,’ he mumbled through the nails, continuing to hammer. ‘I am Yac. I have to hang my chains up.’
Holding the shoe by the toe, she slammed the stiletto into his thigh. With a yelp like a whipped dog, he fell sideways and crashed to the floor. Instantly she was kneeling over him, raining down blows on him with the sharp tip of the heel.
‘You are not Yac, you are Johnny! Understand? Johnny Kerridge.’
She hit him again, then again. And again.
‘I am Yac! The doctor said so!’
‘You stupid boy! You’ve driven your father away and now you’re driving me crazy. The doctor did not say so!’
‘The doctor wrote Yac!’
‘The doctor wrote YAC – Young Autistic Child – on his sodding notes! That’s what you are. Young, useless, sodding pathetic autistic child! You are Johnny Kerridge. Got it?’
‘I am Yac!’
He curled himself up in a protective ball as she brandished the shoe. His cheek was bleeding from where she had struck him. He breathed in her dense, heady perfume. She had a big bottle on her dressing table and she once told him it was the classiest perfume a woman could wear, and that he should appreciate he had such a high-class mother. But she wasn’t being classy now.
Just as she was about to strike him again the front doorbell rang.
‘Oh shit!’ she said. ‘See what you’ve done? You’ve made me late, you stupid child!’ She hit him again on the thigh, so hard it punctured his thin denim trousers. ‘Shit, shit, shit!’
She ran out of the room, shouting, ‘Go and let him in. Make him wait downstairs!’
She slammed her bedroom door.
Yac picked himself up, painfully, from the floor and limped out of his room. He walked slowly, deliberately, unhurriedly down the staircase of their terraced two-up, two-down on the edge of the Whitehawk housing estate. As he reached the bottom step, the doorbell rang again.
His mother shouted, ‘Open the door! Let him in! I don’t want him going away. We need it!’
With blood running down his face, seeping through his T-shirt in several places and through his trousers, Yac grumpily limped up to the front door and reluctantly pulled it open.
A plump, perspiring man in an ill-fitting grey suit stood there, looking awkward. Yac stared at him. The man stared back and his face reddened. Yac recognized him. He’d been here before, several times.
He turned and shouted back up the stairs, ‘Mum! It’s that smelly man you don’t like who’s come to fuck you!’
Saturday 27 December
Rachael was shivering. A deep, dark terror swirled inside her. She was so cold it was hard to think. Her mouth was parched and she was starving. Desperate for water and for food. She had no idea what the time was: it was pitch black in here, so she could not see her watch, could not tell whether it was night or day outside.
Had he left her here to die or was he coming back? She had to get away. Somehow.
She strained her ears for traffic noise that might give her a clue as to whether it was day or night, or for the caw of a gull that might tell her if she was still near the sea. But all she could hear was the occasional, very faint wail of a siren. Each time her hopes rose. Were the police out looking for her?
They were, weren’t they?
Surely her parents would have reported her missing? They would have told the police that she hadn’t turned up for Christmas lunch. They’d be worried. She knew them, knew they would have gone to her flat to find her. She wasn’t even sure what day it was now. Boxing Day? The day after?
Her shivering was getting worse, the cold seeping deep inside her bones. It was all right, though, she thought, so long as she was shivering. Four years ago, when she had left school, she’d worked for a season as a washer-upper in a ski resort in France. A Japanese skier had taken the last chairlift up one afternoon in a snowstorm. There was a mistake by the lift attendants, who thought the last person had already gone up and been counted at the top, so they turned the lift off. In the morning, when they switched it back on, he arrived at the top, covered in ice, dead, stark naked, with a big smile on his face.
No one could understand why he was naked or smiling. Then a local ski instructor she’d had a brief fling with explained to her that during the last stages of hypothermia people hallucinated that they were too hot and would start removing their clothes.
She knew that somehow she had to keep warm, had to ward off hypothermia. So she did the only movements she could, rolling, left and then right on the hessian matting. Rolling. Rolling. Totally disoriented by the darkness, there were moments when she lay on her side and toppled on to her face and others when she fell on to her back.
She had to get out. Somehow. Had to. How? Oh, God, how?
She couldn’t move her hands or her feet. She couldn’t shout. Her naked body was covered in goose pimples so sharp they felt like millions of needle points piercing her flesh.
Oh, please God, help me.
She rolled again and crashed into the side of the van. Something fell over with a loud, echoing clangggggg.
Then she heard a gurgling noise.
Smelt something foul, rancid. Diesel oil, she realized. Gurgling. Glug… glug… glug.
She rolled again. And again. Then her face pressed into it, the sticky, stinking stuff, stinging her eyes, making her cry even more.
But, she figured, it must be coming from a can!
If it was pouring out, then the top had come off. The neck of the can would be round and thin! She rolled again and something moved through the stinking wet slimy stuff, clattering, scraping.
Clatter… clatter… clangggg.
She trapped it against the side of the van. Wriggled around it, felt it move, made it turn, forced it to turn until it was square on, spout outwards. Then she pressed against the sharpness of the neck. Felt its rough edge cutting into her. She wormed her body against it, jigging, slowly, forcefully, then felt it spin away from her.
Don’t do this to me!
She wriggled and twisted until the can moved again, until she felt the rough neck of the spout again, then she pressed against it, gently at first, then applying more pressure, until she had it wedged firmly. Now she moved slowly, rubbing right, left, right, left, for an eternity at whatever was binding her wrists. Suddenly, the grip around them slackened, just a fraction.
But enough to give her hope.
She kept on rubbing, twisting, rubbing. Breathing in and out through her nose. Breathing in the noxious, dizzying stink of the diesel oil. Her face, her hair, her whole body soaked in the stuff.
The grip on her wrists slackened a tiny bit further.
Then she heard a sudden loud metallic clang and she froze. No, please no. It sounded like the garage door opening. She rolled on to her back and held her breath. Moments later she heard the rear doors of the van opening. A flashlight beam suddenly blinded her. She blinked into it. Felt his stare. Lay in frozen terror wondering what he was going to do.
He just seemed to be standing in silence. She heard heavy breathing. Not her own. She tried to cry out, but no sound came.
Then the light went out.
She heard the van doors clang shut. Another loud clang, like the garage door closing.
She listened, unsure whether he was still in here. She listened for a long time before she began to rub against the neck once more. She could feel it cutting into her flesh, but she didn’t care. Each time she rubbed now, she was certain the bonds holding her wrists were slackening more and more.
Saturday 3 January
Garry Starling and his wife, Denise, had gone to the China Garden restaurant most Saturday nights for the past twelve years. They favoured the table just up the steps, to the right of the main part of the restaurant, the table where Garry had proposed to Denise almost twelve years ago.
Separated from the rest of the room by a railing, it had a degree of privacy, and with Denise’s increasingly heavy drinking, they could sit here without the rest of the diners being privy to her frequent tirades – mostly against him.
She was usually drunk before they had even left home, particularly since the smoking ban, when she would quaff the best part of a bottle of white wine and smoke several cigarettes, despite his nagging her for years to quit, before tottering out to the waiting taxi. Then, at the restaurant, Denise would polish off one and often two Cosmopolitans in the bar area before they got to their table.
At which point she usually kicked off and began complaining about defects she perceived in her husband. Sometimes the same old ones, sometimes new ones. It was water off a duck’s back to Garry, who remained placid and unemotional, which usually wound her up even more. He was a control freak, she told her girlfriends. As well as being a sodding fitness freak.
The couple they normally came here with, Maurice and Ulla Stein, were heavy drinkers too and, long used to Denise’s tirades, they tended to humour her. Besides, there were plenty of undercurrents in their own relationship.
Tonight, the first Saturday of the New Year, Denise, Maurice and Ulla were in particularly heavy drinking mode. Their hangovers from New Year’s Eve, which they had celebrated together at the Metropole Hotel, were now distant memories. But they were also a little tired and Denise was in an uncharacteristically subdued mood. She was even drinking a little water – which, normally, she rarely touched.
The third bottle of Sauvignon Blanc had just been poured. As she picked her glass up, Denise watched Garry, who had stepped out to take a phone call, walking back towards them and slipping his phone into his top pocket.
He had a slight frame and a sly, studious face topped with short, tidy black hair that was thinning and turning grey. His big, round, staring eyes, set beneath arched eyebrows, had earned him the nickname Owl at school. Now, in middle age, wearing small, rimless glasses, a neat suit over a neat shirt and sober tie, he had the air of a scientist quietly observing the world in front of him with a look of quizzical disdain, as if it was an experiment he had created in his laboratory with which he was not entirely happy.
In contrast to her husband, Denise, who had been a slender blonde with an hourglass figure when they had first met, had ballooned recently. She was still blonde, thanks to her colourist, but years of heavy drinking had taken their toll. With her clothes off, in Garry’s opinion – which he had never actually voiced to her because he was too reserved – she had the body of a flabby pig.
‘Lizzie – my sister,’ Garry announced apologetically, sitting down again. ‘She’s been at the police station for the last few hours – she’s been done for drink-driving. I was just checking that she’s seen a solicitor and that she’s getting a lift home.’
‘Lizzie? Stupid woman, what’s she gone and done that for?’ said Denise.
‘Oh, sure,’ Garry said. ‘She did it deliberately, right? Give her a break, for God’s sake! She’s been through the marriage from hell and now she’s going through the divorce from hell from that bastard.’
‘Poor thing,’ said Ulla.
‘She’s still way over the limit. They won’t let her drive home. I wonder if I should go and-’
‘Don’t you dare!’ Denise said. ‘You’ve been drinking too.’
‘You have to be so damned careful, drinking and driving now,’ Maurice slurred. ‘I just won’t do it. I’m afraid I don’t have much sympathy with people who get caught.’ Then, seeing his friend’s darkening expression, he said, ‘Of course, except for Lizzie.’ He smiled awkwardly.
Maurice had made gazillions out of building sheltered homes for the aged. His Swedish wife, Ulla, had become heavily involved in animal rights in recent years and not long ago had led a blockade of Shoreham Harbour – Brighton’s main harbour – to stop what she considered to be the inhumane way that sheep were exported. Garry had noticed, particularly in the past couple of years, that the two of them had less and less in common.
Garry had been Maurice’s best man. He’d secretly lusted after Ulla in those days. She had been the classic flaxen-haired, leggy Swedish blonde. In fact he’d continued to lust after her until quite recently, when she had begun to let her looks go. She too had put on weight, and had taken to dressing like an Earth Mother, in shapeless smocks, sandals and hippy jewellery. Her hair was wild and she seemed to apply make-up as if it was warpaint.
‘Do you know about the Coolidge effect?’ Garry said.
‘What’s that?’ Maurice asked.
‘When Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States he and his wife were being taken around a chicken farm. The farmer got embarrassed when a rooster began shagging a hen right in front of Mrs Coolidge. When he apologized the President’s wife asked him how many times a day the rooster did this and the farmer replied that it was dozens. She turned to him and whispered, “Would you mind telling my husband?”’
Garry paused while Maurice and Ulla laughed. Denise, who had heard it before, remained stony-faced.
He continued, ‘Then a little later Coolidge asked the farmer more about the rooster. “Tell me, does it always screw the same hen?” The farmer replied, “No, Mr President, always a different one.” Coolidge whispered to the man, “Would you mind telling my wife?”’
Maurice and Ulla were still laughing when crispy duck and pancakes arrived.
‘I like that one!’ Maurice said, then winced as Ulla kicked him under the table.
‘A bit close to home for you,’ she said acidly.
Maurice had confided to Garry, over the years, about a string off affairs. Ulla had found out about more than one of them.
‘At least the rooster has proper sex,’ Denise said to her husband. ‘Not the weird stuff you get off on.’
Garry’s mask smiled implacably at her, humouring her. They sat in awkward silence as the pancakes and spring onions and hoisin sauce appeared, and while the waiter shredded the duck before retreating.
Helping himself to a pancake and rapidly changing the subject, Maurice asked, ‘So, how’s business looking going into the New Year, Garry? Think people are going to cut down?’
‘How would he know?’ Denise butted in. ‘He’s always on the sodding golf course.’
‘Of course I am, my darling!’ Garry retorted. ‘That’s where I get my new leads. That’s how I built my business. I got the police as customers through playing golf with an officer one day.’
Garry Starling had started in life as an electrician, working for Chubb Alarms, doing installations. Then he had left and taken the gamble of forming his own company, operating at first from a tiny office in central Brighton. His timing had been perfect, as it was just when the security business began to boom.
It was a winning formula. He used his membership of his golf club, of the Round Table and then the Rotary Club to work on everyone he met. Within a few years of opening his doors, he had built up Sussex Security Systems and its sister company, Sussex Remote Monitoring Services, into one of the major security businesses in the Brighton area for home and commercial premises.
Turning back to Maurice, he said, ‘Actually, business is OK. We’re holding our own. How about you?’
‘Booming!’ Maurice said. ‘Incredible, but it is!’ He raised his glass. ‘Well, cheers, everyone! Here’s to a brilliant year! Never actually got to toast you on New Year’s Eve, did we, Denise?’
‘Yep, well, sorry about that. Don’t know what came over me. Must be the bottle of champagne we had in our room while we were getting changed!’
‘That you had,’ Garry corrected her.
‘Poor thing!’ Ulla said.
‘Still,’ Maurice said, ‘Garry did his best to make up for you by drinking your share, didn’t you, old son?’
Garry smiled. ‘I made a sterling effort.’
‘He did,’ Ulla said. ‘He was well away!’
‘Hey, did you see the Argus today?’ Maurice said with an abrupt change of tone.
‘No,’ Garry said. ‘Haven’t read it yet. Why?’
‘A woman was raped in the hotel! Right while we were partying! Incredible!’
‘In the Metropole?’ Denise said.
‘Yes! In a bedroom. Can you believe it?’
‘Great,’ she said. ‘Terrific to know your caring husband is getting shit-faced while his wife’s in bed alone, with a rapist at large.’
‘What did it say in the paper?’ Garry said, ignoring the comment.
‘Not much – just a few lines.’
‘Don’t look so guilty, darling,’ Denise said. ‘You couldn’t keep it up long enough to rape a flea.’
Maurice busied himself with his chopsticks, lifting strands of duck on to his pancake.’
‘Unless of course she was wearing some high – ouch!’ she cried out.
Garry had kicked her hard under the table. Silencing her.
Saturday 27 December
Rachael was beyond caring about the pain she was in. Her wrists, behind her back, were numb from cold as she sawed, desperately, back and forward against the sharp rim of the fuel can spout. Her bum was numb and a sharp, cramping pain shot down her right leg every few moments. But she ignored it all. Just sawing. Sawing. Sawing in utter desperation.
It was desperation that kept her going. Desperation to get free before he came back. Desperation for water. Desperation for food. Desperation to speak to her parents, to hear their voices, to tell them she was OK. She was crying, shedding tears as she sawed, writhed, wriggled, struggled.
Then, suddenly, to her utter joy, the gap between her wrists widened a fraction. She could feel the bonds slackening. She sawed even harder and now they were becoming slacker by the second.
Then her hands were free.
Almost in disbelief, she moved them further and further apart in the darkness, as if they might suddenly be propelled back together and she would wake to find it was all an illusion.
Her arms ached terribly, but she did not care. Thoughts were racing through her mind.
He’s going to come back.
My phone. Where’s my phone?
She needed to phone for help. Except, she realized, she did not know where she was. Could they locate you from where your phone was? She didn’t think so. Which meant all she could tell them, until she got out of the door and found her bearings, was that she was in a van in a garage somewhere in Brighton or Hove, perhaps.
He might come back at any moment. She needed to free her legs. In the darkness she felt the area around her for her phone, her bag, anything. But there was just slimy, stinky diesel oil. She reached forward, to her ankles, and felt the PVC tape around them, wound so tight it was as hard as a plaster cast. Then she reached up to her face, to see if she could free her mouth and at least shout for help.
But would that be smart?
The tape was just as tight around her mouth. She got a grip on it with difficulty, her fingers slippery with the diesel oil, and tore it off, almost oblivious to the pain in her urgency. Then she tried to get a grip on an edge of the tape around her legs, but her fingers were shaking so much she couldn’t find one.
She tried to get to her feet but, with them bound together, at her first attempt she fell over sideways, striking her forehead hard on something. Moments later she felt liquid trickle down into her eye. Blood, she guessed. Snorting air, she rolled over, sat back against the side of the van and then, trying to grip the floor with her bare feet, began pushing herself up the side. But her feet kept slipping on the damned diesel oil, which had turned the floor into a skating rink.
She scrabbled around until she found the hessian she had been lying on, then put her feet on that and tried again. This time she got more grip. Steadily, she began to rise. She made it all the way up on to her feet, her head striking the roof of the van. Then, totally disoriented by the pitch darkness, she fell sideways with a jarring crash. Something slammed into her eye with the force of a hammer.
Saturday 3 January
There was a ping from the data unit on the dashboard. It startled Yac, who was parked up in a meter bay on the blustery seafront, close to Brighton Pier, drinking a mug of tea. His 11 p.m. mug of tea. He was actually ten minutes late drinking it, because he had been so absorbed reading the newspaper.
He looked at the screen. It was a call from the dispatcher that read:
China Garden rest. Preston St. 2 Pass. Starling. Dest. Roedean Cresc.
The China Garden restaurant was just around the corner. He knew the destination. He could visualize it now, the way he could visualize every street and every dwelling in Brighton and Hove. Roedean Crescent sat high up above the cliffs to the east of the city. All the houses were big, detached and individual, with views out across the Marina and the Channel. Rich people’s homes.
The sort of people who could afford nice shoes.
He hit the acknowledge button, confirming that he would make the pick-up, then continued to sip his tea and read the newspaper that had been left in his taxi.
They’d be finishing their meal still. When people ordered a taxi in a restaurant, they expected to wait a while, certainly a quarter of an hour or so on a Saturday night in downtown Brighton. And besides, he could not stop reading and then re-reading the story about the rape of the woman in the Metropole on New Year’s Eve. He was riveted.
In his mirrors he could see the twinkly lights of the pier. He knew all about those lights. He used to work on the pier as an electrical engineer, part of the team maintaining and repairing the rides. But he got the sack. It was for the same reason he usually got the sack, because he lost his temper with someone. He hadn’t yet lost his temper with anyone in his taxi, but he had once got out and shouted at another driver who’d pulled on to a rank in front of him.
He finished his tea, reluctantly folded the newspaper and put the mug back in the plastic bag alongside his Thermos, then placed the bag on the front seat.
‘Vocabulary!’ he said aloud. Then he began his checks.
First check the tyres. Next start the engine, then switch on the lights. Never the other way around, because if the battery was low, the lights might drain the energy that the starter motor needed. The owner of the taxi had taught him that. Especially in winter, when there were heavy loads on the battery. It was winter now.
As the engine idled, he checked the fuel gauge. Three-quarters of a tank. Then the oil pressure. Then the temperature gauge. The interior temperature was set to twenty degrees, as he had been instructed. Outside, a digital display told him, it was two degrees Celsius. Cold night.
He looked in his mirror, checked his seat belt was on, indicated, pulled out into the road and drove up to the junction, where the lights were red. When they changed to green he turned right into Preston Street and almost immediately pulled over to the kerb, halting outside the front door of the restaurant.
Two very drunk yobs staggered down the hill towards him, then knocked on his window and asked if he was free to take them to Coldean. He wasn’t free, he was waiting for passengers, he told them. As they walked away he wondered whether they had high-flush or low-flush toilets in their homes. It suddenly became very important to him to know. He was about to get out and hurry after them, to ask them, when finally the restaurant door opened.
Two people emerged. A slim man in a dark coat, with a scarf wound around his neck, and a woman who was clinging to him, teetering on her heels; she looked like she’d fall over if she let go. And from the height of the stilettos she was wearing, that would be a long fall.
They were nice heels. Nice shoes.
And he had their address! He always liked to know where women who had nice shoes lived.
Yac lowered his window. He didn’t want the man knocking on it. He didn’t like people knocking on his window.
‘Taxi for Starling?’ the man said.
‘Roedean Crescent?’ Yac replied.
They climbed in the back.
‘Sixty-seven Roedean Crescent,’ the man said.
‘Sixty-seven Roedean Crescent,’ Yac repeated. He had been told always to repeat the address clearly.
The car filled with smells of alcohol and perfume. Shalimar, he recognized instantly. The perfume of his childhood. The one his mother always wore. Then he turned to the woman.
‘Nice shoes,’ he said. ‘Bruno Magli.’
‘Yesh,’ she slurred.
‘Size four,’ he added.
‘An expert on shoes, are you?’ the woman asked him sourly.
Yac looked at the woman’s face in the mirror. She was all uptight. She did not have the face of a woman who had had a good time. Or who was very nice. The man’s eyes were closed.
‘Shoes,’ Yac said. ‘Uh-huh.’
Saturday 27 December
Rachael woke with a start. Her head was throbbing. Disoriented, for a cruel, fleeting instant she thought she was at home in bed with a mighty hangover. Then she felt the hard metal floor. The hessian matting. Breathed in the stink of diesel oil. And reality gate-crashed her consciousness, kicking her wide awake, sending dark dread spiralling through her.
Her right eye hurt like hell. God, it was agony. How long had she been lying there? He could come back at any moment, and if he did he would see that she’d freed her wrists. He would tape them up again and probably punish her. She had to free her legs and run, now, while she had the chance.
Oh, God. Please help me.
Her lips were so parched they cracked painfully when she tried to move them. Her tongue felt like a ball of fur in her mouth. She listened for an instant, to make sure she was still alone in here. All she could hear was a distant siren and again she wondered, with the faintest uplift of hope, whether that might be the police out looking for her.
But how would they find her in here?
She rolled over until she felt the side of the van, then hauled herself upright and began picking at the tape binding her ankles with her fingernails. Trying to find a join on the slippery, diesel-coated PVC where she could get a grip.
Finally she found one and slowly, carefully, worked it free, until she had a whole wide strip of it. She began to unwind it, jerking it free with a series of sharp ripping noises. Then she winced in pain as the last of it came away from the skin of her ankles.
Grabbing the sodden hessian matting, she got to her feet, stretched and rubbed her legs to get feeling back into them, and stumbled her way, weakly, to the back of the van, crying out in pain, suddenly, as she stood on something sharp in her bare feet – a nut or a bolt. Then she felt her way across the rear doors for the handle. She found a vertical metal rod and ran her hands up it until she reached the handle. She tried to pull it down. Nothing happened. She tried to move it upwards and it would not budge.
It was locked, she realized, her heart sinking.
No. Please, no. Please, no.
She turned and made her way down to the front, her fast, rasping breaths echoing in the metallic cavern of the van’s interior. She found the back of the passenger seat, climbed over clumsily, then ran her finger along the sill of the passenger window until she found the lock pin. She gripped it as hard as she could with her slippery fingers and pulled.
To her relief, it popped up easily.
Then she groped for the handle, pulled it and shoved as hard as she could on the door, almost tumbling out on to the concrete floor as it opened, and simultaneously the interior light in the van came on.
Now, in its dim glow, she could see the inside of her prison. But there wasn’t much. Just some tools hanging on hooks on the bare wall. A tyre. Grabbing the matting, she hurried along the side of the van towards the garage door, her heart thudding with fear. Suddenly the matting snagged on something and, when she tugged it, there was a loud metallic crash as several objects fell to the floor. She winced but carried on, until she reached the up-and-over door.
There was a two-sided handle in the centre, attached to wires to the mechanism at the top of the door. She tried to turn the handle, first to the right, then to the left, but it would not move. It must be locked from the outside, she realized. With panic increasing inside her, she grabbed the wire and pulled. But her fingers slipped on it, not getting any purchase.
In desperation, Rachael bashed the door with her shoulder, oblivious to the pain. But nothing happened. Whimpering in fear and increasing desperation, she tried again. There was a loud, echoing, metallic booommmmm.
Please, God, somebody must hear this. Please, God. Please.
Then suddenly the door swung up, startling her, almost knocking her over backwards.
In the stark glare of the street lighting outside he stood there, looking at her inquisitively.
She stared back at him in utter terror. Her eyes darted, desperately hoping there might be a passer-by, wondering if she could find the strength to dodge by him and run.
But before she had a chance, he hit her, slamming his fist up beneath her chin, snapping her head back so hard it bashed with a loud crack against the rear of the van.
Monday 29 December
Detective Sergeant Roy Grace was surprised at the number of people packed into the top-floor conference room of Brighton’s John Street police station, on this December morning. Despite the cold outside, it was feeling stuffy in here.
Mispers never usually attracted much attention, but this was a quiet time of the year for news. A bird flu epidemic in Hong Kong was one of the few big stories that the national headline writers could use as a shocker in between the Xmas festivities and the upcoming New Year’s celebrations.
But the story of the missing young woman, Rachael Ryan, in the wake of the series of rapes that had occurred in the city in the past couple of months, had caught the imagination of the press and media not only locally but nationally. And the Argus, of course, was having a field day with Brighton heading into a new year with the Shoe Man still at large.
Newspaper, radio and television reporters occupied all the chairs, and the standing room as well, in the cramped windowless space. Grace sat suited and booted behind a table on the raised platform facing them, next to Chief Inspector Jack Skerritt, in full dress uniform, reeking of pipe tobacco, and the Police Press Officer, Tony Long. A blue back board carrying the Sussex Police crest stood behind them, next to which was a blow-up photograph of Rachael Ryan, and the table was covered in microphones and tape recorders. Cables led down from the table and across the floor to TV cameras from BBC South Today and Meridian.
With cameras clicking and the constant strobing of flash, Sker-ritt first introduced his colleagues on the top table, then read in his blunt voice from a prepared statement: ‘A twenty-two-year-old resident of Brighton, Ms Rachael Ryan, was reported missing by her family on the evening of Christmas Day, after she failed to turn up for Christmas dinner. No word has been heard from her since. Her parents have informed us that this is completely uncharacteristic behaviour. We are concerned for the safety of this young lady and would ask her, or anyone with information about her, to contact the Incident Room at Brighton police station urgently.’
A tenacious, balding, bespectacled crime reporter from the Argus, Phil Mills, dressed in a dark suit, sitting hunched over his notepad, asked the first question. ‘Chief Inspector, do Brighton police suspect that the disappearance of this young lady might be connected with Operation Houdini and the rapist you have nicknamed the Shoe Man?’
Both Skerritt and Grace reacted to this in silent fury. Although the police knew him as the Shoe Man, his MO had been kept secret from the public, as was usual. This was in order to weed out time-wasters who either confessed to the crime or phoned in purporting to have knowledge of the perpetrator. Grace could see Skerritt wrestling with whether or not to deny the nickname. But he clearly decided that it was out in the open now and they were stuck with it.
‘We have no evidence to suggest that,’ he replied curtly and dismissively.
Jack Skerritt was a popular and diligent member of the CID. A tough, blunt, no-nonsense copper of nearly twenty years’ experience, he had a lean military bearing and a hard face, topped with a slick of brown hair clipped short. Grace liked him, although Skerritt made him a little nervous because he was intensely demanding of his officers and did not treat mistakes lightly. But he had learned a lot working under him. Skerritt was the kind of detective he would like to be himself one day.
A female reporter immediately raised her hand. ‘Chief Inspector, can you explain more about what you mean by “Shoe Man”?’
‘We believe the offender who has been preying on women in the Brighton area for several months now has an abnormal interest in women’s shoes. It is one of a number of lines of enquiry we are pursuing.’
‘But you haven’t mentioned this publicly before.’
‘We haven’t, no,’ Skerritt replied. ‘As I said, it is one line.’
Mills came straight back at him. ‘The two friends Rachael was out with on Christmas Eve say that she had a particular obsession with shoes and spent a disproportionate amount of her income on them. I understand that the Shoe Man specifically targets women wearing so-called designer shoes.’
‘On a night like Christmas Eve, every young lady in Brighton and Hove would have been out in her finery,’ Skerritt retorted. ‘I repeat that, at this stage of our investigations, we have no evidence to suggest there is any connection to the so-called Shoe Man rapes that have occurred in this vicinity.’
A woman reporter Grace did not recognize raised her hand. Skerritt nodded at her.
‘You have assigned the name Operation Sundown to Rachael Ryan’s disappearance. Creating a formal operation tells us you are taking this more seriously than a normal missing persons inquiry. Is that correct?’
‘We take all missing persons inquiries seriously. But we have elevated the status of this particular inquiry to a major incident.’
A local radio reporter raised his hand. ‘Chief Inspector, do you have any leads in your search for the Shoe Man?’
‘At this stage, as stated, we are pursuing several lines of enquiry. There has been a substantial response from the public and all calls to our Incident Room are being followed up by my team.’
‘But you are not close to an arrest?’
‘At this stage, that is correct.’
Then a journalist Grace recognized as a stringer for several national papers raised his hand. ‘What steps are Brighton police currently taking to find Rachael Ryan?’
‘We have forty-two officers deployed in the search for her. They are carrying out house-to-house enquiries in her immediate neighbourhood and along the route we believe she took home. We are searching all garages, warehouses and empty buildings in the vicinity. We have been given particularly good information by a witness who lives near Ms Ryan’s residence in Kemp Town, who believes he saw a young lady forced into a white van in the early hours of Christmas morning,’ Skerritt said, then studied the journalist for some moments, as if eyeing him up as a suspect, before once more addressing everyone present.
‘Unfortunately we have only part of the registration number for this van, which we are working on, but we would urge anyone who thinks they might have seen a white van in the vicinity of Eastern Terrace on Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning to contact us. I will give out the Incident Room phone number at the end of this briefing. We are also anxious to hear from anyone who may have seen this young lady on her way home.’ He pointed at the screen behind him, on which were displayed a series of photographs of Rachael Ryan, obtained from her parents.
He paused for a moment and patted his pocket, as if checking his pipe was there, then continued: ‘Rachael was wearing a black mid-length coat over a miniskirt, and black patent-leather shoes with high heels. We are trying to trace her precise route home from the time she was last seen, at the taxi rank in East Street, shortly after 2 a.m.’
A diminutive, rotund man, his face largely obscured by an unkempt beard, raised a stubby, chewed finger. ‘Chief Inspector, do you actually have any suspects in your Shoe Man enquiries?’
‘All I can say at this stage is that we are following some good leads and we are grateful to the public for their response.’
The tubby man got in a second question quickly. ‘Your enquiry into Rachael Ryan seems to be a departure from police policy,’ he said. ‘You don’t normally react so quickly to missing-person reports. Would I be correct in assuming you think there may be a link here to the Shoe Man – Operation Houdini – even if you are not publicly announcing this?’
‘No, you would not be correct,’ Skerritt said bluntly.
A woman reporter raised her hand. ‘Can you tell us some of the other lines of enquiry you are pursuing on Rachael Ryan, Chief Inspector?’
Skerritt turned to Roy Grace. ‘My colleague DS Grace is organizing a reconstruction of the parts of Rachael’s journey home that we can be reasonably certain of. This will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.’
‘Does this mean you don’t believe you are going to find her before then?’ Phil Mills asked.
‘It means what it says,’ retorted Skerritt, who had had several run-ins with this reporter before. Then he nodded at his colleague.
Roy Grace had never spoken at a press briefing before and suddenly he was nervous as all hell. ‘We have a WPC who is of similar height and build to Rachael Ryan, who will be dressed in similar clothing and will walk the route we believe Rachael took on the night – or rather early morning – of her disappearance. I would urge all people who might have been out early on Christmas morning to spare the time to retrace their steps and see if it jogs their memories.’
He was perspiring when he finished. Jack Skerritt gave him a brief nod of approval.
These reporters were after a story that would sell their papers, or bring listeners to their radio stations or viewers to their channels. He and Skerritt had a different agenda. To keep the streets of Brighton and Hove safe. Or at least to make the citizens feel they were safe in a world that never had been safe and never would be. Not with the kind of human nature he had come to know as a police officer.
There was a predator out on the streets of this town. As a result of the Shoe Man’s reign of terror, there was not a woman in Brighton who felt comfortable right now. Not a single woman who did not look over her shoulder, did not ram home her door chain, did not wonder if she might be next.
Roy Grace was not involved in the Shoe Man investigation. But he had an increasingly certain feeling that Operation Houdini and the search for Rachael Ryan were one and the same thing.
We’re going to get you, Shoe Man, he promised silently.
Whatever it takes.
Monday 29 December
Rachael was in a helicopter with Liam. With his long, spiky hair and his sulky, boyish face he looked so much like Liam Gallagher of Oasis, her favourite group. They were swooping low through the Grand Canyon. Crimson rocks of the cliff face were passing either side, so close, dangerously close. Below them, a long, long way down, the metallic blue water snaked along through jagged grey-brown contours.
She gripped Liam’s hand. He gripped hers back. They couldn’t speak to each other because they had headsets on, listening to the pilot’s commentary. She turned and mouthed I love you to him. He grinned, looking funny with the microphone partially obscuring his mouth, and mouthed I love you back.
Yesterday they’d walked past a wedding chapel. For a joke he’d suddenly dragged her through the door, into the tiny golden-coloured interior. There were rows of pews either side of the aisle and two tall vases of flowers acting as a kind of cheesy non-denominational altar. Fixed to the wall behind was a glass display cabinet containing on one shelf a bottle of champagne and a white handbag with a floral handle, and on another an empty white basket and big white candles.
‘We could get married,’ he said. ‘Right now. Today!’
‘Don’t be daft,’ she’d replied.
‘I’m not being daft. I’m serious! Let’s do it! We’ll go back to England as Mr and Mrs Hopkirk!’
She wondered what her parents would think. They’d be upset. But it was tempting. She felt so intensely happy. This was the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.
‘Mr Liam Hopkirk, are you proposing to me?’
‘No, not exactly – but I’m thinking, you know, screw all the crap and bridesmaids and stuff that goes with a wedding. It would be fun, wouldn’t it? Surprise them all?’
He was being serious and that shocked her. He meant it! Her parents would be devastated. She remembered sitting on her father’s knee when she was a child. Her father telling her how beautiful she was. How proud he would be one day to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day.
‘I couldn’t do this to my parents.’
‘They mean more to you than me?’
‘No. It’s just…’
His face darkened. Sulking again.
The sky darkened. Suddenly the helicopter was sinking. The walls turning dark and rushing past the big bubble window. The river beneath rushing up towards them.
Her head was pounding. Then a light came on. The feeble glow of the dome lamp of the van. She heard a voice. Not Liam, but the man, glaring down at her.
‘You stink,’ he said. ‘You’re making my van stink.’
Reality crashed through her. The coils of terror spiralling through every cell in her body. Water. Please. Water. She stared up at him, parched and weak and dizzy. She tried to speak but could only make a feeble deep whine in her throat.
‘I can’t have sex with you. You revolt me. Know what I’m saying?’
A faint ray of hope lifted her. Perhaps he would let her go. She tried again to make a coherent sound. But her voice was just a hollow rumbling mumble.
‘I should let you go.’
She nodded. Yes. Yes, please. Please. Please.
‘I can’t let you go, because you saw my face,’ he said.
She pleaded with her eyes. I won’t tell anyone. Please let me go. I won’t tell a soul.
‘You could put me behind bars for the rest of my life. Do you know what they do to people like me in prison? It’s not nice. I can’t take that chance.’
The knot of fear in her stomach spread like poison through her blood. She was trembling, quaking, whimpering.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, and he really did sound sorry. Really apologetic, like a man in a crowded bar who had just accidentally stepped on her foot. ‘You’re in the papers. You are on the front page of the Argus. There’s a photograph of you. Rachael Ryan. That’s a nice name.’
He stared down at her. He looked angry. And sulky. And genuinely apologetic. ‘I’m sorry you saw my face,’ he said. ‘You shouldn’t have done that. It wasn’t clever, Rachael. It could all have been so very different. Know what I’m saying?’
Monday 5 January
The newly formed Cold Case Team was part of Roy Grace’s Major Crime Branch responsibility. It was housed in an inadequate office within the Major Incident Suite on the first floor of Sussex House, with views across a yard cluttered with wheelie bins, emergency generator housings and SOCO vehicles to the custody block, which cut out much of the natural light.
There were few things in the world, Roy Grace always thought, that could create as much paperwork as a Major Crime investigation. The grey-carpeted floor was piled high with stacks of large green crates and blue cardboard boxes, all labelled with operation names, as well as reference books, training manuals and a doorstop of a tome sitting on its own, Practical Homicide.
Almost every inch of the desktop space of the three workstations was covered by computers, keyboards, phones, racks of box files, crammed in trays, Rolodex files, mugs and personal effects. Post-it notes were stuck on just about everything. Two freestanding tables visibly sagged beneath the weight of files piled on them.
The walls were plastered with news cuttings of some of the cases, and photographs and old wanted posters of suspects still at large. One was a picture of a smiling dark-haired teenager, with the wording above:
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WOMAN?
Another was a black-and-white Sussex Police poster featuring an amiable-looking man with a big smile and a shock of unruly hair. It was captioned:
MURDER of JACK (John) BAKER.
Mr Baker was murdered at Worthing, Sussex on 8/9 January 1990.
Did you know him? Have you seen him before?
IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT THE MURDER INCIDENT ROOM
telephone no. 0903-30821,
OR ANY POLICE STATION.
There were hand-drawn sketches of victims and suspects, computer-generated E-Fits, one of a rape suspect shown with different hats and hoods, with and without glasses.
In charge of this entire new cold case initiative, and answering to Roy Grace, was Jim Doyle, a former detective chief superintendent with whom Grace had worked many years back. Doyle was a tall, studious-looking man, whose appearance belied his mental – and physical – toughness. He had about him more the courteous air of a distinguished academic than a police officer. Yet with his firm, unflappable manner, his enquiring mind and a precision in the way he approached everything, he had been a devastatingly effective detective, involved in solving many of the county’s most serious violent crimes during his thirty-year career. His nickname in the force had been Popeye, after his namesake, Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle in the film The French Connection.
Doyle’s two colleagues were similarly experienced. Eamon Greene, a quiet, serious man, was a former Sussex under-16 chess champion and was now a grand master, still playing and winning tournaments. Before retiring at just forty-nine, and then returning to the force as a civilian, he had reached the rank of detective superintendent in Sussex CID, Major Crime Branch. Brian Foster, a former detective chief inspector known as Fossy, was a lean sixty-three-year-old, with close-cropped hair and still, despite his age, boyishly handsome features. In the previous year he had run four marathons in four consecutive weeks in different countries. Since retiring from Sussex CID at the age of fifty-two, he had worked for the past decade in the prosecutor’s office of the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, and had now returned home eager to start a new phase in his career.
Roy Grace, wearing a suit and tie for his first meeting with the new Assistant Chief Constable later that morning, cleared a space on one of the work surfaces and sat down on it, cradling his second mug of coffee of the day. It was 8.45 a.m.
‘OK,’ he said, swinging his legs. ‘It’s good to have the three of you. Actually, let me rephrase that – it is bloody brilliant!’
They all grinned.
‘Popeye, you taught me just about everything I know, so I don’t want to sit here and teach you how to suck eggs. The “Chief” – ’ by which he meant Chief Constable Tom Martinson – ‘has given us a generous budget, but we’re going to have to deliver if we want the same again next year. Which is shorthand for saying if you guys still want your jobs next year.’
Turning to the others, he said, ‘I’m just going to tell you something Popeye told me when I first worked with him. As part of his work-load back in the 1990s he had just been given responsibility for cold cases – or whatever they were called then!’
That raised a titter. All three retired officers knew the headaches caused by the ever-changing police terminology.
Grace pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket and read from it. ‘He said, and I quote, “Cold-case reviews utilize the forensic technology of today to solve the crimes of the past, with a view to preventing the crimes of the future.”’
‘Glad all those years with you weren’t wasted, Roy,’ Jim Doyle said. ‘At least you remembered something!’
‘Yep. Impressive to have learned anything from an old sweat!’ quipped Foster.
Doyle did not rise to the bait.
Roy Grace went on: ‘You’ve probably seen it on the serials or in the Argus that a woman was raped on New Year’s Eve.’
‘In the Metropole Hotel?’ Eamon Greene said.
‘That’s the one.’
‘I attended the initial interview of the victim last Thursday, New Year’s Day,’ Grace said. ‘The offender, apparently disguised in drag, appears to have forced the victim into a hotel room on the pretext of asking for help. Then, wearing a mask, he tied her up and sexually assaulted her vaginally and anally with one of her stiletto shoes. He then attempted to penetrate her himself, with only partial success. This has similarities to the MO of the Shoe Man cold case back in 1997. In those cases, the Shoe Man adopted a series of different disguises and pretexts for requiring help to lure his victims. Then he stopped offending – in Sussex at any rate – and was never apprehended. I have a summary of this case file which I’d like you all to read as a priority. You will each have your own individual cases to review, but for now I want you all to work on this one, as I think it could help with the case I’m investigating now.’
‘Was there any DNA evidence, Roy?’ Jim Doyle asked.
‘There was no semen from any of the women, but three of his victims said that he wore a condom. There were clothing fibres, but nothing conclusive from those. No nail scrapings, no saliva. A couple of his victims reported that he had no pubic hair. This man was clearly very forensically aware, even back then. No DNA was ever found. There was just one common link – each of the victims was seriously into shoes.’
‘Which covers about 95 per cent of the female population – if my wife is anything to go by,’ Jim Doyle said.
‘Precisely.’ Grace nodded.
‘What about descriptions?’ asked Brian Foster.
‘Thanks to the way in which rape victims were treated back then, not much. We have a slightly built man, with not a lot of body hair, a classless accent and a small dick.
‘I’ve spent the weekend reading through the files of those victims, and all other major crimes committed during this same period,’ Grace went on. ‘There is one more person that I suspect might have been a victim of the Shoe Man – possibly the last victim. Her name is Rachael Ryan. She disappeared in the early hours of Christmas Eve – or rather Christmas Day, 1997. What has brought her to my attention is that I was a DS back then on the day she was reported missing. I went to interview her parents. Respectable people, completely mystified that she never turned up for Christmas dinner. By all accounts she was a decent young woman of twenty-two, sensible, although low after having split up with a boyfriend.’
He nearly added, but did not, that she had vanished off the face of the earth, just like his own wife, Sandy, had vanished.
‘Any theories?’ asked Foster.
‘Not from the family,’ Grace said. ‘But I interviewed the two friends she was out with on Christmas Eve. One of them told me that she was a bit obsessed with shoes. That she bought shoes which were way beyond her means – designer shoes at upwards of a couple of hundred quid a pop. All the Shoe Man’s victims wore expensive shoes.’ He shrugged.
‘Not much of a peg to hang your coat on there, Roy,’ said Foster. ‘If she’d split up with her boyfriend she could have topped herself. Christmas, you know, that’s a time when people feel pain like this. I remember my ex walking out on me three weeks before Christmas. I damned near topped myself over that Christmas holiday – 1992, it was. Had Christmas dinner on my own in a bloody Angus Steak House.’
Grace smiled. ‘It’s possible, but from all I learned about her at that time I don’t think so. Something I do think is significant is that one of her neighbours happened to be looking out of his window at three o’clock on Christmas morning – the timing fits perfectly – and saw a man pushing a woman into a white van.’
‘Did he get the registration?’
‘He was shit-faced. He got part of it.’
‘Enough to trace the vehicle?’
‘You believed him?’
‘Yes. I still do.’
‘Not a lot to go on, is it, Roy?’ said Jim Doyle.
‘No, but there’s something strange. I came in early this morning to look up that particular file before this meeting – and do you know what?’ He stared at each of them.
They all shook their heads.
‘The pages I was looking for were missing.’
‘Who would remove them?’ Brian Foster said. ‘I mean – who would have access to them to be able to remove them?’
‘You used to be a copper,’ Grace said. ‘You tell me. And then tell me why?’
Monday 5 January
Maybe it was time to quit.
Prison aged you. Ten years it put on – or took off – your life, depending on which way you looked at it. And right now Darren Spicer wasn’t too happy about either of the ways he was looking at it.
Since he was sixteen, Spicer had spent much of his life inside. Doing bird. A revolving-door prisoner, they called him. A career criminal. But not a very successful one. He’d only once, since becoming an adult, spent two consecutive Christmases as a free man, and that had been in the early years of his marriage. His birth certificate – his real one – told him he was forty-one. His bathroom mirror told him he was fifty-five – and counting. Inside he felt eighty. He felt dead. He felt…
Lathering up, he stared at the mirror with dull eyes, grimacing at the lined old geezer staring back at him. He was naked, his gangly, skinny body – which he liked to think of as just plain lean – toned up from daily workouts in the prison gym.
Then he set to work on his hard stubble with the same blunted blade he had been using for weeks in prison before his release and which he had taken with him. When he had finished, his face was as clean-shaven as the rest of his body, which he had shaved last week. He always did that when he came out of prison, as a way of cleansing himself. One time, in the early days of his now long-dead marriage, he’d come home with lice in his pubes and chest hair.
He had two small tattoos, at the top of each arm, but no more. Plenty of his fellow inmates were covered in the things and had a macho pride in them. Macho pride equalled mucho stupidity, in his view. Why make it easy for someone to identify you? Besides, he had enough identifying marks already – five scars on his back, from stab wounds when he’d been set on in prison by mates of a drug dealer he’d done over some years back.
This last sentence had been his longest yet – six years. He was finally out on licence now after three of them. Time to quit, he thought. Yeah, but.
The big but.
You were supposed to feel free when you left prison. But he still had to report to his probation officer. He had to report for retraining. He had to obey the rules of the hostels he stayed in. When you were released, you were supposed to go home.
But he had no home.
His dad was long dead and he’d barely spoken a dozen words to his mum in twenty-five years – and that was too many. His only sibling, his sister Mags, had died from a heroin overdose five years back. His ex-wife was living in Australia with his kid, whom he hadn’t seen in ten years.
Home was wherever he could find a place to doss down. Last night it was a room in a halfway house just off the Old Steine in Brighton. Shared with four pathetic, stinking winos. He’d been here before. Today he was going to try to get into a better place. St Patrick’s night shelter. They had decent grub, a place you could store things. You had to sleep in a big dormitory but it was clean. Prison was meant to help your rehabilitation back into the community after serving your time. But the reality was that the community didn’t want you, not really. Rehabilitation was a myth. Although he played the game, went along with the concept.
Ha! He wasn’t interested in retraining, but he had shown willing while he had been at Ford Open Prison these past six months in preparation for his release, because that had enabled him to spend days out of prison on their work placement scheme. Working Links, they were called. He had chosen the hotel handyman course, which enabled him to spend time in a couple of different Brighton hotels. Working behind the scenes. Understanding the layouts. Getting access to the room keys and to the electronic room-key software. Very useful indeed.
His regular prison visitor at Lewes, a pleasant, matronly lady, had asked him if he had a dream. If he could ever see a life for himself beyond the prison walls. And what was it?
Yeah, sure, he’d told her, he had a dream. To be married again. To have kids. To live in a nice house – like one of those fancy homes he burgled for a living – and drive a nice car. Have a steady job. Yep. Go fishing at the weekends. That was his dream. But, he told her, that was never going to happen.
‘Why not?’ she had asked him.
‘I’ll tell you why not,’ Darren had replied. ‘Cos I’ve got one hundred and seventy-two previous, right? Who’s gonna let me stay in a job when they find that out? And they always do find out.’ He’d paused before adding, ‘Anyhow, it’s all right here. Got me mates. The grub’s good. The electricity’s paid for. Got me television.’
Yeah, it was all right. Except…
No women. That’s what he missed. Women and cocaine were what he liked. Could get the drugs in prison, but not the women. Not very often, anyway.
The Guv had let him stay in over Christmas, but he’d been released two days after Boxing Day. To what?
Tomorrow hopefully he’d move. If you played by the rules at St Patrick’s for twenty-eight days, you could get yourself into one of their MiPods. They had these strange plastic pods in there, like space capsules, taken from some Japanese hotel idea. You could stay in a MiPod for another ten weeks. They were cramped, but they gave you privacy; you could keep your things safe.
And he had things he needed to keep safe.
His mate, Terry Biglow – if he could call the shifty little weasel a mate – was safeguarding the only possessions he owned in the world. They were inside a suitcase, with three padlocked chains holding its contents a secret – the chains and padlocks were a mark of how much he could trust Biglow not to open it up.
Maybe this time he could stay out of jail. Get enough money together, from burgling and drug dealing, to buy himself a little flat. And then what? A woman? A family? One moment that seemed attractive, the next it was all too much. Too much hassle. Truth was, he had grown used to his way of life. His own company. His own secret kicks.
His dad had been a roofer and as a kid he’d helped him out. He’d seen some of the posh houses in Brighton and Hove his dad worked on – and the tasty women with their beautiful clothes and their flash cars who lived in them. His dad fancied that kind of lifestyle. Fancied a posh house and a classy-looking woman.
One day his dad fell through a roof, broke his back and never worked again. Instead he just drank his compensation money all day and night. Darren didn’t fancy roofing, that wasn’t ever going to make you rich, he figured. Studying could. He liked school, was good at maths and science and mechanical things, loved all that. But he had problems at home. His mother was drinking too. Some time around his thirteenth birthday she clambered into his bed, drunk and naked, told him his father couldn’t satisfy her any more, now it was his job as the man in the family.
Darren went to school every day, ashamed, increasingly disconnected from his friends. His head was all messed up and he couldn’t concentrate any more. He didn’t feel a part of anything, and took to spending more and more time alone, fishing, or in really bad weather hanging about in his uncle’s locksmith’s shop, watching him cut keys, or running errands, and occasionally standing behind the counter while his uncle nipped along to the bookie. Anything to escape from home. From his mother.
He liked his uncle’s machinery, liked the smell, liked the mystery of locks. They were just puzzles, really. Simple puzzles.
When he was fifteen his mother told him it was time he started supporting her and his dad, that he needed to learn a skill, get a job. His uncle, who had no one to take over the business when he retired, offered him an apprenticeship.
Within a couple of months, Darren could solve any problem anyone had with a lock. His uncle told him he was a bloody genius!
There was nothing to it, Darren figured. Anything that was made by a man could be figured out by another man. All you had to do was think your way inside the lock. Imagine the springs, the tumblers – imagine the inside of the lock, put yourself into the mind of the man who designed it. After all, there were basically only two kinds of domestic lock – a Yale, which operated with a flat key, and a Chubb, which operated with a cylindrical key. Mortises and rim locks. If you had a problem, you could see inside most locks with a simple bit of medical kit, a proctoscope.
Then he graduated to safes. His uncle had developed a bit of a niche business, opening safes for the police. Given a bit of time, there wasn’t any mechanical safe his nephew could not open. Nor any door lock.
He’d burgled his first house, up in Hollingdean, when he was sixteen. He got busted and spent two years in an approved school. That was where he developed a taste for drugs for the first time. And where he learned his first valuable lesson. It was the same risk to burgle a shitty little house for a stereo system as it was to burgle a ritzy pad where there might be jewellery and cash.
When he came out his uncle didn’t want him back – and he had no inclination to get a low-paid labouring job, which was his only choice. Instead he burgled a house in Brighton’s secluded Withdean Road. Took seven grand from a safe. Blew three of it on cocaine, but invested four of it in heroin, which he traded and made a twenty-grand profit.
He did a string of large houses after then, made himself almost a hundred Gs. Sweet. Then he met Rose in a club. Married her. Bought a little flat in Portslade. Rose didn’t approve of him burgling, so he tried going straight. Through a bloke he knew, he faked a new ID and got a job working for a company that installed alarm systems called Sussex Security Systems.
They had a top-end clientele. Half of the city’s big homes. Being in them was like being a kid in a sweetshop. It did not take him long to miss the buzz of burgling. Particularly the kick he got out of it. But even more particularly the money he could make.
The best of all of it was being alone in a posh bedroom. Smelling the scent of a rich woman. Inhaling her perfumes, the perspiration on her underwear in the wash baskets, her expensive clothes hanging in her wardrobe, her silks, cottons, furs, leathers. He liked rifling through her things. Particularly her underwear and her shoes. Something about these places aroused him.
These women were from a different world to the one he knew. Women beyond his means. Beyond his social skills.
Women with their stuffy husbands.
These kinds of women were gagging for it.
Sometimes a scent of cologne or a sour odour on a soiled garment would remind him of his mother, and something erotic would burn inside him for a brief instant, before he suppressed it with a flash of anger.
For a while he’d been able to fool Rose by telling her he was going fishing – night fishing, mostly. Rose asked him why he never took the kid fishing. Darren told her he would, when the kid was older. And he would have done, he really would.
But then one February evening, burgling a house in Tongdean, the owner came home, surprising him. He legged it out the back, across the garden and straight into the deep end of an empty sodding swimming pool, breaking his right leg, his jaw and his nose, and knocking himself out cold.
Rose only visited him once in prison. That was to tell him she was taking the kid to Australia and she never wanted to see him again.
Now he was out and free again, he had nothing. Nothing but his suitcase at Terry Biglow’s place – if, of course, Terry was still there and not dead or back inside. And nothing else but his hard, scarred body, and the urges from three years of lying on his narrow bunk, dreaming of what he would do when he was back out…
Monday 29 December
‘I can forget that I saw your face,’ Rachael said, staring up at him.
In the yellow glow of the interior light he looked jaundiced. She tried to make eye contact, because in the dim, distant, terror-addled recesses of her mind, she remembered reading somewhere that hostages should try to make eye contact. That people would find it harder to hurt you if you established a bond.
She was trying, through her parched voice, to bond with this man – this monster – this thing.
‘Sure you can, Rachael. When do you think I was born? Yesterday? Last week on Christmas fucking Day? I let you go, right, and one hour later you’ll be in a police station with one of those E-Fit guys, describing me. Is that about the size of it?’
She shook her head vigorously from side to side. ‘I promise you,’ she croaked
‘On your mother’s life?’
‘On my mother’s life. Please can I have some water? Please, something.’
‘So I could let you go, and if you do cheat me and go to the police, it would be OK for me to go round to your mother’s house, in Surrenden Close, and kill her?’
Dimly, Rachael wondered how he knew where her mother lived. Perhaps he had read it in the papers? That gave her a glimmer of hope. If he had read it in the papers, then it meant she was in the news. People would be out looking for her. Police.
‘I know everything about you, Rachael.’
‘You can let me go. I’m not going to risk her life.’
‘In your dreams.’
Thursday 8 January
He liked to be inside nice big houses. Or, more accurately, to be inside the inside of these houses.
Sometimes, squeezed into narrow cavities, it felt as if he was wearing the house like a second skin! Or squeezed into a wardrobe, surrounded by hanging dresses and the tantalizing smells of the beautiful woman who owned them, and of the leather of her shoes, he would feel on top of the world, as if he owned the woman.
Like the one who owned the dresses all around him now. And who owned racks and racks full of some of his favourite designer shoes.
And for a while, soon now, he would own her! Very soon.
He already knew a lot about her – far more than her husband did, he was sure about that. It was Thursday. He’d watched her for the past three nights. He knew the hours she came home and went out. And he knew the secrets on her laptop – so obliging of her to have no password! He’d read the emails to and from the Greek man she was sleeping with. The files with the photographs she had taken of him, some of them very rude indeed.
But for a while, if he got lucky, he would be her lover tonight. Not Mr Hairy Designer Stubble, with his massive, indecently big pole.
He would have to be careful not to move an inch when she came home. The hangers were particularly clanky – they were mostly those thin metal ones that came from dry-cleaners. He’d removed some, the worst offenders, and laid them on the wardrobe floor, and he’d wrapped tissues around the ones nearest him. Now all he had to do was wait. And hope.
It was like fishing. A lot of patience was required. She might not come home for a long time, but at least there was no danger of her husband returning tonight.
Hubby had gone on a jet plane far, far away. To a software conference in Helsinki. It was all there on the kitchen table, the note from him to her telling her he’d see her on Saturday, and signed off, Love you XXXX, with the name of the hotel and the phone number.
Just to be sure, as he’d had time to kill, he’d phoned the hotel using the kitchen phone and asked to speak to Mr Dermot Pearce. He was told in a slightly sing-song voice that Mr Pearce was not picking up and asked if he would like to leave a message on his voicemail.
Yes, I am about to have sex with your wife, he was tempted to say, getting caught up in the thrill of the moment, the joy at the way it was all dropping into his lap. But sensibly he hung up.
The photographs of two teenage children, a boy and a girl, displayed downstairs in the living room were a slight worry. But their two bedrooms were immaculate. Not the bedrooms of children who were living here. He concluded they were the husband’s children by a former marriage.
There was a cat, one of those nasty-looking Burmese things that had glared at him in the kitchen. He’d given it a kick and it had disappeared through the flap. All was quiet. He was happy and excited.
He could feel some houses living and breathing around him. Especially when the boilers rumbled into life and the walls vibrated. Breathing! Yes, like him now, breathing so hard with excitement he could hear the sound of it in his ears, and he could hear the pounding of his heart, the roaring of his blood coursing through his veins like it was in some kind of a race.
Oh, God, this felt so good!
Thursday 8 January
Roxy Pearce had been waiting all week for tonight. Dermot was away on a business trip and she had invited Iannis over for a meal. She wanted to make love to him here in her own home. The idea felt deliciously wicked!
She hadn’t seen him since Saturday afternoon, when she’d strutted around his apartment naked in her brand-new Jimmy Choos, and they’d screwed with her still wearing them, which had driven him wild.
She’d read somewhere that the female mosquito gets so crazed for blood that she will do anything, even if she knows she will die in the process, to get that blood.
That’s how she felt about being with Iannis. She had to see him. Had to have him, whatever the cost. And the more she had him, the more she needed him.
I am not a good person, she thought guiltily, as she drove home, accelerating her silver Boxster through the street-lit darkness up swanky Shirley Drive, past the Hove recreation ground. She turned right into The Droveway, then right again into their drive and up to the big, square, modern house they’d had built, a secluded paradise within the city, with its rear garden backing on to the playing fields of a private school. The security lights popped on as she headed along the short drive.
I am SO not a good person.
This was the kind of thing you could rot in hell for. She’d been brought up a good Catholic girl. Brought up to believe in sin and eternal damnation. And she’d got herself both the T-shirt and the one-way ticket to damnation with Dermot.
He had been married when they’d met. She’d lured him away from his wife, and the kids he adored, after an intensely passionate affair that had become stronger and stronger over two years. They’d been crazily in love. But then, when they’d got together, the magic between them had steadily evaporated.
Now those same deep passions had exploded inside her all over again with Iannis. Just like Dermot, he was married, with two much younger children. Her best friend, Viv Daniels, had not approved, warning her she was going to get a reputation as a marriage wrecker. But she couldn’t help it, could not switch off those feelings.
She reached up to the sun visor for the garage clicker, waited for the door to rise, drove into the space which seemed cavernous without Dermot’s BMW and switched off the engine. Then she grabbed the Waitrose bags off the passenger seat and climbed out.
She had first met Iannis when Dermot had taken her to dinner at Thessalonica in Brighton. Iannis had come and sat at their table when their meal was finished, plying them with ouzo on the house and staring constantly at her.
It was his voice she’d fallen for first. The passionate way he spoke about food and about life, in his broken English. His handsome, unshaven face. His hairy chest, visible through a white shirt opened almost to the navel. His ruggedness. He seemed to be a man without a care in the world, relaxed, happy in his skin.
And so intensely sexy!
As she opened the internal door, then tapped out the code on the touch pad to silence the beeping alarm warning, she did not notice that a different light on the panel was on from the usual one. It was the night-setting warning for downstairs only, isolating the upstairs. But she was totally preoccupied in an altogether different direction. Would Iannis like her cooking?
She’d opted for something simple: mixed Italian hors d’oeuvres, then rib-eye steak and salad. And a bottle – or two – from Dermot’s prized cellar.
Shutting the door behind her she called out to the cat, ‘Sushi! Yo Sushi! Yo! Mummy’s home!’
The cat’s stupid name had been Dermot’s idea – taken from the first restaurant they had gone to, in London, on their first date.
Silence greeted her, which was unusual.
Normally the cat would stride over to meet her, rub against her leg and then look up at her expectantly, waiting for dinner. But he wasn’t there. Probably out in the garden, she thought. Fine.
She looked at her watch, then at the kitchen clock: 6.05. Less than an hour before Iannis was due to arrive.
It had been another shitty day at the office, with a silent phone and the overdraft on fast-track towards its limit. But tonight, for a few hours, she was not going to care. Nothing mattered but her time with Iannis. She would savour every minute, every second, every nanosecond!
She emptied the contents of the bags on to the kitchen table, sorted them out, grabbed a bottle of Dermot’s prized Château de Meursault and put it in the fridge to chill, then she opened a bottle of his Gevrey Chambertin 2000 to let it breathe. Next she prised the lid off a can of cat food, scooped its contents into the bowl and placed it on the floor. ‘Sushi!’ she called out again. ‘Yo Sushi! Supper!’
Then she hurried upstairs, planning to shower, shave her legs, spray on some Jo Malone perfume, then go back down and get the meal ready.
From inside her wardrobe, he heard her calling out, and he pulled his hood on over his head. Then he listened to her footsteps coming up the stairs. Everything inside him tightened with excitement. With anticipation.
He was in a red mist of excitement. Hard as hell! Trying to calm his breathing. Watching her from behind the silk dresses, through the curtained glass-fronted wardrobe doors. She looked so beautiful. Her sleek black hair. The careless way she kicked off her black court shoes. Then stepped wantonly out of her navy two-piece. As if she was doing it for him!
She removed her white blouse and her bra. Her breasts were smaller than he had imagined they might be, but that did not matter. They were OK. Quite firm, but with small nipples. It didn’t matter. Breasts were not his thing.
Now her undies!
She was a shaver! Bald and white, down to a thin strip of a Brazilian! Very hygienic.
He was so aroused he was dripping perspiration.
Then she walked, naked, through into the bathroom. He listened to the hiss of the shower. This would be a good moment, he knew, but he didn’t want her all wet and slippery with soap. He liked the idea that she dried herself for him and perhaps put on some perfume for him.
After a few minutes she came back out into the bedroom, swathed in a big towel, a smaller white towel wrapped around her head. Then suddenly, as if she was giving him a private performance, she let the towel drop from her body, opened a wardrobe door, and selected from the racks a pair of elegant, gleaming black shoes with long stiletto heels.
He could barely contain his excitement as she slipped them on, placed one foot, then the other on the small armchair beside the bed and tied the straps, four on each shoe! Then she paraded around the room eyeing herself, naked, pausing to pose from every angle in the large mirror on the wall.
Oh yes, baby. Oh yes! Oh yes! Thank you!
He stared at the trim narrow strip of black pubic hair beneath her flat stomach. He liked it trim. He liked women who looked after themselves, who took care of the details.
Just for him!
She was coming towards the wardrobe now, towel still around her head. She reached out a hand. Her face was inches from his own, through the curtained glass.
He was prepared.
She pulled open the door.
His surgically gloved hand shot out, slamming the chloroform pad into her nose.
Like a striking shark, he glided out through the hanging dresses, grabbing the back of her head with his free arm, keeping up the pressure against her nose for a few seconds until she went limp in his arms.
Tuesday 30 December
Rachael Ryan lay motionless on the floor of the van. His fist hurt from where he had hit her on the head. It hurt so damned much he worried he had broken both his thumb and a finger. He could hardly move them.
‘Shit,’ he said, shaking it. ‘Shit, fuck, shit. Bitch!’
He peeled off his glove so he could examine them, but it was hard to see anything in the feeble glow of the van’s interior light.
Then he knelt beside her. Her head had gone back with a loud snap. He didn’t know if it was a bone breaking in his own hand or her jaw. She did not seem to be breathing.
He laid his head against her chest anxiously. There was movement, but he wasn’t sure if it was his movement or hers.
‘Are you OK?’ he asked, feeling a sudden surge of panic. ‘Rachael? Are you OK? Rachael?’
He worked his glove back on, gripped her shoulders and shook her. ‘Rachael? Rachael? Rachael?’
He pulled a small torch out of his pocket and shone it in her face. Her eyes were closed. He pulled one lid open and it closed again when he let go.
His panic was increasing. ‘Don’t die on me, Rachael! Do not die on me, do you hear me? Do you fucking hear me?’
Blood was trickling from her mouth.
‘Rachael? Do you want something to drink? Want me to get you something to eat? You want a McDonald’s? A Big Mac? A Cheeseburger? Or maybe a submarine? I could get you a submarine. Yeah? Tell me, tell me what filling you’d like in it. Spicy sausage? Something with melted cheese? They’re really good those. Tuna? Ham?’
Thursday 8 January
Yac was hungry. The chicken-n-melted cheese submarine had been tantalizing him for over two hours. The bag rolled around on the passenger seat, along with his Thermos flask every time he braked or went around a corner.
He’d been planning to pull over and eat it during his on-the-hour tea break, but there were too many people around. Too many fares. He’d had to drink his 11 p.m. cup while driving. Thursday nights were normally busy, but this was the first Thursday after the New Year. He had expected it to be quiet. However, some people had recovered and were out partying again. Taking taxis. Wearing nice shoes.
That was fine by him. Everyone had their own way of partying. He was happy for them all. Just so long as they paid what was on the meter and didn’t try to do a runner, as someone did every now and then. Even better when they tipped him! All tips helped. Helped towards his savings. Helped towards building up his collection.
That was growing steadily. Very nicely. Oh yeah!
A siren wailed.
He felt a sudden prick of alarm. Held his breath.
Flashing blue lights filled his mirrors, then a police car shot past. Then another police car moments later, as if following in its wake. Interesting, he thought. He was out all night most nights and it wasn’t often he saw two police cars together. Must be something bad.
He was approaching his regular spot on Brighton seafront, where he liked to pull over every hour, on the hour, during the night and drink his tea, and now, also, to read his paper. Since the rape in the Metropole Hotel last Thursday he had started to read the paper every night. The story excited him. The woman’s clothes had been taken. But what excited him most of all was reading that her shoes had been taken.
He brought the taxi to a halt, switched off the engine and picked up the carrier bag with the submarine inside, but then he put it down again. It did not smell good any more. The smell made him feel sick.
His hunger was gone.
He wondered where those police cars were headed.
Then he thought about the pair of shoes in the boot of his taxi and he felt good again.
He tossed the submarine out of the window.
Litter lout! he chided himself. You bad litter lout!
Friday 9 January
One good thing, or rather, one of the many good things about Cleo being pregnant, Grace thought, was that he was drinking a lot less. Apart from the occasional glass of cold white wine, Cleo had been dutifully abstemious, so he had cut down too. The bad thing was her damned craving for curries! He wasn’t quite sure how many more of those his system could take. The whole house was starting to smell like an Indian fast-food joint.
He longed for something plain. Humphrey was unimpressed too. After just one lick, the puppy had decided that curries were not going to provide him with any tasty leftover scraps in his bowl that he would want to eat.
Roy endured them because he felt duty-bound to keep Cleo company. Besides, in one of the pregnancy-for-men books Glenn Branson had given him, there was a whole passage about indulging and sharing your partner’s cravings. It would make your partner feel happy. And if your partner felt happy, then the vibes would be picked up by your unborn child, and it would be born happy and not grow up to become a serial killer.
Normally, he liked to drink lager with curry, Grolsch preferably or his favourite German beer, Biltberger, or the weissbier he’d developed a taste for through his acquaintance with a German police officer, Marcel Kullen, and from his visits last year to Munich. But this week it was his rota turn to be the Major Crime Branch’s duty Senior Investigating Officer, which meant he was on call 24/7, so he was reduced to soft drinks.
Which explained why he felt bright as a button, sitting in his office at 9.20 a.m. this Friday, sipping his second coffee, switching his focus from the serials to the emails that poured in as if they were coming out of a tap that had been left running, then to the paper mountain on his desk.
Just two and a bit more days to go until midnight Sunday, then another detective superintendent or detective chief inspector on the rota would take over the mantle of Senior Investigating Officer and it would be another six weeks before his turn came round again. He had so much work to get through, preparing cases for trial, as well as supervising the new Cold Case Team, that he really did not need any new cases to consume his time.
But he was out of luck.
His phone rang and as soon as he answered he instantly recognized the blunt, to-the-point voice of DI David Alcorn from Brighton CID.
‘Sorry, Roy. Looks like we’ve got another stranger rape on our hands.’
Up until now, Brighton CID had been handling the Metropole Hotel rape, although keeping Roy informed. But now it sounded as if the Major Crime Branch was going to have to take over. Which meant him.
And it was a sodding Friday. Why on Fridays? What was it about Fridays?
‘What do you have, David?’
Alcorn summed up briefly and succinctly: ‘The victim is deeply traumatized. From what Uniform, who attended, have been able to glean, she arrived home alone last night – her husband is away on a business trip – and was attacked in her house. She rang a friend, who went around this morning, and she was the one who called the police. The victim was seen by an ambulance crew but did not need medical attention. She’s been taken up to the rape centre at Crawley accompanied by a SOLO and a CID constable.’
‘What details do you have?’
‘Very sketchy, Roy. As I said, I understand she’s deeply traumatized. It sounds like a shoe was involved again.’
Grace frowned. ‘What do you have on that?’
‘She was violated with one of her shoes.’
Shit, Grace thought, scrabbling through the mess of papers on his desk for a pen and his notepad. ‘What’s her name?’
‘Roxanna – or Roxy – Pearce.’ Alcorn spelled the surname out in full. ‘Address 76 The Droveway, Hove. She has a PR agency in Brighton and her husband’s in IT. That’s all I really know at this stage. I’ve been in contact with Scenes of Crime and I’m going to the house now. Want me to pick you up on the way?’
His office was hardly on the way to the address for someone at Brighton nick, Roy thought, but he didn’t argue. He could use the time in the car to get any more information on the Metropole rape that might have surfaced and to discuss the transfer of all information to the Major Crime Branch.
When he terminated the call, he sat still for a moment, collecting his thoughts.
In particular, his mind went back to the Shoe Man. All this week, the Cold Case Team had been focusing on him as a priority to see what links, if any, they could establish in the MOs between the known cases, back in 1997, and the assault on Nicola Taylor at the Metropole on New Year’s Eve.
Her shoes had been taken. That was the first possible link. Although back in 1997 the Shoe Man took just one shoe and the woman’s panties. Both Nicola Taylor’s shoes had been taken, along with all her clothes.
Somewhere beneath his paper mountain was the massively thick folder containing the offender profile, or rather, as these were now known, the Behavioural Investigator Report. It had been written by a distinctly oddball forensic psychologist, Dr Julius Proudfoot.
Grace had been sceptical of the man when he first encountered him back in 1997 on his investigations into Rachael Ryan’s disappearance, but had consulted him on a number of cases since.
He became so absorbed in the report that he did not notice the click of his door opening and the footfalls across the carpet.
Grace looked up with a start to see Glenn Branson standing in front of his desk and said, ‘What’s your problem?’
‘Life. I’m planning to end it all.’
‘Good idea. Just don’t do it here. I’ve got enough shit to deal with.’
Branson walked around his desk and peered over his shoulder, reading for some moments before saying, ‘You know that Julius Proudfoot’s seriously off his trolley, don’t you? His reputation, right?’
‘So what’s new? You have to be seriously off your trolley to join the police force.’
‘And to get married.’
‘That too.’ Grace grinned. ‘What other great pearls of wisdom do you have for me?’
Branson shrugged. ‘Just trying to be helpful.’
What would be really helpful, Grace thought, but did not say, would be if you were about a thousand miles from here right now. If you stopped trashing my house. If you stopped trashing my CD and vinyl collections. That’s what would be really helpful.
Instead, he looked up at the man he loved more than any man he had ever met before and said, ‘Do you want to fuck off, or do you want to really help me?’
‘Sweetly put – how could I resist?’
‘Good.’ Grace handed him Dr Julius Proudfoot’s file on the Shoe Man. ‘I’d like you to summarize that for me for this evening’s briefing meeting, into about two hundred and fifty words, in a form that our new ACC can absorb.’
Branson lifted the file up, then flipped through the pages.
‘Shit, two hundred and eighty-two pages. Man, that’s a fucker.’
‘Couldn’t have put it better myself.’
Friday 9 January
Roy Grace’s father had been a true copper’s copper. Jack Grace told his son that to be a police officer meant that you looked at the world differently from everyone else. You were part of a healthy culture of suspicion, he’d called it.
Roy had never forgotten that. It was how he looked at the world, always. It was how he looked, at this moment, at the posh houses of Shirley Drive on this fine, crisp, sunny January morning. The street was one of hilly Brighton and Hove’s backbones. Running almost into the open countryside at the edge of the city, it was lined with smart detached houses way beyond the pocket of most police officers. Wealthy people lived here: dentists, bankers, car dealers, lawyers, local and London business people, and of course, as with all the smartest addresses, a smattering of successful criminals. It was one of the city’s aspirational addresses. If you lived in Shirley Drive – or one of its tributaries – you were a somebody.
At least, you were to anyone driving by who did not have a copper’s jaundiced eye.
Roy Grace did not have a jaundiced eye. But he had a good, almost photographic memory. As David Alcorn, in a smart grey suit, drove the small Ford up past the recreational ground, Grace clocked the houses one by one. It was routine for him. The London protection racketeer’s Brighton home was along here. So was the Brighton brothel king’s. And the crack cocaine king’s was just one street away.
In his late forties, short, with cropped brown hair and smelling permanently of cigarette smoke, David Alcorn looked outwardly hard and officious, but inside he was a gentle man.
Turning right into The Droveway he said, ‘This is the street the missus would like to live in.’
‘So,’ Grace said, ‘move here.’
‘I’m just a couple of hundred grand short of being a couple of hundred grand short of the down payment,’ he replied. ‘And then some.’ He hesitated briefly. ‘You know what I reckon?’
Grace watched each of the detached houses slide by. On his right, they passed a Tesco convenience store. On his left, a dairy with an ancient cobbled wall.
‘Your Cleo would like it here. Suit a classy lady like her, this area would.’
They were slowing now. Then Alcorn braked sharply. ‘That’s it there on the right.’
Grace looked for any signs of a CCTV camera as they drove down the short, laurel-lined driveway, but saw none. He clocked the security lights.
‘All right, isn’t it?’ David Alcorn said.
It was more than sodding all right, it was totally stunning. If he had the money to design and build his dream house, Grace decided, this might be one he’d copy.
It was like a piece of brilliant white sculpture. A mixture of crisp, straight lines and soft curves, some played off against each other in daring geometric angles. The place seemed to be built on split levels, the windows were vast and solar panels rose from the roof. Even the plants strategically placed around the walls looked as if they had been genetically modified just for this property. It wasn’t a huge house; it was on a liveable scale. It must be an amazing place to come home to every night, he thought.
Then he focused on what he wanted to get from this crime scene, running through a mental checklist as they pulled up behind a small marked police car. A uniformed constable, a solid man in his forties, stood beside it. Behind him, a chequered blue-and-white crime scene tape closed off the rest of the driveway, which led up to a large integral garage.
They climbed out and the Constable, a respectful old-school officer, briefed them pedantically on what he had found earlier this morning when he had attended, and informed them that SOCO was on its way. He was not able to add much more to the details Alcorn had already given Grace, other than the fact that the woman had arrived home and apparently had deactivated the burglar alarm when she entered.
While they were talking, a small white van pulled up and a senior SOCO, a Crime Scene Manager called Joe Tindall with whom Grace had worked many times and found more than a tad tetchy, climbed out.
‘Friday,’ the Crime Scene Manager muttered by way of a greeting. ‘What’s with you and sodding weekends, Roy?’ He gave Grace a smile that was incubating a leer.
‘I keep asking offenders to stick to Mondays, but they’re not an obliging lot.’
‘I’ve got tickets to Stevie Wonder at the O2 Centre tonight. If I miss that my relationship is kaput.’
‘Every time I see you, you’ve got tickets to something, Joe.’
‘Yeah. I like to think I have a life outside of this job, unlike half my colleagues.’
He gave the Detective Superintendent a pointed stare, then produced a clutch of white paper suits and blue overshoes from the rear of the van and handed them out.
Roy Grace sat on the rear sill of the van and slowly levered himself into the one-piece. Every time he did this, he cursed the designer as he wriggled to get his feet down through the trousers without tearing them, then worked himself into the arms. He was glad not to be in a public place, because the suit was almost impossible to put on without making a spectacle of yourself. Finally, grunting, he stooped down and pulled on the protective overshoes. Then he snapped on some latex gloves.
The Constable led the way inside and Grace was impressed that he’d had the good sense to mark on the ground with tape a single entry and exit route.
The open-plan hall, with polished parquet flooring, elegant metal sculptures, abstract paintings and tall, lush plants, was something that Cleo would love, he thought. There was a strong, pleasant smell of pine and a slightly sweeter, muskier scent, probably from pot-pourri, he thought. It made a refreshing change not to walk into a house that smelt of curry.
The Constable said he would come upstairs, to be available to answer questions, but he would not enter the bedroom, to minimize the disturbance in there.
Grace hoped that the officer, being this forensically aware, hadn’t trampled all over it when he had responded to the emergency call earlier. He followed Alcorn and Tindall up a glass spiral staircase, along a short galleried landing and into a huge bedroom that smelt strongly of perfume.
The windows had curtains like a fine white gauze and the walls were lined with fitted wardrobes with curtained glass panels. The double doors of one of them were open and several dresses on their hangers lay fallen on the carpeted floor.
The centrepiece of the room was a king-sized bed with four tapered wooden columns rising from it. An unwound dressing gown cord lay around one of them, and a striped man’s tie, knotted to a plain tie, around another. Four more ties, knotted together into two doubles, lay on the floor. The cream satin duvet was badly rumpled.
‘Mrs Pearce was left gagged and tied by her wrists and ankles to each of those posts,’ the Constable said from the doorway. ‘She managed to free herself at about half past six this morning, and then she called her friend.’ He checked his notebook. ‘Mrs Amanda Baldwin. I have her number.’
Grace nodded. He was staring at a photograph on a glass-topped dressing table. It was of an attractive woman, with sleek black hair clipped up, wearing a long evening dress, standing next to a sharp-looking guy in a dinner suit.
Pointing at it, he said, ‘Presume this is her?’
David Alcorn studied her too.
‘What state was she in?’ Grace asked the Constable.
‘Pretty bad shock,’ he replied. ‘But quite compos mentis, considering her ordeal, if you know what I mean.’
‘What do we know about her husband?’
‘He went away yesterday on a business trip to Helsinki.’
Grace thought for a moment, then looked at David Alcorn. ‘Interesting timing,’ he said. ‘Might be significant. I’d like to find out how often he goes away. It could be someone who knows her, or who’s been stalking her.’
Turning to the Constable, he said, ‘He was wearing a mask, right?’
‘Yes, sir, he was – a hood with slits cut in.’
Grace nodded. ‘Has the husband been contacted?’
‘He’s going to try to get a flight back today.’
Alcorn went out to check the other rooms.
Joe Tindall was holding a compact camera up to his eye. He took a 360-degree video of the scene, then zoomed in on the bed.
‘Did you attend alone?’ Grace asked the Constable.
He cast his eyes around the room as he spoke. On the floor lay a pair of cream undies, a white blouse, a navy skirt and top, tights and a bra. They weren’t strewn around the room as if they had been torn off the woman; they looked as if they had been stepped out of carelessly and left where they fell.
‘No, sir, with Sergeant Porritt. He’s accompanied her and the SOLO to the Saturn Centre.’
Grace made a brief sketch plan of the room, noting the doors – one to the hallway, one to the en-suite bathroom – and the windows, all as possible entry/exit areas. He would require careful combing of the room for fingerprints, hair, fibres, skin cells, saliva, semen, possible lubricant traces from a condom, if one had been used, and footprints. The outside of the house would need to be searched carefully also, especially for footprints, and for clothing fibres that might have come off on a wall or a frame if the offender escaped via a window, as well as for cigarette butts.
He would need to write out and give Tindall his recovery policy on how much of the contents of the room and the house and surroundings he might want bagged and tagged for lab testing. The bedding, for sure. Towels in the bathroom in case the offender had dried his hands or any parts of his body. The soap.
He made notes, padding around the room, looking for anything out of the ordinary. There was a huge fixed mirror facing the bed, put there for kinky purposes he thought, not disapprovingly. On one bedside table were a diary and a chick-lit novel and on the other a pile of IT magazines. He opened each of the wardrobe doors in turn. There were more dresses hanging here than he had ever seen in his life.
Then he opened another and, breathing in a luxurious rich scent of leather, he encountered an Aladdin’s cave of shoes. They were racked floor-to-ceiling on slide-out drawers. Grace was no expert on ladies’ footwear, but he could tell at a glance that these were serious and classy. There had to be more than fifty pairs in here. The next door he opened revealed another fifty pairs. Followed by the same behind the third door.
‘Looks like she’s a high-maintenance lady!’ he commented.
‘I understand she has her own business, Roy,’ David Alcorn said.
Grace silently chided himself. It had been a stupid comment, the kind of sexist assumption he might have expected from someone like Norman Potting.
He walked over to the window and peered out at the rear garden, a handsomely landscaped plot, with an oval swimming pool, beneath its winter cover, as its centrepiece.
Beyond the garden, visible through dense shrubs and young trees, were school playing fields. Rugby posts were up on two pitches and netted football goals on a third. This would have made a possible access route for the offender, he thought.
Who are you?
The Shoe Man?
Or just another creep?
Friday 9 January
‘Yer could have fucking knocked,’ Terry Biglow whined.
Knocking had never been Darren Spicer’s style. He stood in the small room, in the semi-darkness from the drawn window blind, clutching his holdall and trying to breathe in as little as possible of the fetid air. The room reeked of ingrained cigarette smoke, old wood, dusty carpet and rancid milk.
‘Thought you was still inside.’ The elderly villain’s voice was small and reedy. He lay, blinking into Spicer’s torch beam. ‘Anyhow, what the fuck you doing here at this hour?’
‘Been shagging,’ Spicer replied. ‘Thought I’d pop by and tell you all about her, and pick up my stuff while I was at it.’
‘Like I need to know. My days of shagging are over. Can hardly get it to piss. What do you want? Stop shining that bleedin’ thing in my face.’
Spicer flicked the beam around the walls, found a wall switch and clicked it on. A gloomy overhead light in an even gloomier tasselled shade came on. He wrinkled his face in disgust at the sight of this room.
‘You gone over the wall again?’ Biglow said, still blinking.
He looked terrible, Spicer thought. Seventy, going on ninety.
‘Good behaviour, mate, yeah? I’m on early release licence.’ He tossed a wristwatch on to Biglow’s chest. ‘Brought you a present.’
Biglow grabbed it with his gnarled little hands and peered at it greedily. ‘Wossis? Korean?’
‘It’s real. Nicked it last night.’
Biglow hauled himself up a little in the bed, scrabbled on the table beside him and put on some reading glasses that were unfashionably large. Then he studied the watch. ‘Tag Heuer Aquaracer,’ he announced. ‘Nice one. Thieving and shagging?’
‘Other way around.’
Biglow gave him a thin smile, revealing a row of sharp little teeth the colour of rusty tin. He was wearing a filthy-looking T-shirt that might once have been white. Beneath it he was all skin and bone. He smelt of old sacks.
‘Nice,’ he said. ‘Very nice. Wot yer want for it?’
‘Yer having a laugh. Might get yer a monkey if I can find a buyer – and if it’s kosher and not some copy. Otherwise, a one-er now. I could give yer a one-er now.’
A monkey was £500; a one-er £100.
‘It’s a two-grand watch,’ Spicer said.
‘And we’re in a bleedin’ recession and all.’ Biglow looked at the watch again. ‘You’re lucky you didn’t come out much later.’ He fell silent, then when Spicer said nothing he went on. ‘I ain’t got long, see?’ He coughed, a long, harsh, racking cough that made his eyes water, and spat some blood into a grimy handkerchief. ‘Six months they gimme.’
Darren Spicer cast his eyes around the basement bedsit. It shook as a train thundered close by outside, emitting an eerie howl. A cold draught of air blew through the room. The place was a tip, just like he remembered it when he had last been here, over three years ago. A threadbare carpet covered some of the floorboards. Clothes hung from the dado rail on wire hangers. An old wooden clock on a shelf said it was 8.45. A crucifix was nailed to the wall just above the bed and a Bible lay on the table beside Biglow, along with several labelled bottles of medication.
This is going to be me in thirty years’ time, if I get that far.
Then he shook his head. ‘This it, Terry? This where you’re ending your days?’
‘It’s all right. It’s convenient.’
‘Convenient? Convenient for what? The fucking funeral parlour?’
Biglow said nothing. A short distance away, across the Lewes Road, adjacent to the cemetery and the mortuary, was a whole line of undertakers.
‘Ain’t yer got running water?’
‘Course I have,’ Biglow spluttered, through another fit of coughing. He pointed across the room at a washbasin.
‘Don’t you ever wash? It smells like a toilet in here.’
‘You want a cup of tea? Coffee?’
Spicer looked at a corner shelf on which sat a kettle and some cracked mugs. ‘No thanks. Not thirsty.’
He shook his head as he looked down at the old villain. You were a big player in this city. Even I was shit scared of you as a lad. Just the name Biglow put the fear into most people. Now look at you.
The Biglows had been a crime family to be reckoned with, running one of the major protection rackets, controlling half of Brighton and Hove’s drug scene, and Terry had been one of the scions. He wasn’t a man you messed with, not if you didn’t want a razor scar across your cheek or acid thrown in your face. He used to dress mean and sharp, with big rings and watches, and drive fancy cars. Now, ruined by booze, his face was all sallow and shrunken. His hair, which used to be freshly coiffed, even at midnight, now looked more worn than the carpet, and was the colour of nicotine from some off-the-shelf dye.
‘On the nonce’s wing, were you, in Lewes, Darren?’
‘Screw you. I was never no nonce.’
‘Not what I heard.’
Spicer looked at him defensively. ‘I told you it all before, right? She was gagging for it. You can tell a woman that’s gagging for it. Threw herself at me, didn’t she? I had to push her away.’
‘Funny the jury didn’t believe yer.’
Biglow pulled a packet of cigarettes out of a drawer, shook out a cigarette and put it in his mouth.
Spicer shook his head. ‘Lung cancer and you’re lighting up?’
‘Big lot of difference that’s going to make now, nonce.’
‘Always nice to see yer, Darren.’
He lit his cigarette using a plastic lighter, inhaled and was then lost in a coughing fit.
Spicer knelt down, rolled back the carpet, removed some floorboards, then extricated the old, square leather suitcase which had three chains around it, each secured with a heavy-duty padlock.
Biglow held up the watch. ‘Tell you what. I always been a fair man and don’t want you thinkin’ ill of me after I gone. We got three years’ left-luggage fee to negotiate and all. So what I’ll do is give you thirty quid for the watch. Can’t say fairer than that.’
‘A fucking carpet?’
In a fit of fury, Spicer grabbed Terry Biglow’s hair with his left hand and jerked him up, out of bed, and held him in front of his face, dangling him like a ventriloquist’s dummy. He was surprised how light the man was. Then he slammed a rising punch under his chin as hard as he could, with his right hand. So hard it hurt like hell.
Terry Biglow went limp. Spicer released him and he fell to the floor in a crumpled heap. He took a few steps forward and trampled out the cigarette that was burning. Then he looked around the squalid bedsit for anything that might be worth taking. But other than recovering the watch, there was nothing. Nothing at all. There really wasn’t.
Lugging the heavy suitcase under one arm, and his holdall containing all his basics, he let himself out of the door, hesitating for one moment, in which he turned back to the crumpled heap.
‘See you at your funeral, mate.’
He closed the door behind him, then climbed the stairs and went out into the freezing, blustery Brighton Friday morning.
Friday 9 January
For the second time in just over a week, the Sexual Offences Liaison Officer, DC Claire Westmore, was back at the Saturn Centre, the Sexual Assault Referral Centre attached to Crawley Hospital.
She knew from experience that no two victims ever reacted the same way, and nor did their conditions remain static. One of the difficult tasks facing her right now was to keep abreast of the changing state of mind of the woman she was with. But while treating her sensitively and sympathetically, and trying to make her feel as safe as possible, she could not lose sight of the cruel fact that Roxy Pearce, like it or not, was a crime scene from whom every possible scrap of forensic evidence needed to be obtained.
When that was completed, she would let the woman rest – safe here in this suite – and with the help of medication get some sleep. Tomorrow, when hopefully the woman would be in a better state, the interview process could start. For Roxy Pearce, as with most victims, that was likely to mean three gruelling days of reliving what had happened, with Westmore extracting from her a harrowing narrative that would eventually fill thirty pages of her A4 notebook.
At this moment she was going through the most distressing part of all for the victim – and for herself. They were alone with a female Forensic Medical Examiner, or FME, as Police Surgeons were now called, in the sterile Forensic Room. Roxy Pearce was wearing only the white towelling dressing gown and pink slippers in which she had travelled here. She’d had a blanket wrapped around her for warmth in the police car, but now that had been removed. She sat, hunched and silent and forlorn, on the blue examining couch, her head bowed, eyes staring blankly at nothing, her long black hair matted and partially obscuring her face. From being hyper-talkative when the police had first arrived at her house, she had now become almost catatonic.
Claire Westmore had heard victims say that being raped was like having their souls murdered. Just as with murder, there was no going back. No amount of therapy would restore Roxy Pearce to the person she had previously been. Yes, in time she would recover a little, enough to function, to live a seemingly normal life. But it would be a life constantly stalked by the shadow of fear. A life in which she would find it hard ever to trust anyone or any situation.
‘You’re safe here, Roxy,’ Claire said to her with a bright smile. ‘You’re in the safest possible place. He can’t get to you here.’
She smiled again. But there was no response. It was like talking to a waxwork.
‘Your friend Amanda is here,’ she went on. ‘She just went out for a ciggie. She’s going to stay with you all day.’ Again she smiled.
Again the blank expression. The dead eyes. Blank. As blank as everything in here around her. As blank and numb as her insides.
Roxy Pearce’s eyes registered the magnolia-coloured walls of the small room. Recently painted. The round, institutional clock showing the time as 12.35. A rack of boxes containing blue latex gloves. Another rack of blue and red crates containing syringes, swabs and vials, all sealed in sterile wrappers. A pink chair. Weighing scales. A basin with a moisturizer dispenser on one side and sterile handwash on the other. A telephone sitting on a bare white work-surface like some unused lifeline in a television quiz game. A foldaway screen on castors.
Tears welled in her eyes. She wished Dermot was here. She wished, in her addled mind, that she hadn’t been unfaithful to him, hadn’t had this crazy thing with Iannis.
Then suddenly she blurted out, ‘It’s all my fault, isn’t it?’
‘Why do you think that, Roxy?’ the SOLO asked, jotting down her words in the log she was keeping in her notepad. ‘You mustn’t blame yourself at all. That’s not right.’
But the woman lapsed back into silence.
‘OK, my love. Don’t worry. You don’t have to say anything to me. We don’t have to talk today if you don’t want to, but what I do need to do is obtain forensic evidence from you, to help us try to catch the man who did this to you. Is that all right with you?’
After some moments, Roxy said, ‘I feel dirty. I want to take a shower. Can I do that?’
‘Of course, Roxy,’ the Forensic Medical Examiner said. ‘But not just yet. We don’t want to wash away any evidence, do we?’ She had a slightly bossy tone, Claire Westmore thought, a little too officious for the victim’s fragile state.
Silence again. Roxy’s mind went off on a tangent. She had taken out two of Dermot’s best bottles. Left them somewhere. One open on the kitchen table, the other in the fridge. She would have to buy a bottle somewhere to replace the opened one, and go to the house before Dermot came back and replace them in the cellar. He’d go loopy otherwise.
The FME snapped on a pair of latex gloves, walked over to the plastic crates and removed the first item from its sterile wrapping. A small, sharp implement for taking scrapings from underneath fingernails. It was possible the woman had scratched her attacker and that crucial skin cells containing his DNA might be trapped beneath her nails.
This was just the start of a long ordeal for Roxy Pearce in this room. Before she would be permitted to take a shower, the FME would have to take swabs from every part of her body where contact with her assailant might have occurred, looking for saliva, semen and skin cells. She would comb her pubic hair, take her blood alcohol and a urine sample for toxicology tests, and sketch in the Medical Examination Book any damage to the genital area.
As the FME worked her way through each of the woman’s nails, bagging the scrapings separately, the SOLO tried to reassure Roxy.
‘We’re going to get this man, Roxy. That’s why we’re doing this. With your cooperation, we’ll be able to stop him from doing this to anyone else. I know it must be hard for you, but try to hold on to that.’
‘I don’t know why you’re bothering,’ Roxy suddenly said. ‘Only 4 per cent of rapists ever get convicted. Right?’
Claire Westmore hesitated. She’d heard that nationwide it was actually only 2 per cent, because just 6 per cent of rapes were ever reported. But she didn’t want to make things worse for the poor woman.
‘Well, that’s not entirely true,’ she answered. ‘But the figures are low, yes. That’s because so few victims have your guts, Roxy. They don’t have the courage to come forward like you are doing.’
‘Guts?’ she retorted bitterly. ‘I don’t have guts.’
‘Yes, you do. You really do have guts.’
Roxy Pearce shook her head bleakly. ‘It’s my fault. If I’d had guts, I’d have stopped him. Everyone’ll think I must have wanted him to do this, that I must have encouraged him somehow. Anyone else might have managed to stop him, knee him in the nuts or something, but I didn’t, did I? I just lay there.’
Friday 9 January
Darren Spicer’s morning was getting better. He’d recovered his things from Terry Biglow and now he had a place to store them, a tall, cream metal locker with a key of his own at St Patrick’s night shelter. And he hoped, in a few weeks, he’d get a MiPod there.
The big Neo-Norman church at the end of a quiet residential street in Hove had adapted to the changing world. With its shrinking congregation, much of St Patrick’s cavernous interior had been partitioned off and placed in the hands of a charity for the homeless. Part of it was a fourteen-bed dormitory where people could doss down for a maximum of three months. Another part, the MiPod Room, was a sanctuary. It was where people who showed real intentions of retraining could stay for a further ten weeks in the hope of giving them a stable base.
The MiPod Room was modelled on Japanese capsule hotels. It was a self-contained space, with six plastic pods, a kitchen area and a living area with television. Each of the pods was large enough to sleep in and to store a couple of suitcases.
To become eligible for one, first Spicer had to convince the management here that he was a model resident. He hadn’t thought beyond those ten weeks in the pod, but by then, with luck, he’d have plenty of cash to rent a flat or house again.
Being a model resident meant obeying the rules, such as having to be out by 8.30 a.m. and not returning until dinnertime at 7.30 p.m. During the hours in between he was meant to be retraining. Yeah, well, that’s what they would all think he was doing. He’d report to the retraining centre and sign on, and hopefully get a job in the maintenance department of one of Brighton’s posh hotels. There’d be some easy pickings in the rooms from that. Should be able to build himself a nice stash. And stumble across a willing woman or two, like he had last night.
Shortly after midday, dressed in a windcheater over a sweater, jeans and sneakers, he left the retraining centre. The interview had gone fine and he now possessed a stamped form and the address of the swanky Grand Hotel on the seafront, where he would start on Monday. He had the rest of today to kill.
As he mooched along Western Road, the wide shopping street connecting Brighton with Hove, his hands were dug into his pockets against the cold. He had just £7 in his pocket – all that was left from his £46 prison discharge allowance, plus the small amount of cash he’d had on him when he’d last been arrested. And he had his emergency stash in the suitcase he had retrieved from Terry Biglow.
In his head he was making out a shopping list of stuff he needed. He was given basic necessities here, like new razor blades, shaving cream, toothpaste. But he needed a few treats. He walked past a bookshop called City Books, then stopped, turned back and peered at the display in the window. Dozens of books, some by authors whose names he knew, others by authors he’d never heard of.
It was still a novelty being out. To smell the salty sea air. To walk freely among women. To hear the hum and buzz and roar of vehicles and occasional snatches of music. Yet although he felt free, he felt vulnerable and exposed too. Life inside, he realized, had become his comfort zone. He didn’t know this other world so well any more.
And this street seemed to have changed in the past three years. It was much more vibrant than he remembered. As if the world, three years on, was a party he had not yet been invited to.
It was lunchtime and the restaurants were starting to get busy. Filling up with strangers.
Just about everyone was a stranger to him.
Sure, there were a few friends he could contact, and would in time. But he didn’t have a lot to say to them at the moment. Same old same old. Yeah. He’d call them when he needed to score some coke. Or when he had some brown to sell.
A police car was coming past in the opposite direction and automatically he turned and peered in through an estate agent’s window, pretending to be interested.
Most of the police in this city knew his face. Half of them had nicked him at one time or another. He had to remind himself that he was permitted to walk down this street now. That he wasn’t a fugitive. He was a citizen of Brighton and Hove. He was like everyone else!
He stared at some of the houses on display. A nice one opposite Hove Park caught his eye. It looked familiar and he had a feeling he’d burgled it some years ago. Four bedrooms, conservatory, double garage. A nice price too: £750,000. Yeah, a bit above his bracket. Like £750,000 above his bracket.
The huge Tesco supermarket was a short distance ahead of him now. He crossed the road and walked in past the queue of waiting cars at the car-park barriers. Plenty of smart ones. A convertible Beemer, a nice Merc sports and several huge, in-your-face off-roader jobs – Brighton and Hove ladies doing their shopping. Yummy mummies with infants strapped smugly into their child seats in the rear.
People with folding money, with credit cards, debit cards, Tesco Club Cards.
How obliging some of them were!
He stopped outside the front entrance, watching the stream of people coming out with their bags or with laden trolleys. He ignored the ones holding just a couple of bags; they were of no interest to him. It was the laden trolleys he focused on. The mummies and daddies and rest-home proprietors doing their big shop for the weekend ahead. The ones who would have had £200 and more swiped from their MasterCards, or Barclaycards, or Amex.
Some had infants strapped into the buggy seats in their trolleys, but he wasn’t interested in those. Who the fuck wanted baby food?
Then he saw her coming out.
Oh yes! Perfect!
She looked rich. She looked arrogant. She had the kind of figure he’d lain on the top bunk of his cell dreaming about for three years. She had a trolley piled so high that the top layer defied gravity. And she was wearing really nice boots. Snakeskin, with five-inch heels, he guessed.
But it wasn’t the shoes that interested him at this moment. It was the fact that she paused by the dustbins, screwed up her receipt and tossed it in. He strolled nonchalantly over to the bin, keeping an eye on her, while she pushed her trolley towards a black Range Rover Sport.
Then he slipped his hand inside the top of the bin and pulled out a clutch of receipts. It only took a moment to find hers – it was a good two feet long, with a checkout time of just two minutes ago.
Well, well – £185! And, a real bonus, it was a cash receipt, which meant he would not have to produce any credit card or ID. He read down the items: wine, whiskey, prawn cocktail, moussaka, apples, bread, yoghurt. So much stuff. Razor blades! Some of the stuff he didn’t want, but hey, this was not the time to be fussy… Fantastic! He gave her a little wave, which she never saw. At the same time, he clocked her car’s registration number – well, she was a looker with nice shoes, you never knew! Then, grabbing a trolley, he entered the store.
It took Spicer half an hour to go through her list, item by item. He was aware of the checkout time printed at the bottom, but he had his story ready, that one of the eggs was broken so he’d gone to replace it, and then he’d stopped for a coffee.
There was some stuff, such as a dozen tins of cat food, that he really did not need, and two tins of smoked oysters he could have done without, but he decided it was better to match the items on the list exactly, in case he was challenged. Six frozen steak and kidney pies he truly blessed her for. His kind of grub! And the half a dozen tins of Heinz Baked Beans. He had no stomach for fancy stuff. He approved of her choice of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, but wished she had chosen something more to his taste than Baileys. She was big into organic eggs and fruit. He could live with that.
He would take his shopping home and chuck or maybe flog or barter for cigarettes the stuff he did not want. Then he would go out on the hunt.
Life was looking good. Only one thing could improve it for him at the moment. Another woman.
Friday 2 January
It was now eight days since Rachael Ryan had been reported missing by her parents.
Eight days in which there had been no proof of life.
Roy Grace had worked doggedly on the case since Christmas Day, increasingly certain something was very wrong, until Chief Inspector Jack Skerritt had insisted that the Detective Sergeant take New Year’s Eve off to spend with his wife.
Grace had done so reluctantly, torn between his concern to find Rachael and his need to keep the peace at home with Sandy. Now, after a two-day absence, he returned on this Friday morning to a briefing update by Skerritt. The Chief Inspector told his small team of detectives of his decision, made in consultation with his ACC, to upgrade Operation Sundown to an Incident Room. A HOLMES – Home Office Large Major Enquiry System team – had been requisitioned, and six additional detectives from other parts of the county were being drafted in.
The Incident Room was set up on the fourth floor of John Street police station, next to the CCTV department and across the corridor from the busy Operation Houdini Incident Room, where the investigation into the Shoe Man continued.
Grace, who was convinced that the two operations should be merged, was allocated his present desk, where he was to be based for the duration of the inquiry. It was by the draughty window, giving him a bleak view across the car park and the grey, rain-soaked rooftops towards Brighton Station and the viaduct.
Seated at the next desk along was DC Tingley, a bright, boyish-looking twenty-six-year-old police officer whom he liked. In particular, he liked the man’s energy. Jason Tingley, sleeves rolled up, was on the phone, pen in hand, dealing with one of the dozens of calls that had come in following their reconstruction, three days earlier, of Rachael’s journey from the East Street taxi rank back home.
Grace had a thick file on Rachael Ryan on his desk. Already, despite the holidays, he had her bank and her credit-card details. There had been no transactions during the past week, which meant he could effectively rule out that she had been mugged for the contents of her handbag. There had been no calls from her mobile phone since 2.35 on Christmas morning.
However, there was something useful he had gleaned from the mobile phone company. There were mobile phone base stations, or mini masts, located around Brighton and Hove, and every fifteen minutes, even in standby mode, the phone would send a signal to the nearest mast, like a plane radioing its current position, and receive one back.
Although no further calls had been made from Rachael Ryan’s phone, it had remained switched on for three more days, until the battery died, he guessed. According to information he’d received from the phone company, shortly after her last phone call, she had suddenly moved two miles east of her home – in a vehicle of some kind, judging from the speed at which it had happened.
She had remained there for the rest of the night, until 10 a.m. on Christmas Day. Then she had travelled approximately four miles west, into Hove. Again the speed of the journey indicated that she was travelling in a vehicle. Then she had stopped and remained static until the last signal received, shortly after 11 p.m. on Saturday.
On a large-scale map of Brighton and Hove on the Incident Room wall, Grace had drawn a red circle around the maximum area that would be covered by this particular beacon’s range. It included most of Hove as well as part of Brighton, Southwick and Portslade. Over 120,000 people lived within its radius – an almost impossible number for house-to-house enquiries.
Besides, the information was only of limited value, he realized. Rachael could have been separated from her phone. It was just an indicator of where she might be, but no more. But so far it was all they had. One line he would try, he decided, was to see if anything had been picked up on CCTV cameras on the routes matching the signal information. But there was only coverage on major routes and that was limited.
Rachael did not own a computer and there was nothing on the one in her office at American Express to give any clue as to why she might have disappeared.
At the moment it was if she had fallen through a crack in the earth.
Tingley put down the phone and drew a line through the name he had written a couple of minutes earlier on his pad. ‘Tosser!’ he said. ‘Time waster.’ Then he turned to Roy. ‘Good New Year’s Eve, mate?’
‘Yeah, it was all right. Went with Dick and Leslie Pope to Donatello’s. You?’
‘Went up to London with the missus. Trafalgar Square. It was brilliant – until it started pissing with rain.’ He shrugged. ‘So what do you think? She still alive?’
‘Not looking good,’ he replied. ‘She’s a homebody. Still sore about the bust-up with her ex. Into shoes, big time.’ He looked at his colleague and shrugged. ‘That’s the bit I keep coming back to.’
Grace had spent an hour earlier in the day with Dr Julius Proudfoot, the behavioural analyst Operation Houdini had drafted into their team. Proudfoot told him that, in his view, Rachael Ryan’s disappearance could not be connected to the Shoe Man. He still did not understand how the arrogant psychologist had arrived at that conclusion, since he had so little evidence.
‘Proudfoot insists this isn’t the Shoe Man’s style. He says the Shoe Man attacks his victims and then leaves them. Because he’s used the same MO for five victims, Proudfoot doesn’t accept that he would suddenly have changed and kept one.’
‘Similar MO, Roy,’ Jason Tingley said. ‘But he takes them in different places, right? He tried that first one in an alley. One in a hotel room. One in her home. One under the pier. One in a multi-storey car park. Clever if you want to look at it that way – makes it hard for anyone to second-guess him.’
Grace looked down at his notes, thinking hard. There was one common denominator with each of the Shoe Man’s victims. All of them were into designer shoes. Each one had bought a new pair of shoes, from different shops in Brighton, shortly before they were attacked. But so far interviews with staff in the shops had revealed nothing helpful.
Rachael Ryan had bought a new pair of shoes too. Three days before Christmas. Expensive for a girl of her means – £170. She had been wearing them the night she vanished.
But Proudfoot had dismissed that.
Grace turned to Tingley and told him this.
Tingley nodded, looking pensive suddenly. ‘So if it isn’t the Shoe Man, who’s taken her? Where has she gone? If she’s OK, why isn’t she contacting her parents? She must have seen the appeal in the Argus or heard it on the radio.’
‘Doesn’t make any sense. She normally phones her parents every day and chats to them. Eight days of silence? And at this time of year – Christmas and New Year? No call to wish them Happy Christmas or Happy New Year? Something’s happened to her, for sure.’
Tingley nodded. ‘Abducted by aliens?’
Grace looked back down at his notes. ‘The Shoe Man took his victims in a different place each time, but what he did to them was consistent. And even more important was what he did to his victims’ lives. He didn’t need to kill them. They were already dead inside by the time he had finished with them.’
Are you a victim of the Shoe Man, Rachael? Or has some other monster got you?
Friday 9 January
MIR-1, the larger of the two Major Incident Rooms at Sussex House, had an atmosphere that Roy Grace always found energizing.
Located in the heart of the Major Crime Suite at the CID headquarters, it would have looked to a casual observer like any other large administrative office. It had cream walls, functional grey carpeting, red chairs, modern wooden workstations, filing cabinets, a water dispenser and several large whiteboards on the walls. The windows were high up, with permanently closed blinds across them, as if to discourage anyone from wasting one second of their time looking out of them.
But to Roy Grace this was much more than an office. MIR-1 was the very nerve centre of his current investigation, as it had been with the previous ones he had run from here, and to him it had an almost hallowed atmosphere. Many of the worst crimes committed in Sussex in the past decade had been solved, and the offenders locked up, thanks to the detective work that had been carried out in this room.
The red, blue and green marker-pen scrawlings on the whiteboards in any other office out in the commercial world might have been performance figures, sales targets, market penetrations. Here they were timelines of the crimes, family trees of the victims and suspects, along with photographs and any other key information. When they got an E-Fit of the offender, hopefully soon, that would go up too.
The place instilled in everyone a sense of purpose, of racing against a clock, and, except during briefings, there was little of the chat and banter between colleagues that was usual in police offices.
The only frivolity was a photocopied cartoon of a fat blue fish from the film Finding Nemo which Glenn Branson had stuck on the inside of the door. It had become a tradition in Sussex CID for a jokey image to be found for each operation, to provide a little light relief from the horrors that the team had to deal with, and this was the movie-buff Detective Sergeant’s contribution to Operation Swordfish.
There were three other dedicated Major Crime Suites around the county, also housing similar rooms, the most recent being the purpose-built one at Eastbourne. But this location was more convenient for Roy Grace, as well as being well sited, because the two crimes he was now investigating had occurred only a couple of miles away.
There were all kinds of repeating patterns in life, he had noticed, and it seemed that recently he was on a run of crimes that took place – or were discovered – on Fridays, thus ensuring his and everyone else’s weekend was wiped out.
He was meant to be going to dinner with Cleo at one of her oldest friend’s tomorrow night – Cleo wanted to show him off, as she grinningly told him. He had been looking forward to a further insight into the life of this woman he was so deeply in love with and still knew so little about. But that was now down the khazi.
Fortunately for him, unlike Sandy, who had never understood or got used to his frequent crazy working hours, Cleo was regularly on call herself 24/7, having to go out at all hours to recover bodies from wherever they were found. Which made her much more sympathetic – although not always totally forgiving.
It was the case in the early stages of any major crime investigation that everything else had to be instantly dropped. The first task of the Senior Investigating Officer’s assistant was to clear the SIO’s diary.
It was the first twenty-four hours after the crime had been discovered that were the most crucial. You needed to protect the crime scene to preserve the forensic evidence as much as possible. The perpetrator would be at his most heightened state of anxiety, the red mist that people tended to be in after committing a serious crime, in which they might behave erratically, drive erratically. There would be possible eyewitnesses for whom it was all fresh in their minds, and a chance to reach them quickly through the local press and media. And all CCTV cameras within a reasonable radius would still retain footage for those past twenty-four hours.
Grace looked down at the notes typed by his assistant – his MSA – which lay beside his fresh Policy Book for this case.
‘It is 6.30 p.m., Friday, 9 January,’ he read out. ‘This is the first briefing of Operation Swordfish.’
The Sussex Police computer threw up operation names at random, most of them totally irrelevant to the case on which they were working. But here, he thought wryly, it was just a tad appropriate, fish being slippery creatures.
Grace was pleased that all but one of the trusted key CID members he wanted for his core team were available. Seated around the workstation with him were DC Nick Nicholl, still looking bleary-eyed from recent fatherhood, DC Emma-Jane Boutwood, highly effective DS Bella Moy, an open box of Maltesers, as ever, in front of her, belligerent DS Norman Potting, and Grace’s mate and protégé DS Glenn Branson. Absent was DS Guy Batch-elor, who was away on annual leave. Instead he had a detective constable he’d worked with some while back and had been very impressed with, Michael Foreman, a lean, quietly authoritative man, with gelled dark hair, who had an air of calm about him that made people naturally turn to him, even when he wasn’t the senior officer present at a situation. For the past year, with a temporary promotion to acting sergeant, Foreman had been on secondment to the team at the Regional Intelligence Office. Now he was back at Sussex House, in his old rank, but Grace did not think it would be long before the man became a full sergeant. And, no question, he was heading for a much higher things than that.
Also present among Grace’s regulars was HOLMES analyst John Black, a mild, grey-haired man who could have been a backroom accountant, and DC Don Trotman, a Public Protection Officer, who would be tasked with checking on MAPPA, the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements, whether any recently released prisoners who were sexual offenders fitted the MO of the current offender.
New to the team was an analyst, Ellen Zoratti, who would be working closely with Brighton division and the HOLMES analyst, progressing the intelligence leads, checking with the National Police Crime Database and SCAS, the Serious Crime Analysis Section, as well as carrying out instructions from Roy Grace.
Also new was a female press officer, Sue Fleet, from the revamped Police Public Relations Team. The pleasant thirty-two-year-old redhead, who had been a trusted and popular member of the Central Brighton John Street team, had replaced the previous public relations officer, Dennis Ponds, a former journalist who had never had an easy relationship with many members of this force, including Grace himself.
Grace wanted Sue Fleet present to organize an immediate media strategy. He needed to get a quick public response to help in the task of finding the offender and to alert the female population to the possible dangers they now faced, but at the same time he did not want to throw the city into panic. It was a delicate PR balance and would be a challenging task for her.
‘Before I start,’ Grace said, ‘I want to remind you all of some statistics. In Sussex we have a good clear-up rate for homicide – with 98 per cent of all murders in the past decade solved. But in rape we’ve fallen behind the national average of 4 per cent to just above 2 per cent. This is not acceptable.’
‘Do you think that’s down to the attitude of some police officers?’ asked Norman Potting, dressed in one of the tired old tweedy jackets that reeked of pipe smoke that he always seemed to wear. In Grace’s view they made him look more like an elderly geography teacher than a detective. ‘Or that some victims are just not reliable witnesses – because of other agendas?’
‘Other agendas, Norman? Like that old attitude police officers used to have that women who got raped asked for it? Is that what you mean?’
Potting grunted, non-committally.
‘For God’s sake, what planet are you on?’ Bella Moy, who had never liked him, rounded on him furiously. ‘It’s like living a real Life on Mars working with you.’
The DS shrugged defensively and then mumbled, barely audibly, as if he wasn’t convinced enough to say whatever he had on his mind more boldly, ‘We know that some women cry rape out of guilt, don’t they? It does make you wonder.’
‘Makes you wonder what?’ Bella demanded.
Grace was glaring at him, scarcely able to believe his ears. He was so angry he was tempted to kick the man off his investigation right now. He was beginning to think he had made a mistake bringing this tactless man in on such a sensitive case. Norman Potting was a good policeman, with a range of detective skills that were, unfortunately, not matched by his social skills. Emotional intelligence was one of the major assets of a good detective. On a scale of one to a hundred, Potting would have rated close to zero on this score. Yet he could be damned effective, particularly on outside enquiries. Sometimes.
‘Do you want to stay on this investigation, Norman?’ Grace asked him.
‘Yes, Chief, I do. I think I could contribute to it.’
‘Really?’ Grace retorted. ‘Then let’s get something straight, from the start.’ He glanced around the assembled company. ‘I hate rapists as much as I hate murderers. Rapists destroy their victims’ lives. Whether it is a stranger rape, a date rape or a rape by someone the victim knew and thought they trusted. And there’s no difference in that, whether it’s female rape or male rape, OK? But at this moment we happen to be dealing with attacks on women, which are more common.’
He stared pointedly at Norman Potting, then went on: ‘Being raped is like being in a bad car crash that leaves you disabled for life. One moment a woman is going about her day or her night, in her comfort zone, the next moment she is shattered, and she’s all smashed up in the wreckage. She faces years of counselling, years of terror, nightmares, mistrust. No matter how much help she receives, she will never be the same again. She will never lead what we know as a normal life again. Do you understand what I’m saying, Norman? Some women who are raped end up maiming themselves afterwards. They scrub their vaginas with wire wool and bleach because they have such a need to get rid of what happened. That’s just a small part of what being raped can do to someone. Do you understand?’ He looked around. ‘Do you all understand?’
‘Yes, chief,’ Potting mumbled in his thick burr. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be insensitive.’
‘Does a man with four failed marriages know the meaning of the word insensitive,’ Bella Moy asked, angrily snatching a Malteser from the box, popping it in her mouth and crunching it.
‘OK, Bella, thank you,’ Grace said. ‘I think Norman knows where I’m coming from.’
Potting stared at his notepad, his face a dark shade of beetroot, and nodded, chastened.
Grace looked back down at his notes. ‘We have another slightly sensitive issue. The Chief Constable, the Deputy Chief Constable and two of our four Assistant Chief Constables were all at the same dinner dance at the Metropole Hotel on New Year’s Eve which Nicola Taylor, the first rape victim, attended.’
There was a moment of silence as everyone reflected on this.
‘Are you saying that makes them suspects, boss?’ DC Michael Foreman asked.
‘Everyone who was in the hotel is a potential suspect, but I think I’d prefer to call them at this point material witnesses to be eliminated from our enquiries,’ Grace replied. ‘They’re going to have to be interviewed along with everyone else. Any volunteers?’
No one raised a hand.
Grace grinned. ‘Looks like I’ll have to allocate that task to one of you. Could be a good opportunity to get noticed for promotion, or screw up your career permanently.’
There were a few uncomfortable smiles in the room.
‘Perhaps I can recommend our master of tact, Norman Potting,’ Bella Moy said.
There was a titter of laughter.
‘I’d be happy to take that on,’ Potting said.
Grace, deciding that Potting was the last person in this room he would allocate that task to, scribbled a note in his Policy Book, then studied his briefing notes for a moment.
‘We have two stranger rapes within eight days, with enough similarity in the MO to assume for the moment it is the same offender,’ he went on. ‘This charmer made both his victims perform sexual acts on themselves with their shoes, then penetrated them anally with the heels of their shoes, then raped them himself. From what we have been able to establish – and the second victim has so far only given us a little information – he was unable to maintain an erection. This may have been due to premature ejaculation or because he is sexually dysfunctional. There is one significant difference in his MO. Back in 1997, the Shoe Man took only one shoe, and his victim’s panties. In the Metropole rape of Nicola Taylor he took all her clothes, including both her shoes. With Roxy Pearce, he took just her shoes.’
He paused to look down at his notes again, while several members of his team made notes also.
‘Our offender appears to be forensically aware. In each case he wore a black hood and surgical gloves and used a condom. He either shaved his bodily hair or naturally had none. He is described as being of medium to small height, thin and softly spoken, with a neutral accent.’
Potting put up his hand and Grace nodded.
‘Chief, you and I were both involved with Operation Sundown, the disappearance of a woman back in 1997 which may or may not have been connected to a similar case then, the Shoe Man – Operation Houdini. Do you think there’s a possible link?’
‘Apart from the differences in the trophies he took, the Shoe Man’s MO is remarkably similar to the current offender’s.’ Grace nodded at the Analyst. ‘This is one reason I’ve brought Ellen in.’
Sussex CID employed forty analysts. All but two of them were female, most of them with social sciences backgrounds. Male analysts were so rare that they were nicknamed manolysts. Ellen Zoratti was a very bright woman of twenty-eight, with dark hair just off her shoulders, cut in a sharp, modern style, and was elegantly dressed in a white blouse, black skirt and zebra-striped tights.
She would alternate round-the-clock twelve-hour shifts with another analyst and could play a crucial role over the coming days. Between them they would carry out subject profiles on the two victims, providing the team with information on their family backgrounds, their lifestyles, their friends. They would be researching them with the same depth of detail as if they were offenders.
Additional and possibly crucial information would be provided by the High-Tech Crime Unit, down on the ground floor, which had begun the process of analysing the mobile phones and computers of the two victims. They would be studying all the calls and texts made and received by the two women, from information on their phones and from their phone companies. They would look at their emails and at any chatlines either of them might have engaged with. Their address files. The websites they visited. If they had any electronic secrets, Grace’s investigation team would soon know of them.
In addition, the High-Tech Crime Unit had deployed a Covert Internet Investigator to log into shoe- and foot-fetish chat rooms and build up relationships with other visitors, in the hope of finding some with extreme views.
‘Do you think it could be a copycat, Ellen?’ Michael Foreman asked her. ‘Or the same offender from 1997 again?’
‘I’ve started work on a comparative case analysis,’ she replied. ‘One of the crucial pieces of information withheld from the press and the public in Operation Houdini was the MO of the offender. It’s too early to give you anything definitive, but from what I have so far – and it is very early days – it’s looking possible that it’s the same offender.’
‘Do we have any information on why the Shoe Man stopped offending, sir?’ Emma-Jane Boutwood asked.
‘All we do know from Operation Houdini,’ Grace said, ‘is that he stopped offending at the same time as Rachael Ryan – possibly his sixth victim – disappeared. I was involved in her case, which is still open. We have no proof – or even evidence – that she was a victim, but she fitted one of his patterns.’
‘Which was?’ Michael Foreman asked.
‘She had bought an expensive pair of shoes from a shop in Brighton approximately a week before she disappeared. Each of the Shoe Man’s victims had bought a new, expensive pair of shoes shortly before they were attacked. One line of enquiry that Operation Houdini pursued at the time was questioning customers in Brighton and Hove’s shoe shops. But no leads came from that.’
‘Was there CCTV analysis then?’ Bella Moy asked.
‘Yes,’ Grace replied. ‘But the quality wasn’t so good, and the city didn’t have anything like the networked coverage it has now.’
‘So what are the theories on why the Shoe Man stopped?’ Michael Foreman asked.
‘We don’t know. The profiler – behavioural analyst – at the time, Julius Proudfoot, told us he might have moved away, to a different county or overseas. Or that he could be in prison for some other offence. Or that he could have died. Or it was possible he could have entered into a relationship that satisfied his needs.’
‘If it is the same person, why would he stop for twelve years and then start offending again?’ Bella Moy asked. ‘And with a slightly different MO?’
‘Proudfoot doesn’t attach much importance to the difference in the trophies from 1997 to now. He is more interested that the overall MO is so similar. His view is that there could be a number of explanations why someone starts to reoffend. If it is the Shoe Man, he could simply have moved back into the area, thinking enough time has lapsed. Or the relationship he got into has changed and no longer satisfies his desires. Or he has been released from prison, where he’s been for some other offence.’
‘A pretty serious one if he’s done twelve years,’ Glenn Branson said.
‘And easy to research,’ Grace said. Then he turned to Ellen Zoratti. ‘Ellen, have you found any other rapes with similar MOs around the country? Or where someone has been banged up for twelve years?’
‘Nothing matching the Shoe Man other than a character in Leicester called James Lloyd, who raped women and then took their shoes, sir. He’s currently doing life. I’ve checked back on all his offences and his movements, and eliminated him. He was in Leicester at the time these offences in Brighton were committed, and I have confirmation that he is currently in prison.’ She paused and glanced at her notes. ‘I have made a list of all sexual offenders who went inside no earlier than January 1998 and who were released prior to this past New Year’s Eve.’
‘Thanks, Ellen, that’s very helpful,’ Grace said. Then he addressed his whole team. ‘It’s a fact that a high percentage of stranger rapists tend to start with more minor offences. Flashing, frotting – rubbing themselves up against women – masturbating in public. That sort of thing. It’s quite possible our offender was arrested for some minor offence at quite a young age. I’ve asked Ellen to check the local and national police databases for offenders and offences that might fit with this timeline before his first rapes in 1997 – and during the period in between. Checking for instances of theft or acts of indecency with ladies’ shoes, for example. I also want every prostitute and dominatrix in the area questioned about any clients they might have with foot or shoe fetishes.’
Then he turned to Glenn Branson. ‘Related to this, DS Branson’s been studying Dr Proudfoot’s report on the Shoe Man. What do you have for us, Glenn?’
‘It’s a real page-turner!’ Glenn picked up a heavy-looking document. ‘Two hundred and eighty-two pages of behavioural analysis. I’ve only had a chance to speed read it, since the chief tasked me with it earlier today, but there is something very interesting. There were five reported offences linked directly to the Shoe Man but Dr Proudfoot believes he could have committed a lot more that weren’t reported.’
He paused for a moment. ‘Many rape victims are so traumatized they cannot face the process of reporting it. But here’s the really interesting thing: the first of the Shoe Man’s reported rapes, back in 1997, occurred in the Grand Hotel, following a Halloween ball there. He lured a woman into a room. Does that sound familiar?’
There was an uncomfortable silence in the room. The Grand Hotel was next door to the Metropole.
‘There’s more,’ Branson went on. ‘The room at the Grand was booked by a woman – in the name of Marsha Morris. She paid cash and all efforts to trace her at the time failed.’
Grace absorbed the information in silence, thinking hard. The room at the Metropole, where Nicola Taylor was raped on New Year’s Eve, was booked by a woman, according to the manager. Her name was Marsha Morris too. She paid in cash. The address she wrote in the register was false.
‘Someone’s having a laugh,’ Nick Nicholl said.
‘So does this mean it’s the same perp,’ Emma-Jane Boutwood said, ‘or a copycat with a sick sense of humour?’
‘Was any of this information released to the public?’ Michael Foreman asked.
Grace shook his head. ‘No. The name Marsha Morris was never public knowledge.’
‘Not even to the Argus?’
‘Especially not to the Argus.’ Grace nodded for Branson to continue.
‘Here’s where it gets even more interesting,’ the DS said. ‘Another of the victims was raped in her home, in Hove Park Road, exactly two weeks later.’
‘That’s a very smart address,’ Michael Foreman said.
‘Very,’ Grace agreed.
Branson continued. ‘When she arrived home, the burglar alarm was switched on. She deactivated it, went up into her bedroom and the offender struck – coming at her from out of a wardrobe.’
‘Just like Roxy Pearce’s attacker last night,’ Grace said. ‘From what we know so far.’
No one spoke for several moments.
Then Branson said, ‘The Shoe Man’s next victim was raped on the beach, beneath the Palace Pier. The one after that in the Churchill Square car park. His final one – if the chief’s assumption is right – was taken walking home from a Christmas Eve piss-up with her friends.’
‘So what you’re saying, Glenn,’ Bella said, ‘is that we should be taking a close look at car parks in a week’s time.’
‘Don’t go there, Bella,’ Grace said. ‘We’re not going to let this get that far.’
He put on a brave, confident smile for his team. But inside he felt a lot less sure.
Tuesday 6 January
‘Does it work?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, course it works. Wouldn’t be selling it otherwise, would I?’ He glared at the lean man in the brown boiler suit as if he had just insulted his integrity. ‘Everything in here works, mate, all right? If you want rubbish I can point you up the street. In here I only do quality. Everything works.’
‘It had better.’ He stared down at the white chest freezer that was tucked away between the upturned desks, swivel office chairs and upended settees at the rear of the vast second-hand furniture emporium in Brighton’s Lewes Road.
‘Money-back guarantee, all right? Thirty days, any problems, bring it back, no quibble.’
‘Fifty quid you’re asking?’
‘What’s your trade price?’
‘Everything here’s trade price.’
‘Give you forty.’
‘Taking it away with you? I’m not delivering for that price.’
‘Gimme a hand out with it?’
‘That your van outside?’
‘Better get a move on. There’s a warden coming.’
Five minutes later he jumped into the cab of the Transit, a few seconds ahead of the traffic warden, started the engine and drove it with a bump off the pavement and away from the double yellow lines. He heard the clang of his new purchase bouncing on the hessian matting on the otherwise bare metal floor behind him and moments later heard it sliding as he braked hard, catching up the congested traffic around the gyratory system.
He crawled passed Sainsbury’s, then made a left turn at the lights, up under the viaduct, and then on, heading towards Hove, towards his lock-up garage, where the young woman lay.
The young woman whose face stared out at him from the front page of the Argus, on every news-stand, beneath the caption HAVE YOU SEEN THIS PERSON? Followed by her name, Rachael Ryan.
He nodded to himself. ‘Yes. Yep. I’ve seen her!’
I know where she is!
She is waiting for me!
Shoes are your weapons, ladies, aren’t they? You use them to hurt men in so many ways, don’t you?
Know what I’m saying? I’m not talking about the physical, about the bruises and cuts you can make on a man’s skin by hitting him with them. I’m talking about the sounds you make with them. The clack-clack-clack of your heels on bare floorboards, on concrete paving stones, on floor tiles, on brick paths.
You’re wearing those expensive shoes. That means you’re going somewhere – and you’re leaving me behind. I hear that clack-clack-clack getting fainter. It’s the last sound of you I hear. It’s the first sound of you I hear when you come back. Hours later. Sometimes a whole day later. You don’t talk to me about where you’ve been. You laugh at me, sneer at me.
Once when you came back and I was upset, you walked over to me. I thought you were going to kiss me. But you didn’t, did you? You just stamped your stiletto down hard on my bare foot. You drilled it right through the flesh and bone and into the floorboard.
Saturday 10 January
He’d forgotten how good it had felt. How addictive it had been! He’d thought that maybe just one, for old times’ sake. But that one had immediately given him the taste for another. And now he was raring to go again.
Make the most of these winter months, when he could wear a coat and a scarf, hide that Adam’s apple, strut around freely, just like any other elegant Brighton lady! He liked the dress he had chosen, Karen Millen, and the camel Prada coat, the Cornelia James shawl around his neck, the big shiny shoulder bag and the slinky black leather gloves on his hands! But most of all he liked the feel of his wet-look boots. Yep. He felt soooooo good today! Almost, dare he say it, sexy!
He made his way through the Lanes, through the light drizzle that was falling. He was all wrapped up and snug against the rain and the cold wind, and, yes, sooooo sexy! He cast constant sideways glances at himself in shop windows. Two middle-aged men strode towards him, and one gave him an appreciative glance as they passed. He gave a coy smile back, snaking his way on through the throng of people in the narrow streets. He passed a modern jewellery shop, then an antiques shop that had a reputation for paying good prices for stolen valuables.
He walked down past the Druid’s Head pub, the Pump House, then English’s restaurant, crossed East Street and turned right towards the sea, heading towards Pool Valley. Then he turned left in front of the restaurant that had once been the ABC cinema and arrived outside his destination.
The shoe shop called Last.
It was a specialist designer-shoe shop and stocked a whole range of labels to which he was particularly partial: Esska, Thomas Murphy, Hetty Rose. He stared at Last’s window display. At pretty, delicate, Japanese patterned Amia Kimonos. At a pair of Thomas Murphy Genesis petrol court shoes with silver heels. At brown suede Esska Loops.
The shop had wooden floorboards, a patterned sofa, a footstool and handbags hanging from hooks. And, at the moment, one customer. An elegant, beautiful woman in her forties with long, flyaway blonde hair who was wearing Fendi snakeskin boots. Size five. A matching Fendi handbag hung from a shoulder strap. She was dressed to kill, or to shop!
She had on a long black coat, with a high collar turned up and a fluffy white wrap around her neck. A pert snub nose. Rosebud lips. No gloves. He clocked her wedding band and her big engagement rock. She might still be married, but she could be divorced. Could be anything. Difficult to tell from here. But he knew one thing.
She was his type. Yep!
She was holding up a Tracey Neuls TN_29 Homage button shoe. It was in white perforated leather with a taupe trim. Like something Janet Leigh might have worn in the office before she stole the money in the original Psycho. But they weren’t sexy! They were sort of retro Miss America preppy, in his view. Don’t buy them, he urged silently. No, no!
There were so many other much sexier shoes and boots on display. He cast his eye over them, looking appreciatively at each of their shapes, their curves, their straps, their stitches, their heels. He imagined this woman naked, wearing just these. Doing what he told her to do with them.
Don’t buy those!
Good as gold, she put the shoe back. Then she turned and walked out of the shop.
He smelt her dense cloud of Armani Code perfume, which was like her own personal ozone layer, as she walked past him. Then she stopped, pulled a small black umbrella from her bag, held it up and popped it open. She had style, this lady. Confidence. She really, very definitely, could be his kind of lady. And she was holding up an umbrella, like a tour guide, just for him, so he could more easily spot her through the crowd!
Oh yes, my kind of lady!
The thoughtful kind!
He followed her as she set off at a determined stride. There was something predatory about her walk. She was on the hunt for shoes. No question. Which was good.
He was on the hunt too!
She stopped briefly in East Street to peer in the window of Russell and Bromley. Then she crossed over towards L.K. Bennett.
An instant later he felt a violent blow, heard a loud oath and he crashed, winded, down on to the wet pavement, feeling a sharp pain across his face, as if a hundred bees had stung him all at once. A steaming polystyrene Starbucks cup, its dark brown liquid spewing out, rolled past him. His head felt a rush of cold air and he realized, with panic, that his wig had become dislodged.
He grabbed it and jammed it back on his head, not caring for a moment how it looked, and found himself staring up at a shaven-headed tattooed man-mountain.
‘Faggot! Why don’t you look where you’re frigging going?’
‘Screw you!’ he shouted back, totally forgetting for an instant to mask his voice, scrambled to his feet, one hand clutching his blonde wig, and stumbled on, aware of the smell of hot coffee and the unpleasant sensation of hot liquid running down his neck.
‘Fucking fairy!’ the voice called after him as he broke into a run, weaving through a group of Japanese tourists, fixated on the bobbing umbrella of the woman striding into the distance. To his surprise, she did not stop to look in L.K. Bennett, but headed straight into the Lanes.
She took a left fork and he followed her. Past a pub and then another jewellery shop. He dug into his handbag, pulled out a tissue and dabbed the coffee from his smarting face, hoping it had not smeared his make-up.
Blondie crossed busy Ship Street and turned right, then immediately left into the pedestrian precinct of expensive clothes shops: Duke Street.
She entered Profile, the first shop on the right.
He peered into the window. But he wasn’t looking at the row of shoes and boots displayed on the shelves, he was looking at his own reflection. As subtly as he could, he adjusted his wig. Then he peered more closely at his face, but it seemed all right; no big, weird smears.
Then he checked on Blondie. She was sitting on a chair, hunched over her BlackBerry, pecking away at the keys. An assistant appeared with a shoebox, opened it the way a proud waiter might lift the lid from a tureen, and presented the contents for her inspection.
Blondie nodded approvingly.
The assistant removed a tall, high-heeled, blue satin Manolo Blahnik shoe with a square diamanté buckle.
He watched Blondie put the shoe on. She stood up and walked around the carpeted floor, peering at her foot’s reflection in the mirrors. She seemed to like it.
He entered the shop and began browsing, breathing in the heady cocktail of tanned leather and Armani Code. He watched Blondie out of the corner of his eye, watched and listened.
The assistant asked her if she would like to try on the left foot as well. Blondie said she would.
As she strutted around the deep-pile carpeting, he was approached by the assistant, a young, slender girl with a dark fringe of hair and an Irish accent, asking if she could help her. He told her in his softest voice that he was just looking, thank you.
‘I have to give an important speech next week,’ Blondie said, in an American accent, he noticed. ‘It’s an after-lunch thing. I’ve bought the most divine blue dress. I think blue’s good for daytime. What do you think?’
‘Blue’s a good colour on you, madam. I can tell from the shoes. Blue’s a very good colour for daytime.’
‘Yeah, um-umm. I think so too. Um-umm. I should have brought the dress along, but I know these are going to match.’
‘They’ll go with a wide range of blues.’
Blondie stared down at the reflection of the shoes in the mirror for some moments and tapped her teeth with her fingernail. Then she said the magic words, ‘I’ll take these!’
Good girl! Manolos were cool. They were beautiful. They were just so much a class act. Most importantly, they had five-inch heels.
And he liked her accent. Was it Californian?
He sidled up towards the counter as the purchase took place, listening intently, while pretending to study a pair of brown mules.
‘Are you on our mailing list, madam?’
‘I don’t think so, no.’
‘Would you mind if I entered you on it – we can let you know in advance of our sales. You can get some privileged bargains.’
She shrugged. ‘Sure, why not?’
‘If I could have your name?’
‘Dee Burchmore. Mrs.’
‘And your address?’
‘Fifty-three Sussex Square.’
Sussex Square. In Kemp Town, he thought. One of the city’s most beautiful squares. Most of its terraced houses were divided into flats. You had to be rich to have a whole house there. You had to be rich to buy the Manolos. And the handbag that went with it, which she was now fondling. Just the way he would soon be fondling her.
Kemp Town, he thought. That was an old stomping ground!
Saturday 10 January
Every time she bought a pair of shoes, Dee Burchmore got a guilty thrill. There was no need to feel guilty, of course. Rudy encouraged her to dress smart, to look great! As a senior executive of American & Oriental Banking, over here at its lavish new Brighton headquarters on a five-year posting to establish a foothold for the company in Europe, money was no object at all to her husband.
She was proud of Rudy and she loved him. She loved his ambitions to show the world that, in the wake of the financial scandals that had dogged US banking in recent years, it was possible to show a caring face. Rudy was attacking the UK mortgage market with zeal, offering deals to first-time buyers that none of the British lenders, still smarting from the financial meltdown, was prepared to consider. And she had an important role in this, in public relations.
In the time Dee had in between taking their two children, Josh, aged eight, and Chase, aged six, to school and then collecting them, Rudy had tasked her with networking as hard as she could within the city. He wanted her to find charities to which American & Oriental could make significant contributions – and, of course, gain significant publicity as benefactors to the city. It was a role she relished.
A respectable golfer, she had joined the ladies’ section of the city’s most expensive golf club, the North Brighton. She had become a member of what she had gleaned was the most influential of Brighton’s numerous Rotary Clubs and she had volunteered for the committees of several of the city’s major charitable institutions, including the Martlet’s Hospice. Her most recent appointment was to the fund-raising committee of Brighton and Hove’s principal hostel for the homeless, St Patrick’s, where they had a unique facility, offering Japanese-style pods to homeless people, including prisoners out on licence who were actively involved in retraining.
She stood in the small shop, watching the assistant wrap her beautiful blue Manolos in tissue, then carefully lay them in the box. She could not wait to get home and try her dress on with these shoes and bag. She knew they were going to look sensational. Just the thing to give her confidence next week.
Then she glanced at her watch: 3.30. Shit! It had taken longer than she thought. She was late for her appointment at the Nail Studio in Hove, on the other side of the city. She hurried out of the stop, barely clocking the weird-looking woman with lopsided blonde hair who was staring at something on display in the shop window.
She never once looked behind her all the way to the car park.
If she had, she might just have noticed this same woman following her.
Tuesday 6 January
It was shortly after 10 p.m. when Roy Grace flicked the right-turn indicator. Driving faster than was sensible in the pelting rain because he was so late, he nearly lost the back end of the car on the slippery tarmac as he swung off wide, quiet New Church Road into the even quieter residential street that led down to Hove seafront, where he and Sandy lived.
The elderly 3-Series BMW creaked and groaned, and the brakes made a scraping noise in protest. The car was months overdue for a service, but he was even more broke than ever, thanks in part to an insanely expensive diamanté tennis bracelet he had bought Sandy for a surprise for Christmas, and the service was going to have to wait a few more months yet.
Out of habit, he clocked each of the vehicles parked in the driveways and on the street, but there was nothing that seemed out of place. As he neared his home, he carefully checked those isolated patches of darkness where the orange haze of the street lighting did not quite reach.
One thing about being a copper, arresting villains and usually facing them in court months later, you never knew who might harbour a grudge against you. It was rare that revenge attacks happened, but Grace knew a couple of colleagues who had received anonymous hate mail, and one whose wife had found a death threat against her carved on a tree in her local park. It was not a worry you lost sleep over, but it was an occupational hazard. You tried to keep your address a secret, but villains had ways of finding out such things. You could never, ever totally let your guard down, and that was something Sandy resented about him.
It particularly irked her that Roy always picked a pub or restaurant table that gave him the best possible view of the room and the door, and that he always tried to sit with his back against the wall.
He smiled as he saw the downstairs lights of his house were on, which meant Sandy was still up, although he was a little sad to see the Christmas lights were now gone. He turned right on to the driveway and stopped in front of the integral garage door. Sandy’s even more clapped-out little black Golf would be parked inside, in the dry.
This house was Sandy’s dream. Shortly before she had found it, she had missed a period and their hopes had risen, only to be dashed a few weeks later. It had plunged her into a deep depression – so much so that he had become seriously worried about her. Then she rang him at the office, to say she had found a house. It was beyond their budget, she’d told him, but it had such great potential. He would love it!
They’d bought the four-bedroom semi just over a year ago. It was a big jump up the property ladder from the small flat in Hangleton where they had first lived after their marriage, and a financial stretch for both of them. But Sandy had set her heart on the house, and she’d convinced Roy they should go for it. He’d agreed against his better judgement, and knew the real reason he had said yes. It was because he could see how desperately unhappy Sandy was because of her inability to conceive and he wanted so much to please her, somehow.
Now he switched off the engine and climbed out into the freezing, pelting rain, feeling exhausted. He leaned in again, lifted the bulging attaché case containing a ton of files he needed to read through tonight off the passenger seat, hurried up to the front door and let himself in.
‘Hi, darling!’ he called out as he entered the hallway. It looked strangely bare without the Christmas decorations.
He heard the sound of voices from the television. There was a tantalizing aroma of cooking meat. Ravenous, he shrugged off his mackintosh, hung it on an antique coat rack they’d bought from a stall on the Kensington Street market, plonked his case down and walked into the living room.
Sandy, in a thick dressing gown and covered in a blanket, was lying on the sofa, cradling a glass of red wine and watching the news. A reporter was standing, holding a microphone, in a gutted, torched village.
‘I’m sorry, darling,’ he said.
He smiled at her. She looked so beautiful, with her damp hair carelessly hanging around her face, and no make-up. That was one of the things he loved most of all about her, that she looked just as good without make-up as with it. Always an early riser, he loved some mornings to lie awake in bed for a few minutes, just watching her face.
‘Sorry about what’s happening in Kosovo?’ she retorted.
He bent down and kissed her. She smelt of soap and shampoo.
‘No, for being so late. I was going to help you with the decorations.’
‘Why aren’t you sorry about Kosovo?’
‘I am sorry about Kosovo,’ he said. ‘I’m also sorry about Rachael Ryan, who’s still missing, and I’m sorry for her parents and her sister.’
‘Are they more important to you than Kosovo?’
‘I need a drink,’ he said. ‘And I’m starving.’
‘I’ve already eaten, I couldn’t wait any longer.’
‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m late. I’m sorry about Kosovo. I’m sorry about every damned problem in the world that I can’t deal with.’
He knelt and pulled a bottle of Glenfiddich from the drinks cabinet, then, as he carried it out to the kitchen, she called after him, ‘I’ve left you a plate of lasagne in the microwave and there’s salad in the fridge.’
‘Thanks,’ he called back.
In the kitchen he poured himself four fingers of whisky, popped in some ice cubes, retrieved his favourite glass ashtray from the dishwasher and went back into the living room. He pulled off his jacket, then removed his tie and plonked himself down in his armchair as she was taking up the whole sofa. He lit a Silk Cut cigarette.
Almost instantly, like a Pavlovian reaction, Sandy batted away imaginary smoke.
‘So, how was your day?’ he asked. Then he reached down and picked a pine needle off the floor.
A young, attractive woman with spiky black hair and wearing battle fatigues appeared on the screen, against a background of burnt buildings. She was holding a microphone and talking to camera about the terrible human cost of the war in Bosnia.
‘That’s the Angel of Mostar,’ Sandy said, nodding at the screen. ‘Sally Becker – she’s from Brighton. She’s doing something about the war there. What are you doing about it, Detective Sergeant, hoping soon to be Detective Inspector, Grace?’
‘I’ll start dealing with the war in Bosnia, and all the other problems of the world, when we’ve won the war in Brighton, which is the one I’m paid to fight.’ He put the pine needle in the ashtray.
Sandy shook her head. ‘You don’t get it, do you, my love? That young woman, Sally Becker, is a hero – rather, a heroine.’
He nodded. ‘She is, yes. The world needs people like her. But-’
He dragged on his cigarette and then sipped his whisky, feeling the burning, warming sensation deep in his gullet.
‘No one person can solve all the problems in the world.’
She turned towards him. ‘OK, so talk me through the one you’ve been solving.’ She turned the volume on the television down.
‘Come on, I want to hear. You never tell me about your work. You always ask me about my day and I tell you about all the weirdo people I have to deal with who come into the medical centre. But every time I ask you, I get some crap about confidentiality. So, soon-to-be Detective Inspector, tell me about your day for a change. Tell me why for ten nights running you’ve left me to eat on my own, yet again. Tell me. Remember our wedding vows. Wasn’t there something about not having secrets?’
‘Sandy,’ he said. ‘Come on! I don’t need this!’
‘No, you come on for a change. Tell me about your day. Tell me how the search for Rachael Ryan is going.’
He took another deep drag on his cigarette. ‘It’s going bloody nowhere,’ he said.
Sandy smiled. ‘Well, there’s a first! Don’t think I’ve ever heard you be so honest in all the years we’ve been married. Thank you, soon-to-be Detective Inspector!’
He grinned. ‘Shut up about that. I might not get through.’
‘You will. You’re the force’s blue-eyed boy. You’ll get the promotion. You know why?’
‘Because it means more to you than your marriage.’
‘Sandy! Come on, that’s-’
He laid his cigarette in the ashtray, jumped up from his chair, sat on the edge of the sofa and tried to put an arm around her, but she resisted.
‘Go on. Tell me about your day,’ she said. ‘I want every detail. If you truly love me, that is. I’ve never actually heard a minute-by-minute account of your day before. Not once.’
He stood up again and crushed the cigarette out, then moved the ashtray to the table beside the sofa and sat back down.
‘I’ve spent the whole day looking for this young woman, all right? Just as I’ve been doing for the past week.’
‘Yeah, fine, but what did that entail?’
‘You really want to know the details?’
‘Yes, I do. I really want to know the details. You have a problem with that?’
He lit another cigarette and inhaled. Then, with the smoke jetting from his mouth, he said, ‘I went round with a detective sergeant – a guy called Norman Potting, he’s not the most tactful officer in the force – to see the missing woman’s parents again. They’re in a terrible state, as you can imagine. We tried to reassure them about all we were doing, and took down every detail they could give us about their daughter that they might not already have done. Potting managed to upset them both.’
‘By asking a lot of awkward questions about her sex life. They needed to be asked – but there are ways of doing it…’
He took another sip of his drink and another drag, then laid the cigarette down in the ashtray. She was looking at him inquisitively.
‘You really want to hear everything else?’
‘I do, I really want to hear everything else.’
‘OK, so we’ve been trying to prise out of them everything about Rachael’s life. Did she have any friends or close work colleagues we haven’t already talked to? Had anything like this ever happened before? We tried to build up a picture of her habits.’
‘What were her habits?’
‘Phoning her parents every day, without fail. That’s the most significant one.’
‘And now she hasn’t phoned them for ten days?’
‘Is she dead, do you think?’
‘We’ve checked her bank accounts to see if any money’s been withdrawn and it hasn’t. She has a credit card and debit card, and no transactions have taken place since the day before Christmas Eve.’
He drank some more whisky and was surprised to find that he’d emptied the glass. Ice cubes tumbled against his lips as he drained the last drops.
‘She’s either being held against her will or she’s dead,’ Sandy said flatly. ‘People don’t just vanish off the face of the earth.’
‘They do,’ he said. ‘Every day. Thousands of people every year.’
‘But if she had that close connection to her parents, she wouldn’t want to hurt them deliberately, like this, surely?’
‘What does your copper’s nose tell you?’
‘That it doesn’t smell good.’
‘What happens next?’
‘We’re widening the search, the house-to-house enquiries are expanding to cover a bigger area, we’re drafting in more officers. We’re searching the parks, the waste dumps, the surrounding countryside. CCTV footage is being examined. Checks are being made at all stations, harbours and airports. Her friends are being questioned and her ex-fiancé. And we’re using a criminal psychologist – a profiler – to help.’
After some moments Sandy asked, ‘Is this the shoe rapist again, do you think? The Shoe Man?’
‘She’s mad about shoes, apparently. But this is not his MO. He’s never taken one of his victims.’
‘Didn’t you once tell me that criminals get bolder and more violent – that it’s an escalating thing?’
‘That’s true. The guy who starts out as a harmless flasher can turn into a violent rapist. So can a burglar, as he gets bolder.’
Sandy sipped her wine. ‘I hope you find her quickly and that she’s OK.’
Grace nodded. ‘Yup,’ he said quietly. ‘I hope so too.’
He had no answer. Not, at least, the one she wanted to hear.
Saturday 10 January
Yac did not like drunk people, especially drunk slappers, especially drunk slappers who got into his taxi. Especially this early on a Saturday night, when he was busy reading the latest on the Shoe Man in the Argus.
There were five drunk girls, all without coats, all in skimpy dresses, all legs and flesh, displaying their breasts and tattoos and pierced belly buttons. It was January! Didn’t they feel the cold?
He was only licensed to carry four of them. He’d told them that, but they’d been too drunk to listen, all piling in at the rank on East Street, shouting, chattering, giggling, telling him to take them to the pier.
The taxi was full of their scents: Rock ’n Rose, Fuel for Life, Red Jeans, Sweetheart, Shalimar. He recognized them all. Uh-huh. In particular, he recognized the Shalimar.
His mother’s perfume.
He told them it was only a short walk, that with the Saturday-night traffic they’d be quicker to walk. But they insisted he take them.
‘It’s bleedin’ freezing, for Christ’s sake!’ one of them said.
She was a plump little thing, wearing the Shalimar, with a mass of fair hair and half-bared breasts that looked like they’d been inflated with a bicycle pump. She reminded him a little of his mother. Something in the coarseness, the shape of her figure and the colour of her hair.
‘Yeah,’ said another. ‘Sodding bleedin’ freezing!’
One of them lit a cigarette. He could smell the acrid smoke. That was against the law too, he told her, staring at her crossly in the mirror.
‘Want a drag, gorgeous?’ she said, pouting, holding out the cigarette to him.
‘I don’t smoke,’ he said.
‘Too young, are you?’ said another, and they broke into peals of squeaky laughter.
He nearly took them to the skeletal remains of the West Pier, half a mile further along the coast, just to teach them a lesson not to risk a taxi driver’s livelihood. But he didn’t, for one reason only.
The shoes and the perfume the plump one was wearing.
Shoes that he particularly liked. Black and silver sparkly Jimmy Choos. Size four. Uh-huh. His mother’s size.
Yac wondered what she would look like naked, just wearing those shoes. Would she look like his mother?
At the same time, he wondered if she had a high- or low-flush loo in her home. But the problem with people who were drunk was that you couldn’t have a proper conversation with them. Waste of time. He drove in silence, thinking about her shoes. Smelling her perfume. Watching her in the mirror. Thinking more and more how much she looked like his mother had once looked.
He made a right turn into North Street and crossed over Steine Gardens, waited at the lights, then turned right and queued at the roundabout before coming to a halt in front of the gaudy lights of Brighton Pier.
Just £2.40 showed on the meter. He’d been sitting in the queue at the cab rank for thirty minutes. Not much for it. He wasn’t happy. And he was even less happy when someone handed him £2.50 and told him to keep the change.
‘Huh!’ he said. ‘Huh!’
The man who owned the taxi expected big money on a Saturday night.
The girls disgorged themselves, while he alternated between watching the Jimmy Choos and glancing anxiously around for any sign of a police car. The girls were cursing the cold wind, clutching their hair, tottering around on their high heels, then, still holding the rear door of the taxi open, began arguing among themselves about why they’d come here and not stayed in the bar they’d just left.
He reached across, called out, ‘Excuse me, ladies!’ then pulled the door shut and drove off along the seafront, the taxi reeking of Shalimar perfume and cigarette smoke and alcohol. A short distance along, he pulled over on to the double yellow lines, beside the railings of the promenade, and switched off the engine.
A whole bunch of thoughts were roaring around inside his head. Jimmy Choo shoes. Size four. His mother’s size. He breathed deeply, savouring the Shalimar. It was coming up to 7 p.m. His on-the-hour, every hour, mug of tea. That was very important. He needed to have that.
But he had something else on his mind that he needed more.
Saturday 10 January
Despite the cold and the biting wind, several groups of people, mostly youngsters, milled around the entrance to the pier. Garish lights sparkled and twinkled all along the structure, which stretched almost a third of a mile out into the inky darkness of the English Channel. A Union Jack crackled in the wind. A giant sandwich-board hoarding in the middle of the entrance advertised a live band. The ice-cream stall wasn’t doing much business, but there were ragged queues at the Southern Fried Chicken, Doughnut, Meat Feast and Fish and Chips counters.
Darren Spicer, wearing a donkey jacket, jeans, woollen mittens and a baseball cap pulled low, was flying high, totally oblivious to the cold, as he stood in the queue to buy a bag of chips. The aroma of frying batter was tantalizing and he was hungry. He stuck his bent roll-up in his mouth, rubbed his hands together and checked his watch. Eight minutes to seven. He needed to be back at the St Patrick’s night shelter by 8.30, lock-up time, or he would lose his bed, and it was a brisk twenty-five minutes’ walk from here, unless he jumped on a bus or, more extravagantly, took a taxi.
Tucked into one of his big inside poacher’s pockets was a copy of the Argus he’d pulled out of a wheelie bin at the Grand Hotel, where he had registered earlier, to start work on Monday, doing a job that would utilize his electrical skills. The hotel was replacing its wiring, a lot of which did not appear to have been touched for decades. On Monday he would be in the basement, running new cables from the emergency generator to the laundry room.
It was a big area and they were short-staffed. Which meant not many people would be there to keep an eye on him. Which meant he’d pretty much have the run of the place. And all its rich pickings. And he’d have access to the computer system. Now all he needed was a pay-as-you-go mobile phone. That wouldn’t be a problem.
He felt good! He felt terrific! At this moment he was the most powerful man in this whole city! And probably the horniest!
A gaggle of scantily clad girls disgorging from a taxi caught his eye. One of them was a plump little thing, with her tits almost falling out of her blouse and pouting, bee-stung lips. She tottered around on the tiles at the entrance in sparkly high heels, clutching at her hair, which was being batted by the wind. She looked as if she was a little the worse for wear from alcohol.
Her miniskirt blew up and he saw a sudden flash of the top of her thigh. It gave him a sharp prick of lust. She was his kind of girl. He liked a bit of flesh on a woman. Yeah, she was definitely his kind of tottie.
He liked her.
Liked her shoes.
He took a deep drag of his cigarette.
The taxi drove off.
The girls were arguing about something. Then they all headed to the back of the queue behind him.
He got his bag of chips, then stepped away a short distance, leaned against a stanchion and watched the girls in the queue, still arguing and joshing each other. But in particular he watched the plump one, that prick of lust growing inside him, thinking again and again of the flash of her thigh he had seen.
He had finished his chips and lit another cigarette by the time the girls had all got their bags and had fumbled in their purses for the right change to pay for them. Then they set off up the pier, the plump one trailing behind them. She was hurrying to catch up but struggling on her heels.
‘Hey!’ she called out to the two at the rear. ‘Hey, Char, Karen, not so fast. I can’t keep up with yer!’
One of the four turned round, laughing, keeping up her pace, staying level with her friends. ‘Come on, Mandy! It’s cos yer too bleedin’ fat, in’t yer!’
Mandy Thorpe, her head spinning from too many Sea Breezes, broke into a run and caught up with her friends briefly. ‘Sod off about my weight! I am so not fat!’ she shouted in mock anger. Then, as the tiled entrance gave way to the wooden boardwalk of the pier itself, both her heels stuck in a slat, her feet came flying out of them and she fell flat on her face, her handbag striking the ground and spewing out its contents, her chips scattering across the decking.
‘Shit!’ she said. ‘Shit, shit, shit!’
Scrambling back upright, she ducked down and jammed each of her feet back into the shoes, bending down even lower to lever them in with her fingers, cursing these cheap, ill-fitting Jimmy Choo copies which she had bought on holiday in Thailand and which pinched her toes.
‘Hey!’ she called out. ‘Char, Karen, hey!’
Leaving the mess of ketchup-spattered chips, she stumbled on after them, watching the slats in the decking carefully now. She followed her friends past a toy locomotive and into the bright lights and noise of the amusement arcade. Music was playing, and there were chimes from machines and the clatter of coins, and shouts of joy and angry cusses. She passed a giant illuminated pink cracker, then a glass-fronted machine filled with teddy bears, a sign flashing £35 CASH JACKPOTS, and a cash booth in the shape of a Victorian tram shelter.
Then they were outside in the biting cold again. Mandy caught up with her friends just as they passed a row of stalls, each blaring out music. HOOK A DUCK! LOBSTER POT – 2 BALLS FOR £1! HENNA TATTOOS!
In the distance to her left, across the black void of the sea, were the lights of the elegant town houses of Kemp Town. They walked on past the DOLPHIN DERBY, heading towards the carousel, helter-skelter, dodgems, the CRAZY MOUSE rollercoaster and the TURBO SKYRIDE, which Mandy had been on once – and it had left her feeling sick for days.
To their right now were the ghost train and the HORROR HOTEL.
‘I want to go on the ghost train!’ Mandy said.
Karen turned, pulling a cigarette pack out of her handbag. ‘It’s pathetic. The ghost train’s shit. It’s like nothing. I need another drink.’
‘Yeah, me too!’ said Char. ‘I need a drink.’
‘What about the Turbo?’ said another girl, Joanna.
‘No fear!’ Mandy said. ‘I want to go on the ghost train.’
Joanna shook her head. ‘I’m scared of that.’
‘It’s not really scary,’ Mandy said. ‘I’ll go on me own if you won’t come.’
‘You’re not brave enough!’ Karen taunted. ‘You’re a scaredy cat!’
‘I’ll show you!’ Mandy said. ‘I’ll bloody show you!’
She tottered over to a booth that sold tokens for the rides. None of them noticed the man standing a short distance back from them, carefully crushing his cigarette out underfoot.
Tuesday 6 January
He had never seen a dead body before. Well, apart from his mum, that was. She’d been all skeletal, wasted away from the cancer that had been on a feeding frenzy inside her, eating up just about everything except her skin. The little bastard cancer cells would probably have eaten that too if the embalming fluid hadn’t nuked them.
Although they were welcome to her. It had seemed a shame to hurt them.
His mum had looked like she was asleep. She was all tucked into bed, in her nightdress, in a room in the undertaker’s Chapel of Rest. Her hair all nicely coiffed. A bit of make-up on her face to give her some colour, and her skin had a slightly rosy hue from the embalming fluid. The funeral director had told him that she’d come up really nice.
Much nicer in death.
Dead, she couldn’t taunt him any more. Couldn’t tell him, as she climbed into his bed, that he was as useless as his drunken father. That his thing was pathetic, that it was shorter than the heels of her shoes. Some nights she brought a stiletto-heeled shoe into the bed with her and made him pleasure her with that instead.
She began calling him Shrinky. It was a name that quickly got around at his school. ‘Hey, Shrinky,’ other boys and girls would call out to him. ‘Has it grown any longer today?’
He’d sat beside her, on the chair next to her bed, the way he’d sat beside her in the ward of the hospital in the days when her life was slipping away. He’d held her hand. It was cold and bony, like holding the hand of a reptile. But one that couldn’t harm you any more.
Then he’d leaned over and whispered into her ear, ‘I think I’m supposed to tell you that I love you. But I don’t. I hate you. I’ve always hated you. I can’t wait for your funeral, because afterwards I’m going to get that urn with your ashes and throw you into a fucking skip, where you belong.’
But this new woman now was different. He didn’t hate Rachael Ryan. He looked down at her, lying naked on the bottom of the chest freezer he had bought this morning. Staring up at him through eyes that were steadily frosting over. That same glaze of frost that was forming all over her body.
He listened for a moment to the hum of the freezer’s motor. Then he whispered, ‘Rachael, I’m sorry about what happened, you know? Really I am. I never wanted to kill you. I’ve never killed anything. That’s not me. I just want you to know that. Not me at all. Not my style. I’ll look after your shoes for you, I promise.’
Then he decided he didn’t like her eyes looking at him all hostile like that. As if she was still able to accuse him, even though she was dead. Able to accuse him from some other place, some other dimension she’d now arrived at.
He slammed the lid shut.
His heart was thumping. He was running with perspiration.
He needed a cigarette.
Needed to think very, very calmly.
He lit a cigarette and smoked it slowly, thinking. Thinking. Thinking.
Her name was everywhere. Police were looking for her all over the city. All over Sussex.
He was shaking.
You stupid dumb woman, taking off my mask!
Look what you’ve done. To both of us!
They mustn’t find her. They’d know who she was if they found the body. They had all kinds of techniques. All kinds of science. If they found her, then at some point they were going to find him.
At least by keeping her cold he’d stopped the smell that had started to come from her. Frozen stuff didn’t smell. So now he had time. One option was just to keep her here, but that was dangerous. The police had put in the paper that they were looking for a white van. Someone might have seen his van. Someone might tell the police that there was a white van that sometimes drove in and out of here.
He needed to get her away.
Throwing her in the sea might be an option, but the sea might wash her body ashore. If he dug a grave somewhere out in a wood, someone’s dog might sniff her. He needed a place where no dog would sniff.
A place where no one was going to come looking.
Saturday 10 January
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all, Mandy thought to herself, her courage suddenly deserting her as she handed her token to the man in the booth of the ghost train ride.
‘Is it scary?’ she asked him.
He was young and good-looking, with a foreign accent – maybe Spanish, she thought.
‘No, is not really scary. Just a little!’ He smiled. ‘Is OK!’
She tottered along inside the railings to the first car. It looked like a wood-panelled Victorian bathtub on rubber wheels. She clambered in unsteadily, her heart in her throat suddenly, and sat down, putting her bag on the seat beside her.
‘Sorry, you can’t take bag. I look after for you.’
Reluctantly she handed it to him. Then he pulled down the metal safety bar and clicked it home, committing her.
‘Smile!’ he said. ‘Enjoy! Is OK, really!’
Shit, she thought. Then she called out to her friends. ‘Char! Karen!’
But the wind whipped her voice away. The car rumbled forward, without warning crashing through double doors into darkness. The doors banged shut behind her and the darkness was total. In contrast to the blustery sea air, in here it was dry and smelt faintly of hot electrical wiring and dust.
The darkness pressed in all around her. She held her breath. Then the car swung sharply right, picking up speed. She could hear the roar of its wheels echoing around the walls; it was like being on a tube train. Streaks of light shot past her on both sides. She heard a ghostly laugh. Tendrils brushed her forehead and her hair, and she screamed in terror, clenching her eyes shut.
This is dumb, she thought. This is so stupid. Why? Why did I do this?
Then the car crashed through more double doors. She opened her eyes to see a long-dead, dusty old man rise up from behind a writing desk and swing head first towards her. She ducked, covering her eyes, her heart pounding, all the courage the alcohol had given her deserting her now.
They went down a sharp incline. She uncovered her eyes to see that the light was fading rapidly and she was back in pitch darkness again. She heard a hissing sound. A hideous, luminous, skeletal snake reared out of the darkness and spat at her, cold droplets of water striking her face. Then a brightly lit skeleton swung out of the darkness and she ducked in terror, convinced it would hit her.
They crashed through more doors. Oh, God, how long was this going to go on for?
They were travelling fast, downhill, in darkness. She heard a screech, then a horrible cackle of laughter. More tendrils touched her, like a spider crawling through her hair. They crashed through more doors, swung sharply left and, quite suddenly, stopped. She sat for a moment in the pitch darkness, shaking. Then suddenly she felt an arm around her neck.
A human arm. She smelt warm breath on her cheek. Then a voice whispered into her ear. A voice she had never heard before.
She froze in blind panic.
‘Got a little extra for you, darling.’
Was this some prank from Char and Karen? Were they in here messing around?
Her brain was racing. Something was telling her this was not part of the ride. That something was badly wrong. The next instant she heard a clang as the safety bar jerked up. Then, whimpering in terror, she was jerked out of the car and dragged quickly over a hard surface. Something sharp bashed into her back and she was pulled through curtains into a room which smelt of oil. She was dropped on her back on to a hard surface. Then she heard the door clang shut. Heard a click that sounded like a switch, followed almost immediately by the grinding sound of heavy machinery. Then a torch was shining into her face, temporarily blinding her.
She stared up, almost paralysed by utter terror and confusion. Who was this? The ride operator she’d met outside?
‘Please don’t hurt me,’ she said.
Through the beam of light she saw the silhouette of a man’s face inside what looked like a nylon stocking with slits in it.
As she opened her mouth and tried to scream, something soft and foul-tasting was rammed into it. She heard a ripping sound and the next instant felt sticky tape being pressed over her lips and around each side of her face. She tried to scream again, but all that came out was a muffled choking sound that seemed to shimmy around inside her head.
‘You’re gagging for it, aren’t you, doll? Dressed like that? Dressed in those shoes!’
She lashed out at him with her fists, pummelling him, trying to scratch him. Then she saw something glint in the darkness. It was the head of a large claw hammer. He was holding it in a latex-gloved hand.
‘Keep still or I’ll fucking hit you.’
She still in terror, staring at the dull metal.
Suddenly she felt a crashing blow to the side of her head. Her brain filled with sparks.
She never felt him entering her or removing her shoes afterwards.
Saturday 10 January
Garry Starling entered the packed China Garden restaurant shortly after 9 p.m. and hurried towards his table, pausing only to order a Tsingtao beer from the manager, who stepped across to greet him.
‘You are late tonight, Mr Starling!’ the jovial Chinese man said. ‘I don’t think your wife is a very happy lady.’
‘Tell me something new!’ Garry replied, palming him a £20 note.
Then he hurried up the steps to his regular table and noticed that the gannets had almost finished the mixed starters. There was one solitary spring roll left in the huge bowl, and the tablecloth was littered with shreds of seaweed and stains from the spilt sauces. All three of them looked like they’d had a good few drinks.
‘Where the sodding hell have you been?’ his wife, Denise, said, greeting him with her customary acidic smile.
‘Actually I’ve been sodding working, my darling,’ he said, giving Maurice’s barmy-looking Earth Mother wife, Ulla, a perfunctory kiss, shaking Maurice’s hand and then sitting in the empty seat between them. He didn’t kiss Denise. He’d stopped greeting her with a kiss back in the year dot.
Turning and staring pointedly at his wife, he said, ‘Working. Right? Working. A word that’s not in your lexicon. Know what it means? To pay for the sodding mortgage. Your sodding credit-card bill.’
‘And your sodding camper van!’
‘Camper van?’ said Maurice, sounding astonished. ‘That’s not your style, Garry.’
‘It’s a VW. The original split-windscreen one. They’re fine investments, very collectable. Thought it would be good for Denise and me to experience the open road, sleeping out in the wild every now and then, get back to nature! I would have bought a boat, but she gets seasick.’
‘It’s midlife crisis, that what it is,’ Denise said to Maurice and Ulla. ‘If he thinks he’s taking me on holiday in a sodding van he can think again! Just like last year, when he tried to get me on the back of his motorbike to go on a blooming camping holiday in France!’
‘It’s not a sodding van!’ Garry said, grabbing the last spring roll before anyone else could get it, dipping it by mistake in the hot sauce and cramming it into his mouth.
A small thermonuclear explosion took place inside his head, rendering him temporarily speechless. Denise took good advantage of it.
‘You look like shit!’ she said. ‘How did you get that scratch on your forehead?’
‘Crawling up in a sodding loft, trying to replace an alarm wire bloody mice had eaten. A nail sticking out of a rafter.’
Denise suddenly leaned closer to him and sniffed. ‘You’ve been smoking!’
‘I was in a taxi where someone had been smoking,’ he mumbled a little clumsily, chewing.
‘Oh, really?’ She gave him a disbelieving look, then turned to their friends. ‘He keeps pretending he’s quit, but he thinks I’m stupid! He goes out to take the dog for a walk, or a bike ride, or to take his motorbike for a spin, and comes back hours later stinking of fags. You can always smell it on someone, can’t you?’ She looked a Ulla, then at Maurice and swigged some Sauvignon Blanc.
Garry’s beer arrived and he took a long pull, glancing first at Ulla, thinking that her mad hair looked even madder than usual tonight, and then at Maurice, who looked more like a toad than ever. Both of them, and Denise as well, looked strange, as if he was seeing them through distorting glass. Maurice’s black T-shirt stretched out over his pot belly, his eyes bulged out of their sockets and his expensive, hideous checked jacket, with its shiny Versace buttons, was too tight. It looked like a hand-me-down from an older brother.
Defending his friend, Maurice shook his head. ‘Can’t smell anything.’
Ulla leaned across and sniffed Garry, like a dog on heat. ‘Nice cologne!’ she said evasively. ‘Smells quite feminine, though.’
‘Chanel Platinum,’ he replied.
She sniffed again, giving a dubious frown, and raised her eyebrows at Denise.
‘So where the hell have you been?’ Denise demanded. ‘You look a mess. Couldn’t you at least have brushed your hair?’
‘It’s blowing a hooley out there, in case you haven’t noticed!’ Garry replied. ‘I had to deal with an irate client – we’re short-staffed tonight – one down with flu, one down with something else, and a bolshy Mr Graham Lewis in Steyning, whose alarm keeps going off for no reason, was threatening to change suppliers. So I had to go and sort him out. OK? Turns out it was damned mice.’
She tilted her glass into her mouth, to drain it, then realized it was already empty. At that moment a waiter appeared with a fresh bottle. Garry pointed at his own wine glass, draining his beer at the same time. His nerves were shot to hell and he needed drink right now. Lots of it.
‘Cheers, everyone!’ he said.
Maurice and Ulla raised their glasses. ‘Cheers!’
Denise took her time. She was glaring at Garry. She just did not believe him.
But, Garry thought, when had his wife last believed him about anything? He drained half of the sharp white wine in just one gulp, momentarily relieving the burning sensation in the roof of his mouth. If the truth be known, the last time she had believed him was probably on the day they got married, when he said his vows.
Although… he hadn’t even been sure then. He could still remember the look she had given him in front of the altar, as he’d slipped the ring on to her finger and got prompted through the wording by the vicar. It was not the love in her eyes that he might have expected, more the smug satisfaction of a hunter returning home with a dead animal over their shoulder.
He had nearly bailed out then.
Twelve years later, there was not a day that went by when he didn’t wish he had.
But hey. There were advantages to being married. It was important never to forget that.
Being married gave you respectability.
Saturday 10 January
‘I’ve had a go at the wording on the wedding invites,’ Cleo called out from the kitchen.
‘Great!’ Roy Grace said. ‘Want me to take a look?’
‘We’ll go through it when you’ve had supper.’
He smiled. One thing he was learning about Cleo was that she liked to plan things well in advance. It was going to be touch and go for the wedding to take place before their child was born. They couldn’t even set a firm date yet because of all the bureaucracy that had to be dealt with to have Sandy declared legally dead first.
Humphrey lay contentedly beside him now on Cleo’s living-room floor with a goofy grin, head flopped over, his tongue half out. Roy ran his palm back and forward across the happy creature’s soft, warm belly, while a Labour politician on the flat-screen TV on the wall pontificated on News at Ten.
But he wasn’t listening. With his suit jacket removed and his tie loosened, his thoughts were on the evening briefing and the pages of work he had brought home, which were spread out on the sofa beside him. In particular, he was poring over the similarities between the Shoe Man and the new offender. A number of unanswered questions were going around his mind.
If the Shoe Man was back, where had he been for the past twelve years? Or if he had remained in the city, why had he stopped offending for so long? Was it possible that he had raped other victims who had not reported it?
Grace doubted that he could have raped repeatedly for twelve years without someone reporting it. Yet so far there were no rapists showing up on the national database with a comparable MO. He could of course have gone abroad, which would take a massive amount of time and resourcing to establish.
However, this evening it emerged that there was one potential suspect in the city, following the Analyst’s search of the ViSOR and MAPPA databases, ViSOR being the Violent and Sex Offender Register and MAPPA the Multi-agency Public Protection Arrangements.
Having been set up to manage the release of violent and sexual offenders back into the community after their release from prison on licence, MAPPA graded these offenders into three categories. Level 1 was for released prisoners who were considered to have a low risk of reoffending and were monitored to ensure that they complied with the terms of their licence. Level 2 was for those considered to be in need of moderately active inter-agency monitoring. Level 3 was for those considered to have a high risk of reoffending.
Zoratti had discovered that there was a Level 2 who had been released on licence, from Ford Open Prison, having served three years of a six-year sentence, mostly at Lewes, for burglary and indecent assault – a career burglar and drugs dealer, Darren Spicer. He’d attempted to kiss a woman in a house he had broken into, then run off when she’d fought back and had pressed a hidden panic button. Later, she’d picked him out in an identity parade.
Spicer’s current place of residence was being traced urgently tonight through the Probation Service. But while he was worth interviewing, Grace wasn’t convinced Darren Spicer ticked many boxes. He had been in and out of jail several times in the past twelve years, so why had he not offended in the interim? More important, in his view, was the fact that the man had no previous record of sexual assaults. The last offence that had contributed to Spicer’s sentence appeared to be a one-off – although, of course, there was no certainty of that. With the grim statistic that only 6 per cent of rape victims ever reported the crimes, it was quite possible he had committed previous such offences and got away with them.
Next he turned his mind to the copycat theory. One thing that was deeply bothering him was the missing pages from the Rachael Ryan file. Sure, it was possible that they had simply been misfiled somewhere else. But there could be a much darker reason. Could it be that the Shoe Man himself had accessed the file and removed something that might incriminate him? If he had access to that file, he would have had access to all the Shoe Man’s files.
Or was it someone else altogether who had gained access to them? Someone who had decided, for whatever sick reason, to copy the Shoe Man’s MO.
A member of his trusted team? He didn’t think so, but of course he couldn’t discount that. There were plenty of other people who had access to the Major Crime Suite – other police officers, support staff and cleaning staff. Solving that mystery, he realized, was now a priority for him.
‘Are you nearly ready to eat, darling?’ Cleo called out.
Cleo was grilling him a tuna steak. Roy took this as a sign that maybe, finally, she was starting to wean herself off curries. The reek of them had gone and there was now a strong smell of wood smoke from the crackling fire that Cleo had lit in the grate some time before he had arrived, and the welcoming aroma of scented candles burning in different parts of the room.
He took another long sip of the deliciously cold vodka martini she had mixed, enviously, for him. He now had to drink for both of them, she’d told him – and tonight he did not have a problem with that. He felt the welcoming buzz of the alcohol and then, still mechanically stroking the dog, he lapsed back into his thoughts.
A car had been seen leaving the Pearce house in The Droveway at 9 p.m. on Thursday, which fitted perfectly with the timing of the attack. It had been travelling at speed and nearly ran over a local resident. The man was so angry he tried to take a note of the number plate, but could only be certain of two digits and one letter of the alphabet. Then he did nothing about it until he read of the attack in the Argus, which prompted him to phone the Incident Room this evening.
According to him, the driver was male, but with the vehicle’s tinted windows he had not been able to get a clear look at his face. Somewhere in his thirties or forties with short hair was the extent of his description. He did much better with the car, asserting it was a light-coloured old-model Mercedes E-Class saloon. Just how many of those Mercedes were there around, Grace wondered? Loads of them. It was going to take a while to sift through all the registered keepers when they didn’t have a full registration number to work from. And he did not have the luxury of time.
With the rising frenzy in the media after two stranger rapes in the city in a little over a week, the news stories were ramping up fear in the public. The call handlers were being inundated with queries from anxious women about whether it was safe to go out and he was aware that his immediate superiors, Chief Superintendent Jack Skerritt and ACC Peter Rigg, were anxious to see rapid progress with this case.
The next press conference was scheduled for midday on Monday. It would calm everything down greatly if he could announce they had a suspect and, even better, that they had made an arrest. OK, they had Darren Spicer as a possible. But nothing made the police look more inefficient than having to release a suspect because of lack of evidence, or because it was the wrong person. The Mercedes was more promising. But the driver wasn’t necessarily the offender. There could be an innocent explanation – perhaps a family friend who had popped round for a visit to the Pearce household, or simply someone delivering a package?
The fact that the car was being driven recklessly was a good indicator that it might have been the suspect. It was a known fact that offenders often drove badly immediately after committing a crime – because they were in a heightened state of anxiety, the red mist.
He’d sent all his team home for the night to get some rest, except for the two Analysts, who were working a 24/7 rota between them. Glenn Branson had asked him for a quick pint on the way home, but he’d apologetically excused himself, having barely seen Cleo this weekend. With his mate’s marital woes spiralling from bad to worse, he was running out of sympathetic things to say to Glenn. Divorce was a grim option, especially for someone with young kids. But he could no longer see much alternative for his friend – and wished desperately that he could. Glenn was going to have to bite the bullet and move on. An easy thing to tell someone else, but an almost impossible thing to accept oneself.
He felt a sudden craving for a cigarette, but resisted, with difficulty. Cleo was not bothered if he smoked in here, or anywhere, but he was mindful of the baby she was carrying, and all the stuff about passive smoke, and the example he needed to try to set. So he drank some more, ignoring the craving.
‘Ready in about five minutes!’ she called out from the kitchen. ‘Need another drink?’ She popped her head around the door.
He raised his glass to show it was nearly empty. ‘I’ll be under the table if I have another!’
‘That’s the way I like you!’ she replied, coming over to him.
‘You’re just a control freak!’ he said with a big grin.
He would take a bullet for this woman. He would die for Cleo gladly, he knew. Without an instant’s hesitation.
Then he felt a sudden strange pang of guilt. Wasn’t this how he’d felt once about Sandy?
He tried to answer himself truthfully. Yes, it had been total hell when she disappeared. That morning on his thirtieth birthday, they had made love before he went to work, and that same evening, when he returned home, looking forward to their celebration, she had not been there – that had been total hell.
So had the days, weeks, months and then years after. Imagining all the terrible things that might have happened to her. And sometimes imagining what might still be happening to her in some monster’s lair. But that was just one of many scenarios. He’d lost count of the number of psychics he’d had consultations or sittings with over these past ten years – and not one of them had said she was in the spirit world. Despite all of them, he was reasonably certain that Sandy was dead.
In a few months’ time it would be ten years ago that she had disappeared. An entire decade, in which he’d gone from a young man to a middle-aged fart.
In which he’d met the loveliest, smartest, most incredible woman in the world.
Sometimes he woke up and imagined he must have dreamed it all. Then he would feel Cleo’s warm, naked body beside him. He would slip his arms around her and hold her tightly, the way someone might try to hold on to their dreams.
‘I love you so much,’ he would whisper.
‘Shit!’ Cleo broke away from him, breaking the spell.
There was a smell of burning as she dashed back over to the hob. ‘Shit, shit, shit!’
‘It’s OK! I like it well done. I don’t like fish with its heart still beating!’
‘Just as well!’
The kitchen filled with black smoke and the stink of burning fish. The smoke alarm started beeping. Roy opened the windows and the patio door and Humphrey raced outside, barking furiously at something in his squeaky puppy bark, then raced back inside and tore around barking at the alarm.
A few minutes later, Grace sat at the table and Cleo placed a plate in front of him. On it lay a blackened tuna steak, a lump of tartare sauce, some limp-looking mangetout, and a mess of disintegrated boiled potatoes.
‘Eat that,’ she said, ‘and you are proving it’s true love!’
The television above the table was on, with the sound turned down. The politician had gone and now Jamie Oliver was energetically demonstrating how to slice the coral from scallops.
Humphrey nudged his right leg, then tried to jump up.
‘Down! No begging!’ he said.
The dog looked at him uncertainly, then slunk away.
Cleo sat down beside him and gave him a wide-eyed frown.
‘You don’t have to eat it if it’s really horrible.’
He forked some fish into his mouth. It tasted even worse than it looked, but only marginally. No question, Sandy was a better cook than Cleo. A thousand times better. But it did not matter to him one jot. Although he did glance a tad enviously at the dish Jamie Oliver was preparing.
‘So how was your day?’ he asked, dubiously forking another section of burnt fish into his mouth, thinking that the curries really had not been so bad after all.
She told him about the body of a forty-two-stone man she’d had to recover from his home. It had required the help of the fire brigade.
He listened in astounded silence, then ate some salad, which she put down on a side plate. At least she had managed not to burn that.
Switching subjects she said, ‘Hey, something occurred to me about the Shoe Man. Do you want my thoughts?’
‘OK, your Shoe Man – if it is the same offender as before and if he stayed in this area – I can’t see that he would have just totally stopped getting his kicks.’
‘If he stopped offending, for whatever reason, he must still have had urges. He would need to satisfy them. So maybe he’d go to dominatrix dungeons – or places like that – weird sex places, fetishes and stuff. Put yourself in his shoes, as it were – forgive the pun! You’re a creep who gets off on women’s shoes. OK?’
‘That’s one of our lines of enquiry.’
‘Yes, but listen. You’ve found a fun way of doing it – raping strangers in classy shoes and then taking those shoes. OK?’
He stared at her, without reacting.
‘Then, oooops! You go a bit too far. She dies. The media coverage is intense. You decide to lie low, ride it out. But…’ She hesitated. ‘You want the but?’
‘We don’t know for sure that anyone died. All we know is that he stopped. But tell me?’ he said.
‘You still get your rocks off on women’s feet. OK? You following me?’
‘In your footsteps? In your shoes?’
‘Sod off, Detective Superintendent!’
He raised his hand. ‘No disrespect!’
‘None taken. OK, so you are the Shoe Man, you are still turned on by feet, or by shoes. Sooner or later that thing inside you, that urge, is going to ride to the top. You’re going to need that. Where do you go? The Internet, that’s where you go! So you type in feet and fetish maybe and Brighton. Do you know what you come up with?’
Grace shook his head, impressed with Cleo’s logic. He tried to ignore the horrible stench of burnt fish.
‘A whole bunch of massage parlours and dominatrix dens – just like the ones I sometimes have to recover bodies from. You know – old geezers who get too excited-’
Her mobile phone rang.
Apologizing to Roy, she answered it. Instantly her expression switched to work mode. Then, when she ended the call, she said to him, ‘Sorry, my love. There’s a dead body in a shelter on the seafront. Duty calls.’
She kissed him. ‘I’ll be as quick as I can. See you in bed. Don’t die on me.’
‘I’ll try to stay alive.’
‘Just one part of you anyway. The bit that matters to me!’ She touched him gently, just below his belt.
Then she put a printout in front of him. ‘Have a read – make any amendments you want.’
He glanced at the paper.
Mr and Mrs Charles Morey
request the pleasure of your company
at the marriage of their daughter
to Roy Jack Grace
at All Saints’ Church, Little Bookham
‘Don’t forget to let Humphrey out for a pee and a dump before you go up!’ she said.
Then she was gone.
Moments after she closed the door, his own phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and checked the display. The number was withheld, which meant almost certainly it was someone calling from work.
And it was not good news.
Saturday 10 January
In another part of the city, just a couple of miles away in a quiet, residential Kemp Town street, another couple were also discussing their wedding plans.
Jessie Sheldon and Benedict Greene were ensconced opposite each other in Sam’s restaurant, sharing a dessert.
Anyone looking at them would have seen two attractive people, both in their mid-twenties, clearly in love. It was evident from their body language. They sat oblivious of their surroundings, and anyone else, their foreheads almost touching over the tall glass dish, each taking it in turn to dig a long spoon in and feed the other tenderly and sensually.
Neither was dressed up, even though it was Saturday night. Jessie, who had come straight from a kick-boxing class at the gym, wore a grey tracksuit with a large Nike tick across it. Her shoulder-length bleached hair was scooped up into a ponytail, with a few loose strands hanging down. She had a pretty face and, if it weren’t for her nose, she would be almost classically beautiful.
Jessie had had a complex about her nose throughout her childhood. In her view, it wasn’t so much a nose as a beak. In her teens she was forever glancing sideways to catch her reflection in mirrors or shop windows. She had been determined that one day she would have a nose job.
But that was then, in her life before Benedict. Now, at twenty-five, she didn’t care about it any more. Benedict told her he loved her nose, that he would not hear of her changing it and that he hoped their children would inherit that same shape. She was less happy about that thought, about putting them through the same years of misery she had been through.
They would have nose jobs, she promised herself silently.
The irony was that neither of her parents had that nose, nor did her grandparents. It was her great-grandfather’s, she had been told by her mother, who had a framed and fading sepia photograph of him. The damned hooked-nose gene had managed to vault two generations and fetch up in her DNA strand.
Thanks a lot, great-grandpa!
‘You know something, I love your nose more every day,’ Benedict said, holding up the spoon she had just licked clean and handing it to her.
‘Is it just my nose?’ she teased.
He shrugged and looked pensive for a moment. ‘Other bits too, I suppose!’
She gave him a playful kick under the table. ‘Which other bits?’
Benedict had a serious, studious face and neat brown hair. When she had first met him, he had reminded her of those clean-cut, almost impossibly perfect-looking boy-next-door actors who seemed to star in every US television mini series. She felt so good with him. He made her feel safe and secure, and she missed him every single second that they were apart. She looked forward with intense happiness to a life with him.
But there was an elephant in the room.
It stood beside their table now. Casting its own massive shadow over them.
‘So, did you tell them, last night?’ he asked.
Friday night. The Shabbat. The ritual Friday night with her mother and father, her brother, her sister-in-law, her grandmother, that she never missed. The prayers and the meal. The gefilte fish that her mother’s appalling cooking made taste like cat food. The cremated chicken and shrivelled sweetcorn. The candles. The grim wine her father bought that tasted like boiled tarmac – as if drinking alcohol on a Friday night was a mortal sin, so he had to ensure that the stuff tasted like a penance.
Her brother, Marcus, was the big success of the family. He was a lawyer, married to a good Jewish girl, Rochelle, who was now irritatingly pregnant, and they were both irritatingly smug about that.
She had fully intended breaking the news, the same way she had intended breaking it for the past four Friday nights. That she was in love with and intended to marry a goy. And a poor goy to boot. But she had funked it yet again.
She shrugged. ‘I’m sorry, I – I was going to – but – it just wasn’t the right moment. I think they should meet you first. Then they’ll see what a lovely person you are.’
She put down the spoon, reached across the table and took his hand. ‘I’ve told you – they’re not easy people.’
He put his free hand over hers and stared into her eyes. ‘Does that mean you’re having doubts?’
She shook her head vigorously. ‘None. Absolutely none. I love you, Benedict, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I don’t have one shred of doubt.’
And she didn’t.
But she had a problem. Not only was Benedict not Jewish or wealthy, but he wasn’t ambitious in the sense that her parents could – or would ever – understand: the monetary sense. He did have big ambitions in a different direction. He worked for a local charity, helping homeless people. He wanted to improve the plight of underprivileged people throughout his city. He dreamed of the day when no one would ever have to sleep on the streets of this rich city again. She loved and admired him for that.
Her mother had dreamed of her becoming a doctor, which had once been Jessie’s dream too. When, with lower sights, she’d opted instead to go for a nursing degree at Southampton University, her parents had accepted it, her mother with less good grace than her father. But when she graduated she decided that she wanted to do something to help the underprivileged, and she got a job that was low-paid but she loved, as a nurse/counsellor at a drug addict drop-in centre at the Old Steine in central Brighton.
A job with no prospects. Not something either of her parents could easily get their heads around. But they admired her dedication, no question of that. They were proud of her. And they were looking forward to a son-in-law, one day, they would be equally proud of. It was a natural assumption that he would be a big earner, a provider, to keep Jessie in the manner to which she was accustomed.
Which was a problem with Benedict.
‘I’m happy to meet them any time. You know that.’
She nodded and gripped his hand. ‘You’re going to meet them next week at the ball. You’ll charm them then, I’m sure.’
Her father was chair of a large local charity that raised money for Jewish causes around the world. He had booked a table at a fund-raising ball at the Metropole Hotel to which she had been invited to bring a friend.
She’d already bought her outfit and what she needed now was a pair of shoes to go with it. All she had to do was ask her father for the money, which she knew would please him no end. But she just could not bring herself to do that. She’d spotted some Anya Hindmarch shoes earlier today, in the January sale at a local store, Marielle Shoes. They were dead sexy but classy at the same time. Black patent leather, five-inch heels, ankle straps and open toe. But at £250 they were still a lot of money. She hoped that perhaps, if she waited, there might be a further reduction on them. If someone else bought them in the interim, well, too bad. She’d find something else. Brighton had no shortage of shoe shops. She’d find something!
The Shoe Man agreed with her.
He’d stood right behind her at the counter of Deja Shoes in Kensington Gardens earlier today. He’d listened to her telling the shop assistant that she wanted something classy and sexy to wear for her fiancé at an important function next week. Then he’d stood behind her at Marielle Shoes, just along the road.
And he had to admit she looked really sexy in those strapped black patent shoes she had tried on but not bought. So very sexy.
Much too sexy for them to be wasted on her fiancé.
He sincerely hoped she would return and buy them.
Then she could wear them for him!
Saturday 10 January
The words on the data unit’s screen in Yac’s taxi read:
China Garden rest. Preston St. 2 Pass. Starling. Dest. Roedean Cresc.
It was 11.20 p.m. He had been parked up for some minutes now and had started the meter running. The man who owned the taxi said he should only wait for five minutes and then start the meter. Yac wasn’t sure how accurate his watch was and he wanted to be fair to his passengers. So he always allowed twenty seconds’ grace.
Starling. Roedean Crescent.
He had picked these people up before. He never forgot a passenger and especially not these people. The address: 67 Roedean Crescent. He had memorized that. She wore Shalimar perfume. The same perfume as his mother. He had memorized that too. She had been wearing Bruno Magli shoes. Size four. His mother’s size.
He wondered what shoes she would be wearing tonight.
Excitement rose inside him as the restaurant door opened and he saw the couple emerge. The man was holding on to the woman and looked unsteady. She helped him negotiate the step down to the pavement, then he still clung to her as they walked the short distance, through the blustery wind, over to Yac.
But Yac wasn’t looking at him. He was looking at the woman’s shoes. They were nice. Tall heels. Straps. His kind of shoes.
Mr Starling peered in through the window, which Yac had opened.
‘Taaxish for Roedean Chresshent? Shtarling?’
He sounded as drunk as he looked.
The man who owned the taxi said he did not have to take drunk passengers, especially ones who might be likely to throw up. It cost a lot of money to clear vomit out of the taxi, because it went everywhere, into the vents, down the windows into the electric motors, into the cracks down the sides of the seats. People didn’t like getting into a taxi that smelt of stale sick. It wasn’t nice to drive one either.
But it had been a quiet night. The man who owned the taxi would be angry with the poor takings. He had already complained about how little Yac had taken since New Year and he’d told Yac that he’d never known any taxi driver take so little on New Year’s Eve itself.
He needed all the fares he could get, because he didn’t want to risk the man who owned the taxi firing him and having someone else drive. So he decided to take a risk.
And he wanted to smell her perfume. Wanted those shoes in the taxi with him!
The Starlings climbed into the back and he drove off. He adjusted the mirror so he could see Mrs Starling’s face, then he said, ‘Nice shoes! Alberta Ferretti, I’ll bet those are!’
‘You a fucking pervert or shomething?’ she said, sounding almost as sloshed as her husband. ‘I think you drove us before, didn’t you, quite recently? Last week? Yesh?’
‘You were wearing Bruno Maglis.’
‘You’re too fucking pershonal! None of your damned fucking business what shoes I’m wearing.’
‘Into shoes, are you?’ Yac asked.
‘Yesh, she is into fucking shoes,’ Garry Starling butted in. ‘Spends all my money on them. Every penny I make ends up on her sodding feet!’
‘That’s because, my darling, you can only get it up when – ouch!’ she cried out loudly.
Yac looked at her again in the mirror. Her face was contorted in pain. She’d been rude to him last time she had been in his taxi.
He liked seeing that pain.
Saturday 10 January
He’d spent the whole of the past few days thinking about Rachael Ryan lying in his chest freezer in his lock-up. It was hard to avoid her. Her face stared out at him from every damned newspaper. Her tearful parents spoke to him personally, and to him alone, from every damned television news broadcast.
‘Please, whoever you are, if you have taken our daughter, give her back to us. She’s a sweet, innocent girl and we love her. Please don’t harm her.’
‘It was your daughter’s damned fault!’ he whispered back at them. ‘If she hadn’t taken my mask off she’d be fine. Fine and dandy! She’d still be your loving daughter and not my damned problem.’
Slowly, steadily, the idea he had last night took hold more and more inside him. It could just be the perfect solution! He risk-assessed it over and over again. It stood up to each problem he tested it against. It would be riskier to delay than to act.
In almost every paper the white van was mentioned. It was referred to in big headlines on the front page of the Argus: DID ANYONE SEE THIS VAN? The caption beneath read: Similar to the one seen in Eastern Terrace.
The police said they had been overwhelmed with calls. How many of those calls were about white vans?
About his white van?
White Transit vans were a dime a dozen. But the police were not stupid. It was only a matter of time before a phone call led them to his lock-up. He had to get the girl out of there. And he had to do something about the van – they were getting smart with forensics these days. But deal with one problem at a time.
Outside, the rain was torrenting down. It was now 11 p.m. on Saturday. Party night in this city. But not so many people as usual would be out and about in this dreadful weather.
He made his decision and left the house, hurrying out to his old Ford Sierra runabout.
Ten minutes later, he pulled down the garage door behind the dripping-wet car, closing it with a quiet metallic clang, then switched on his torch, not wanting to risk putting on the overhead lights.
Inside the freezer, the young woman was completely frosted over, her face translucent in the harsh beam of light.
‘We’re going to take a little drive, Rachael. Hope you’re cool with that?’
Then he smirked at his joke. Yeah. Cool. He felt OK. This was going to work. He just had to stay cool too. How did that saying go that he had read somewhere: If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs…
He pulled out his packet of cigarettes and tried to light one. But his damned hand was shaking so much, first he couldn’t strike the wheel of the lighter, then he couldn’t get the flame near the tip of the cigarette. Cold sweat was pouring down his neck as if it was coming from a busted tap.
At a few minutes to midnight, with his toolkit clipped to his belt, he drove around the Lewes Road gyratory system, past the entrance to the Brighton and Hove Borough Mortuary, wipers clunk-clunking away the rain, and then turned left on to the hard driveway of his destination, J. Bund and Sons, funeral directors.
He was shaking, all knotted up inside and perspiring heavily. Stupid woman, stupid bloody Rachael, why the hell did you have to take my mask off?
Up on the wall, above the curtained shop window of the premises, he clocked the burglar alarm box. Sussex Security Systems. Not a problem, he thought, pulling up in front of the padlocked steel gates. The lock was also not a problem.
Directly across the road was a closed estate agent’s, with flats on the two storeys above. There was a light on in one of them. But they would be used to seeing vehicles come and go at a funeral parlour around the clock.
He switched the lights off, then climbed out of the Sierra into the rain to deal with the padlock. A trickle of cars and taxis drove past along the road. One of them was a police patrol car, its blue lights flashing and siren wailing. He held his breath, but its crew paid him no attention, just swishing straight past to some emergency or other. Moments later he drove through into the rear yard and parked between two hearses and a van. Then he hurried back through the rain and closed the gates, pulling the chain around them, but leaving the padlock dangling open. So long as no one came, all would be fine.
It took him less than a minute to pick the Chubb on the double rear receiving doors, then he entered the dark entrance hallway, wrinkling his nose at the smells of embalming fluid and disinfectant. The alarm was beeping. Just the internal warning signal. He had sixty precious seconds before the external bells would kick off. It took him less than thirty to remove the front casing of the alarm panel. Another fifteen and it fell silent.
He closed the door behind him. And now it was even more silent. The faint click-whirr of a fridge. A steady tick-tick-tick of a clock or a meter.
These places gave him the creeps. He remembered the last time he had been in here; he had been alone then, and shit-scared. They were dead, all of the people in here, dead like Rachael Ryan. They couldn’t hurt you, or tell tales on you.
Couldn’t leap out at you.
But that didn’t make it any better.
He flashed his torch beam along the corridor ahead, trying to orient himself. He saw a row of framed Health and Safety notices, a fire extinguisher and a drinking-water dispenser.
Then he took a few steps forward, his trainers silent on the tiled floor, listening intently for any new sounds inside or out. There was a staircase up to his right. He remembered it led to the individual rooms – or Chapels of Rest – where friends and relatives could visit and mourn their loved ones in privacy. Each room contained a body laid out on a bed, men in pyjamas, women in nightgowns, their heads poking out from beneath the sheets, hair tidy, faces all rosy from embalming fluid. They looked like they were checked into some tacky hotel for the night.
But for sure they wouldn’t be doing a runner without paying their bills in the morning, he thought, and grinned despite his unease.
Then, flashing his torch through an open doorway to his left, he saw a prostrate white marble statue. Except, as he took a closer look, he saw it wasn’t a statue. It was a dead man on a slab. Two handwritten tags hung from his right foot. An old man, he lay with his mouth open like a landed fish, embalming-fluid lines cannulated into his body, his penis lying uselessly against his thigh.
Close to him was a row of coffins, open and empty, just one of them with its lid closed. There was a brass plaque on the lid, engraved with the name of its occupant.
He stopped for a moment, listening. But all he could hear was the thudding of his own heart and the blood coursing through his veins louder than the roar of a river in flood. He could not hear the traffic outside. All that entered here from the world beyond the walls was a faint, eerie orange glow leaking in from a street light on the pavement.
‘Hi, everyone!’ he said, feeling very uncomfortable as he swung the beam around until it struck what he was looking for. The row of duplicated white A4 forms hanging on hooks from the wall.
Eagerly, he walked over to them. These were the registration forms for each of the bodies in here. All the information was on them: name, date of death, place of death, funeral instructions, and a whole row of optional disbursement boxes to be ticked – organist’s fee, cemetery fee, churchyard burial fee, clergy’s fee, church fee, doctor’s fee, removal of pacemaker fee, cremation fee, gravedigger’s fee, printed service sheets fees, flowers, memorial cards, obituary notices, coffin, casket for remains.
He read quickly through the first sheet. No good: the Embalming box had been ticked. The same applied to the next four. His heart began to sink. They were embalmed and their funerals were not until later in the week.
But on the fifth it looked like he might have struck gold:
Mrs Molly Winifred Glossop
D. 2 January 1998. Aged 81.
And further down:
Funeral on: 12 January 1998, 11 a.m.
His eyes raced down the form to the words Committal. Not so good. He would have preferred a cremation. Done and dusted. Safer.
He turned to the remaining six forms. But none of them was any good at all. They were all funerals to be held later in the week – too risky, in case the family came to view. And all but one had requested embalming.
No one had requested that Molly Winifred Glossop be embalmed.
Not having her embalmed meant her family was probably too mean. Which might be an indication that they weren’t going to care too much about her body. So hopefully no distraught relative was going to rush in tonight or first thing in the morning, wanting to have one last peep at her.
He shone his beam down on the plaque on the one closed coffin, trying hard to ignore the corpse lying just a few feet away.
Molly Winifred Glossop, it confirmed. Died 2 January 1998, aged 81.
The fact that it was closed, with the lid screwed down, was a good indicator that no one was coming along tomorrow to see her.
Unclipping a screwdriver from his belt, he removed the shiny brass screws holding down the lid, lifted it away and peered inside, breathing in a cocktail of freshly sawn wood, glue and new fabric and disinfectant.
The dead woman nestled in the cream satin lining of the coffin, her head poking out of the white shroud that wrapped the rest of her. She did not look real; she looked like some kind of weird granny doll, that was his first reaction. Her face was emaciated and bony, all wrinkles and angles, the colour of a tortoise. Her mouth was sewn shut; he could see the threads through her lips. Her hair was a tidy bob of white curls.
He felt a lump in his throat as a memory came back to him. And another lump, this time of fear. He slipped his hands down either side of her and began to lift. He was startled by how light she was. He could feel the weightlessness of her frame in his arms. There was nothing on her, no flesh at all. She must have been a cancer victim, he decided, laying her down on the floor. Shit, she was a lot lighter than Rachael Ryan. Several stones lighter. But hopefully the pall-bearers would never realize.
He hurried back outside, popped open the boot of the Sierra and removed Rachael Ryan’s body, which he had wrapped in two layers of heavy-duty plastic sheeting to prevent any water leaking out as she thawed.
Ten minutes later, with the alarm casing replaced, the system reset and the padlock again locked shut on the chain around the gate, he pulled the Ford Sierra out into the busy Saturday-night traffic on the rain-lashed road. A whole weight was gone from his mind. He accelerated recklessly, swinging out across the lanes, halting at a red light on the far side of the road.
He needed to keep calm, did not want to risk attracting the attention of the police, not with Molly Winifred Glossop lying in the boot of his car. He switched on the radio and heard the sound of the Beatles: ‘We Can Work It Out’.
He thumped the steering wheel, almost elated with relief. Yes! Yes! Yes! We can work it out!
Stage one had gone to plan. Now he just had stage two to worry about. It was a big worry; there were unknown factors. But it was the best of his limited options. And, in his view, quite cunning.
Sunday 11 January
St Patrick’s night shelter relaxed the rules on Sundays that it applied for the rest of the week. Although the residents still had to vacate the premises by 8.30 a.m., they could return at 5 p.m.
Even so, Darren Spicer thought that was a bit harsh, since it was a church and all that, and wasn’t a church supposed to give you sanctuary at any time? Especially when the weather was crap. But he wasn’t going to argue, as he didn’t want to blot his copybook here. He wanted one of the MiPods. Ten weeks of personal space and you could come and go as you pleased. Yeah, that would be good. That would enable him to get his life together – though not in the kind of way the people who ran this place had in mind.
It was pissing down outside. And sodding freezing. But he did not want to stay in all day. He’d showered and eaten a bowl of cereal and some toast. The television was on and a couple of the residents were watching a replay of a football match on its slightly fuzzy screen.
Football, yeah. Brighton and Hove Albion was his home team. He remembered that magical day, when he was a teenager, they’d played at Wembley in the FA Cup Final and drawn. Half the homeowners of Brighton and Hove had gone up there to watch the game, while the other half were in their sitting rooms, glued to their tellies. It had been one of the best day’s burgling of his whole career.
Yesterday he’d actually been along to the Withdean Sports Stadium for a game. He liked football, not that he was much of an Albion supporter. He preferred Manchester United and Chelsea, but he had his reasons yesterday. He needed to score some charlie – as cocaine was known on the street – and the best way was to show his face. His dealer was there, in his usual seat. Nothing had changed there, apart from the price, which had gone up, and the quality, which had gone down.
After the game he’d acquired himself an eight ball for £140, dipping deep into his meagre savings. He’d washed down two of the three and a half grams with a couple of pints and a few whisky chasers almost straight away. The last gram and a half he’d saved to see himself through the tedium of today.
He pulled his donkey jacket on and his baseball cap. Most of the rest of his fellow residents were lazing around, talking in groups or lost in their thoughts or watching the TV. Like himself, none of them had anywhere to go, particularly on a Sunday, when the libraries were shut – the only warm places where they could hang out for hours for free without being hassled. But he had plans.
The round clock on the wall above the now closed food hatch said 8.23. Seven minutes to go.
It was at times like this that he missed being in prison. Life was easy in there. You were warm and dry. You had routine and companionship. You had no worries. But you had dreams.
He reminded himself of that now. His dreams. The promise he had made himself. To make himself some kind of a future. Get a stash and then go straight.
Lingering in the dry for those last few minutes, Spicer read some of the posters stuck to the walls:
FREE CONFIDENCE BUILDING COURSE FOR MEN
FREE FOOD SAFETY COURSE
FREE NEW COURSE -
FEELING SAFER AT HOME AND IN THE COMMUNITY
INJECTING INTO MUSCLE? PLEASE BE AWARE
DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE A PROBLEM WITH COCAINE OR OTHER DRUGS?
He sniffed. Yeah, he did have a problem with cocaine. Not enough of it, that was the problem right now. He didn’t have cash spare for any more and that was going to be a real problem. That’s what he needed, he realized. Yeah. The coke he’d scored yesterday had made him fly, had put him in a great mood, made him horny, dangerously so. But what the hell?
Now he was down with a bang this morning. A deep trough. He’d get himself a few drinks, take the rest of his charlie and then he wouldn’t care about the crap weather – he’d set off around a few parts of the city he’d decided to target.
Sunday was a dangerous day to break into houses. Too many people were at home. Even if someone was out, their neighbours might not be. He would spend today on research, casing. He had a list of properties from contacts in insurance companies that he’d been steadily building up while in prison so as not to squander his precious time there. A whole list of houses and flats where the owners had quality jewellery and silverware. In some cases, he had the complete list of their valuables. Some very rich pickings to be had. If he was careful, enough to set him up for his new life.
He turned, startled to hear his name. It was one of the volunteer workers here, a man of about thirty in a blue shirt and jeans, with short hair and long sideburns. His name was Simon.
Spicer looked at him, wondering what was wrong. Had someone reported him last night? Seen his enlarged pupils? If they caught you taking drugs or you were even just high on them in here, you could be thrown straight out.
‘There are two gentlemen to see you outside.’
The words were like a sudden sideways pull of gravity deep inside him. As if all his innards had turned to jelly. It was the same feeling he always had when he realized the game was up and he was being arrested.
‘Oh, right,’ he said, trying to sound nonchalant and uninterested.
Two gentlemen could only mean one thing.
He followed the young man out into the corridor, his stomach really churning now. His brain was racing. Wondering which of the things he had done in the past few days they had come to get him for.
It felt more like a church out here. A long corridor with a pointed arch at the end. The reception office was next to it, glassed in. Outside it stood two men. From the way they were suited and booted, they could only be coppers.
One of them was thin and tall as a beanpole, with short, spiky hair that was a mess; he looked like he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in many months. The other was black, with his head shaven as bald as a meteorite. Spicer vaguely recognized him.
‘Darren Spicer?’ the black one said.
The man held up a warrant card, which Spicer barely bothered to glance at.
‘DS Branson, Sussex CID, and this is my colleague, DC Nicholl. Wonder if we could have a chat.’
‘I got a pretty busy schedule,’ Spicer said. ‘But s’pose I could fit you in.’
‘Very accommodating of you.’
‘Yeah, well, I like to be accommodating, with the police and all that.’ He nodded. ‘Yeah.’ He sniffed.
The volunteer worker opened a door and indicated for them to walk through.
Spicer entered a small meeting room containing a table and six chairs, with a large stained-glass window on the far wall. He sat down and the two detectives sat opposite him.
‘We’ve met before, haven’t we, Darren?’ DS Branson said.
Spicer frowned. ‘Yeah, maybe. You look familiar. Trying to think where.’
‘I interviewed you about three years ago, when you were in custody – about some house break-ins. You’d just been arrested for burglary and indecent assault. Remember now?’
‘Oh yeah, rings a bell.’
He grinned at each of the detectives, but neither of them smiled back. The mobile phone of the one with ragged hair rang suddenly. He checked the number, then answered it quietly.
‘I’m tied up. I’ll call you back,’ he murmured, before sticking the phone back into his pocket.
Branson pulled out a notebook and flipped it open. He studied it for a moment.
‘You were released from prison on 28 December, correct?’
‘Yeah, that’s right.’
‘We’d like to talk to you about your movements since then.’
Spicer sniffed. ‘Well, the thing is, I don’t keep a diary, you see. Got no secretary.’
‘That’s all right,’ the spiky-haired one said, pulling out a small black book. ‘I’ve got one here. This one is for last year and I’ve got another for this year. We can help you on dates.’
‘Very obliging of you,’ Spicer replied.
‘That’s what we’re here for,’ Nick Nicholl said. ‘To be obliging.’
‘Let’s start with Christmas Eve,’ Branson said. ‘I understand you were on day release at Ford Open Prison, working in the maintenance department of the Metropole Hotel up until your release on licence. Is that correct?’
‘When was the last time you were at the hotel?’
Spicer thought for a moment. ‘Christmas Eve,’ he said.
‘What about New Year’s Eve, Darren?’ Glenn Branson went on. ‘Where were you then?’
Spicer scratched his nose, then sniffed again.
‘Well, I had been invited to spend it up at Sandringham with the royals, but then I thought, nah, can’t be spending all my time with toffs-’
‘Cut it out,’ Branson said sharply. ‘Remember you’re out on licence. We can do this chat the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is here, now. Or we can bang you back up and do it there. It’s no sweat to us either way.’
‘We’ll do it here,’ Spicer said hastily, sniffing again.
‘Got a cold, have you?’ Nick Nicholl asked.
He shook his head.
The two detectives caught each other’s eye, then Branson said, ‘Right, New Year’s Eve. Where were you?’
Spicer laid his hands on the table and stared down at his fingers. All his nails were badly bitten, as was the skin around them.
‘Drinking up at the Neville.’
‘The Neville pub?’ Nick Nicholl asked. ‘The one near the greyhound stadium?’
‘Yeah, that’s right, by the dogs.’
‘Can anyone vouch for you?’ Branson queried.
‘I was with a few – you know – acquaintances – yeah. Can give you some names.’
Nick Nicholl turned to his colleague. ‘Might be able to verify that on CCTV if they’ve got it in there. I seem to remember they have, from a past inquiry.’
Branson made a note. ‘If they haven’t wiped it – a lot of them only keep seven-day records.’ Then he looked at Spicer. ‘What time did you leave the pub?’
Spicer shrugged. ‘I don’t remember. I was shit-faced. One, one-thirty maybe.’
‘Where were you staying then?’ Nick Nicholl asked.
‘The Kemp Town hostel.’
‘Would anyone remember you coming home?’
‘That lot? Nah. They’re not capable of remembering nothing.’
‘How did you get home?’ Branson asked.
‘Had the chauffeur pick me up in the Roller, didn’t I?’
He said it so innocently that Glenn had to struggle to stop himself from grinning. ‘So your chauffeur can vouch for you?’
Spicer shook his head. ‘I walked, didn’t I? Shanks’s pony.’
Branson flipped a few pages back in his notebook. ‘Lets move on to this past week. Can you tell us where you were between 6 p.m. and midnight on Thursday 8 January?’
Spicer answered quickly, as if he had already known what the question would be. ‘Yeah, I went to the dogs. Ladies’ night. Stayed there till about 7.30 and then came back here.’
‘The greyhound stadium? Your local pub, then, is that the Neville?’
‘One of ’em, yeah.’
Branson made a mental note that the greyhound stadium was less than fifteen minutes’ walk from The Droveway, where Roxy Pearce was raped on Thursday night.
‘Do you have anything to prove you were there? Betting stubs? Anyone with you?
‘There was a bird I picked up.’ He stopped.
‘What was her name?’ Branson asked.
‘Yeah, well, that’s the thing. She’s married. Her husband was away for the night. I don’t think she’d be too happy, you know, having the Old Bill asking questions.’
‘Gone all moral, have we, Darren?’ Branson asked. ‘Suddenly developed a conscience?’
He was thinking, but did not say, that it was rather a strange coincidence that Roxy Pearce’s husband had been away that night too.
‘Not moral, but I don’t want to give you her name.’
‘Then you’d better deliver us some other proof that you were at the dogs, and during that time period.’
Spicer looked at them. He needed a smoke badly.
‘Do you mind telling me what this is about?
‘A series of sexual assaults have been committed in this city. We’re looking to eliminate people from our enquiries.’
‘So I’m a suspect?’
Branson shook his head. ‘No, but your release date on licence makes you a possible Person of Interest.’
He did not reveal to Spicer that his records had been checked for 1997-8, and they showed he had been released from prison just six days before the Shoe Man’s first suspected attack back then.
‘Let’s move on to yesterday. Can you account for where you were between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.?’
Spicer was sure his face was burning. He felt boxed in, didn’t like the way these questions kept on coming. Questions he couldn’t answer. Yes, he could say exactly where he was at 5 p.m. yesterday. He was in a copse behind a house in Woodland Drive, Brighton’s so-called Millionaire’s Row, buying charlie from one of its residents. He doubted he’d live to see his next birthday if he so much as mentioned the address.
‘I was at the Albion game. Went for some drinks with a mate afterwards. Until curfew here, right? Came back and had me dinner, then went to bed.’
‘Crap game, wasn’t it?’ Nick Nicholl said.
‘Yeah, that second goal, like…’ Spicer raised his hands in despair and sniffed again.
‘Your mate got a name?’ Glenn Branson asked.
‘Nah. You know, that’s a funny thing. See him about, known him for years – yet I still don’t know his name. Not the sort of thing you can ask someone after you’ve been drinking with them on and off for ten years, is it?’
‘Why not?’ Nicholl asked.
There was a long silence.
Branson flipped his notebook over a page. ‘Lock-up here is 8.30 p.m. I’m told you arrived back at 8.45 p.m., your voice was slurred and your pupils dilated. You were lucky they let you back in. Residents are forbidden to take drugs.’
‘I don’t take no drugs, Detective, sir.’ He sniffed again.
‘I’ll bet you don’t. You’ve just got a bad head cold, right?’
‘Right. Must be what it is. Exactly right. A bad head cold!’
Branson nodded. ‘I’ll bet you still believe in Father Christmas, don’t you?’
Spicer gave him a sly grin, unsure quite where this was going. ‘Father Christmas? Yeah. Yeah, why not?’
‘Next year write and ask him for a sodding handkerchief.’
Sunday 11 January
Yac did not drive the taxi on Sundays because he was otherwise engaged.
He had heard people use that expression and he liked it. Otherwise engaged. It had a nice ring to it. He liked, sometimes, to say things that had a nice ring to them.
‘Why don’t you ever take the cab out on Sunday nights?’ the man who owned the taxi had asked him recently.
‘Because I’m otherwise engaged,’ Yac replied importantly.
And he was. He had important business that filled his Sundays from the moment he got up until late into the night.
It was late at night now.
His first duty every Sunday morning was to check the houseboat for leaks, both from below the waterline and from the roof. Then he cleaned the houseboat. It was the cleanest floating home in all of Shoreham. Then he fastidiously cleaned himself. He was the cleanest, best-shaven taxi driver in the whole of Brighton and Hove.
When the owners of Tom Newbound finally came back from living in India, Yac hoped they would be proud of him. Maybe they would continue to let him live here with them, if he agreed to clean the boat every Sunday morning.
He so much hoped that. And he had nowhere else to go.
One of his neighbours told Yac the boat was so clean he could eat off the deck, if he wanted to. Yac didn’t understand that. Why would he want to? If he put food on the deck, gulls would come and eat it. Then he’d have the mess of food and gulls on the deck, and he’d have to clean all that up as well. So he ignored that suggestion.
He had learned over the years that it was wise to ignore suggestions. Most suggestions came from idiots. Intelligent people kept their thoughts to themselves.
His next task, in between making his hourly cups of tea and eating his Sunday dinner – always the same meal, microwaved lasagne – was removing his childhood collection of high-flush toilet chains from their hiding place in the bilges. Tom Newbound, he had discovered, provided him with several good hiding places. His collection of shoes was in some of them.
He liked to take his time laying the chains out on the floor of the saloon. First, he would count them to make sure that no one had been on the boat when he was out and stolen any of them. Then he would inspect them, to check there were no rust spots. Then he would clean them, lovingly rubbing each of the chain links with metal polish.
After he had put the chains carefully away, Yac would go on the Internet. He would spend the rest of the afternoon on Google Earth, checking for changes from his maps. That was something he had realized. Maps changed, just like everything else. You couldn’t depend on them. You couldn’t depend on anything. The past was shifting sand. Stuff that you read and learned and stored away in your head could – and did – get changed. Just because you knew something once did not mean it was still true today. Like with maps. You couldn’t be a good taxi driver just from relying on maps. You had to keep up to date, up to the minute!
It was the same with technology.
Things you knew five or ten or fifteen years ago weren’t always any good today. Technology changed. He had a whole filing cabinet on the boat filled with wiring diagrams of burglar alarm systems. He liked to work them out. He liked to find the flaws in them. A long time ago he had figured out that if a human being designed something, there would be a flaw in it somewhere. He liked to store those flaws away in his head. Information was knowledge and knowledge was power!
Power over all those people who thought he was no good. Who sneered or laughed at him. He could tell, sometimes, that people in his cab were laughing at him. He could see them in the mirror, sitting on the back seat smirking and whispering to each other about him. They thought he was a bit soft in the head. Potty. Doolally. Oh yes.
The way his mother did.
She made the same mistake. She thought he was stupid. She did not know that some days, or nights, when she was home, he watched her. She was unaware that he had made a small hole in the ceiling of her bedroom. He used to lie silently in the loft above her, watching her hurting a man with her shoes. He would watch her screwing her stiletto heels into the naked men’s backs.
Other times she would lock Yac in his bedroom with a tray of food and a bucket, leaving him alone in the house for the night. He would hear the thunk of the lock, then he would hear her footsteps, her heels clicking on the floorboards, getting fainter and fainter.
She never knew that he understood locks. That he had read and memorized every specialist magazine and every instruction manual he could lay his hands on in the reference library. He knew just about everything there was to know about bored cylindrical locks, tumbler locks, lever locks. There wasn’t a lock or alarm system on the planet, Yac reckoned, that could defeat him. Not that he had tried all of them. He thought that would be hard work and would take too long.
When she went out, leaving him alone, with the clack-clack-clack of her shoes fading into silence, he would pick the lock of his bedroom door and go into her room. He liked to lie naked on her bed, breathing in the heady, musky smells of her Shalimar perfume, and the air that still smelt of her cigarette smoke, holding one of her shoes in his left hand, safe from her, and then relieve himself with his right hand.
It was the way he liked to end each of his Sunday evenings now.
But tonight was better than ever! He had newspaper articles on the Shoe Man. He had read and re-read them, and not just the Argus, but other papers too. Sunday papers. The Shoe Man raped his victims and took their shoes.
He sprayed Shalimar around the interior of his room in the houseboat, short bursts into each corner, then a longer one towards the ceiling, directly above his head, so that tiny, invisible droplets of the fragrance would fall all around him.
He then stood, aroused, starting to shake. In moments he became drenched in perspiration, breathing with his eyes closed, as the smell brought back so many memories. Then he lit a Dunhill International cigarette and inhaled the sweet smoke deeply, holding it in his lungs for some moments before jetting it out through his nostrils, the way his mother did.
It was smelling like her room in here now. Yes.
In between puffs, getting more and more deeply aroused, he began unbuttoning his trousers. Then, lying back on his bunk, he touched himself and whispered, Oh, Mummy! Oh, Mummy! Oh yes, Mummy, I’m such a bad boy!
And all the time he was thinking of the really bad thing he had just done. Which aroused him even more.
Monday 12 January
Roy Grace was in a sombre mood at 7.30 a.m. The New Year was not even a fortnight old and he now had three violent stranger rapes on his hands.
He was seated in the office that always made him feel uncomfortable, even though its previous incumbent, the sometimes tyrannical Alison Vosper, was no longer there. Replacing her behind the large rosewood desk, which was now a lot more cluttered, was Assistant Chief Constable Peter Rigg, starting his second week here. And for the first time ever, Grace had actually been offered a drink in this office. He was now gratefully sipping strong coffee from an elegant china cup.
The ACC was a dapper, rather distinguished-looking man, with a healthy complexion, fair hair neatly and conservatively cut, and a sharp, posh voice. Although several inches shorter than Grace, he had fine posture, giving him a military bearing which made him seem taller than his actual height. He was dressed in a navy suit with discreet pinstripes, an elegant white shirt and a loud tie. From a row of photographs on his desk, and new pictures now hanging on the walls, the man was evidently keen on motor racing, which pleased Grace because that was something they would have in common, although he’d not had a chance to bring this up yet.
‘I’ve had the new Chief Executive of the City Corporation on the phone,’ said Rigg – his manner pleasant but no-nonsense. ‘This was before the ghost train attack. Stranger rape is a very emotive subject. Brighton’s already lost the Labour Party Conference for many years to come – not that that’s connected to these rapes in any way – and he feels it would greatly help the future chances of this city to attract top-end conference trade if we can show how safe it is to come here. Fear of crime seems to have become a major issue in the competitive conference business.’
‘Yes, sir, I appreciate that.’
‘Our New Year’s resolution should be to focus on the crimes that cause fear in the community – fear among ordinary decent people. That’s where I think we should be maximizing our resources. Our subliminal message should be that people are as safe anywhere in Brighton and Hove as they are in their own homes. What do you think?’
Grace nodded his agreement, but privately he was concerned. The ACC’s intentions were right, but his timing was not great. Roxy Pearce had clearly not been safe in her own home. Also, what he had just said wasn’t new. He was merely reinforcing what, in Grace’s view, had always been the police force’s main role. Certainly, at any rate, his own main goal.
When he had first been promoted to the rank of detective superintendent, his immediate boss, the then head of CID, Gary Weston, had explained his philosophy to him very succinctly: ‘Roy, I try as a boss to think what it is the public expect from me and would like me to do. What does my wife want? My elderly mum? They want to feel safe, they want to go about their lawful business unhindered, and they want me to lock up all the bad guys.’
Grace had used that as a mantra ever since.
Rigg held up a typewritten document, six sheets of paper clipped together, and Grace knew immediately what it was.
‘This is the twenty-four-hour review from the Crime Policy and Review Branch on Operation Swordfish,’ the ACC said. ‘I had it dropped round last night.’ He gave the Detective Superintendent a slightly worried smile. ‘It’s positive. You’ve ticked all the boxes – something I would have expected, from all the good things I’ve heard about you, Roy.’
‘Thank you, sir!’ Grace said, pleasantly surprised. Clearly the man hadn’t spoken too much to the now departed Alison Vosper, his big fan – not.
‘I think the political ride’s going to get a lot rougher when the news on this third rape gets out. And, of course, we don’t know how many more our offender might commit before we lock him up.’
‘Or before he disappears again,’ Grace replied.
The ACC looked as if he had just bitten a red-hot chilli.
Monday 12 January
Sussex Security Systems and Sussex Remote Monitoring Services were housed in a large 1980s building on an industrial estate in Lewes, seven miles from Brighton.
As the business which Garry Starling had started in a small shop in Hove fifteen years earlier expanded into two separate fields, he knew he would have to move into bigger premises. The perfect opportunity presented itself when the building in Lewes became vacant following a bankruptcy, with the receiver keen to do a deal.
But what attracted him even more than the favourable terms was the location itself, less than a quarter of a mile from Malling House, the headquarters of Sussex Police. He’d already secured two contracts with them, installing and maintaining alarms in a couple of small-town police stations that were closed at night, and he was sure that being so close to the hub of the whole force could do no harm.
He had been right. A combination of knocking on doors, schmoozing on the golf course and some very competitive pricing had brought a lot more work his way, and when, just over a decade ago, the CID moved into their new headquarters, Sussex House, it had been SSS that had secured the contract for the internal security system.
Despite his success, Garry Starling was not into flash, expensive cars. He never drove them because in his view all you did was draw attention to yourself – and the flashier your wheels, the more your customers would think you were overcharging. Success to him meant freedom. The ability to hire people to do the stuff you didn’t want to be stuck in the office doing. The freedom to be out on the golf course when you wanted. And to do other things you wanted too. He left it to Denise to be the spender. She could spend for England.
When they’d first met she’d been sex on legs. She liked everything that turned him on and she was randy as hell, with few limits. Now she just sat on her fat arse, letting it get fatter by the hour, and she didn’t want to know about sex – at least, not any of the things that he enjoyed.
He drove his small grey Volvo along the industrial estate, passing a Land Rover dealer, the entrance to Tesco and then Homebase. He made a right, then a left and ahead, at the end of the cul-de-sac, he saw his twin single-storey building and a row of nine white vans, each bearing the company logo, outside.
Ever mindful about costs, the vans were plain white and the company name was on magnetic panels stuck to their sides. It meant he didn’t have to pay sign-writing costs each time he purchased a new van; he could simply pull the panels off and use them again.
It was 9 a.m. and he wasn’t happy to see so many vans still parked up. They should have been out doing installations or making service calls on customers. That was thanks to the recession.
Not many things made him happy these days.
Dunstan Christmas’s butt was itching, but he did not dare scratch it. If he took his weight off this chair for more than two seconds during his shift, without first properly logging off, the alarm would sound and his supervisor would come running in.
You had to hand it to the guy who had thought of this, Christmas grudgingly admitted to himself, it was a damned good system. Foolproof, just about.
Which of course it needed to be, because that was what the customers of Sussex Remote Monitoring Services paid for: trained CCTV operators like himself to sit, in a uniform, and watch the images of their homes and business premises, in real time, around the clock. Christmas was thirty-six years old and weighed twenty stones. Sitting on his butt suited him well.
He couldn’t much see the point of the uniform, as he never left the room, but the Big Cheese, Mr Starling, had everyone on the premises, even the receptionists, wear uniform. It gave people a sense of pride and purpose, Mr Starling said, and it impressed visitors. Everyone did what Mr Starling said.
Alongside the camera selection button on the panel in front of him was a microphone. Even though some of the houses and business premises on the twenty screens in front of him were many miles away, one click of the microphone button and he could scare the shit out of any intruder by talking straight to them. He liked that part of the job. Didn’t happen too often, but when it did, boy, was it fun to see them jump! That was a perk.
Christmas worked an eight-hour shift, alternating between day, evening and night, and he was happy enough with the pay he got, but the job itself, Jesus, sometimes, particularly during the night, it could be mind-numbingly boring. Twenty different programmes on television and nothing happening on any of them! Just a picture of a factory gate on one. A domestic driveway on another. The rear of a big Dyke Road Avenue mansion on another. Occasionally a cat would slink across, or an urban fox, or a badger, or a scurrying rodent.
Screen no. 17 was one he had a bit of an emotional connection with. It showed images of the old Shoreham cement works that had been shut down for the past nineteen years. Twenty-six CCTV cameras were sited around the vast premises, one for the front entrance, the rest covering all key internal access points. At the moment the image was of the front, a high steel fence topped with razor wire, and chained gates.
His dad used to work there, as a cement tanker driver, and sometimes Dunstan would ride up front in the cab when his dad was making a collection. He loved the place. He always thought it was like being on the set of a Bond film, with its huge cement clinker kilns, grinding mills and storage silos, the bulldozers, dumptrucks and diggers, and activity around the clock.
The cement works sat in a huge quarried bowl in isolated countryside, a few miles inland and just to the north-west of Shoreham. The site covered several hundred acres and was now full of vast, derelict buildings. Rumour had it there were plans to reactivate it all, but since the last lorry had driven out of there, nearly two decades ago, it had lain derelict, a grey ghost village of mostly windowless structures, rusting components, old vehicles and weed-strewn tracks. The only visitors were the occasional vandals and thieves who had systematically stolen some of the electric motors, cables and lead piping, which was why the elaborate security system had been put in place.
But this particular Monday morning was more interesting than usual. Certainly on one particular screen, no. 11.
Each of the screens had feeds to ten different properties. Motion-sensor software would instantly bring a property up if there was any movement, such as a vehicle arriving or leaving, someone walking, or even a fox or large dog prowling. There had been constant activity on screen no. 11 since he had come on shift at 7 a.m. That was the front view of the Pearce house. He could see the crime scene tape, a Police Community Support Officer scene guard. A POLSA and three Police Search Officers in protective blue oversuits and rubber gloves, on their hands and knees, were searching inch by inch for any clues left behind by the intruder who had assaulted Mrs Pearce inside the house last Thursday night, and sticking small numbered markers here and there in the ground.
He dug his hand into the large packet of Kettle crisps beside the control panel on his workstation, shovelled the crisps into his mouth, then washed them down with a swig of Coke. He needed to pee, but decided to hang on for a while. He could log off the system to take a comfort break, as they were called, but it would be noted. An hour and a half was too soon after starting his shift; he needed to give it a bit longer, as he wanted to impress his boss.
The voice right behind him startled him.
‘I’m glad to see the feed to The Droveway has been fixed.’
Dunstan Christmas turned to see his boss, Garry Starling, the owner of this company, looking over his shoulder.
Starling had a habit of doing this. He was always snooping on his employees. Creeping silently up behind them, sometimes in working clothes of a white shirt, jeans and trainers, sometimes in a neat business suit. But always stealthily, silently, on rubber-soled shoes like some weirdo stalker. His big, owl-like eyes were peering at the bank of screens.
‘Yes, Mr Starling. It was working when I came on shift.’
‘Do we know what the problem was yet?’
‘I haven’t spoken to Tony.’
Tony was the chief engineer of the company.
Starling watched the activity at the Pearce house for some moments, nodding.
‘Not good, is it, sir?’ Christmas said.
‘It’s incredible,’ Garry Starling said. ‘The worst thing that’s ever happened on any of the properties we monitor and the fucking system wasn’t working. Incredible!’
‘You could say that.’
Christmas moved a toggle switch on the panel and zoomed in on one SOCO, who was bagging something of interest that was too small for them to see.
‘Kind of interesting, watching how thorough these guys are,’ he said.
There was no reply from his boss.
‘Like something out of CSI.’
Again there was no reply.
He turned his head and discovered, to his astonishment, that Garry Starling had left the room.
Wearing expensive high heels makes you feel sexy, doesn’t it? You think spending money on these things is an investment, don’t you? All part of your trap. Do you know what you are like? All of you? Venus fly traps! That’s what you are like.
Have you ever looked closely at the leaves of a Venus fly trap? They are all pink inside. Do they remind you of something? I’ll tell you what they remind me of: vaginas with teeth. Which is of course exactly what they are. Nasty incisors all the way around, like prison cell bars.
The moment an insect enters and touches one of the tiny hairs in those inviting, sensual pink lips, the trap snaps shut. It seals out all the air. Just like you all do. Then the digestive juices set to work, slowly killing the prey if it hasn’t been lucky enough to have suffocated first. Just like you all do! The soft, inner parts of the insect are dissolved, but not the tough outer part, the exoskeleton. At the end of the digestive process, after several days, sometimes a couple of weeks, the trap reabsorbs the digestive fluid and then reopens. The remains of the insect are blown away in the wind or washed away by the rain.
That’s why you put those shoes on, isn’t it? To trap us, suck all the fluids out of us, then excrete our remains.
Well, I’ve got news for you.
Monday 12 January
MIR-1 was capable of housing up to three Major Incident investigations at the same time. But with Roy Grace’s rapidly expanding team, Operation Swordfish needed the entire room. Fortunately he’d always kept on the right side of the Senior Support Officer, Tony Case, who controlled all four Major Incident Suites in the county.
Case obligingly moved the only other major investigation currently taking place in Sussex House at the moment – the late-night street murder of an as yet unidentified man – to the smaller MIR-2 along the corridor.
Although Grace had held two briefings yesterday, several of his team had been absent on outside inquiries, for a number of important reasons. He had ordered full attendance this morning.
He sat down at a free space at one of the workstations, placing his agenda and Policy Book in front of him. Beside them sat his third coffee of the day, so far. Cleo was constantly reproaching him for the amount he consumed, but after his early pleasant but testy meeting with ACC Rigg, he felt in need of another strong caffeine hit.
Although MIR-1 had not been redecorated or refurbished for some years, the room always had a sterile, faintly anodyne modern-office smell. A big contrast to police offices before the smoking ban had been imposed, he thought. Almost all of them reeked of tobacco and had a permanently fuggy haze. But it gave them atmosphere and in some ways he missed that. Everything in life was becoming too sterile.
He nodded greetings to various members of his team as they filed into the room, most of them, including Glenn Branson, who appeared to be having yet another of his endless arguments with his wife, talking on their phones.
‘Morning, old-timer,’ Branson greeted him when he ended his call. He pocketed his phone, then tapped the top of his own shaven dome and frowned.
Grace frowned back. ‘What?’
‘No gel. Did you forget?’
‘I was seeing the new ACC first thing, so thought I ought to be a little conservative.’
Branson, who had given Roy Grace a major fashion makeover some months ago, shook his head. ‘You know what? Sometimes you’re just plain sad. If I was the new ACC, I’d want officers with a bit of zing – not ones who looked like my grandfather.’
‘Sod you!’ Grace said with a grin. Then he yawned.
‘See!’ Branson said gleefully. ‘It’s your age. You can’t take the pace.’
‘Very funny. Look, I have to concentrate for a few minutes, OK?’
‘You know who you remind me of?’ Branson said, ignoring him.
‘George Clooney? Daniel Craig?’
‘Nah. Brad Pitt.’
For a moment Grace looked quite pleased. Then the Detective Sergeant added, ‘Yeah, in Benjamin Button – like at the point where he looks a hundred and hasn’t started getting younger yet.’
Grace shook his head, stifling a grin, then another yawn. Monday was a day most normal people dreaded. But most normal people at least started the week feeling rested and fresh. He had spent the whole of his Sunday at work, first going to the pier, to the maintenance room of the ghost train, where Mandy Thorpe had been raped and seriously injured, and then visiting her at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, where she was under police guard. Despite a bad head injury, the young woman had managed to give a detailed initial statement to the SOLO allocated to her, who had in turn relayed this information to him.
Quite apart from the trauma to these poor victims, Roy Grace was feeling a different kind of trauma of his own, from the pressure to solve this and make an arrest. To compound matters, the head crime reporter of the Argus, Kevin Spinella, had now left three messages on his mobile phone asking him to call back urgently. Grace knew if he wanted the cooperation of his main local paper in this inquiry, rather than just a sensational headline in tomorrow’s edition, he was going to have to manage Spinella carefully. That would mean giving him an exclusive extra titbit to the information he would release at the midday press conference – and at the moment he didn’t have anything for the man. At least, nothing he wanted the public to know.
He gave the reporter a quick call back and got connected straight through to his voicemail. He left Spinella a message asking him to come to his office ten minutes before the press conference. He’d think of something for him.
And one day soon he was going to think of a suitable trap. Someone inside the police regularly leaked information to Spinella. The same person, Grace was sure, who had leaked every major crime story this past year to the sharp young crime reporter within minutes of the police being called to the scene. It had to be someone in either the Call Handling Centre or the IT department who had access to the minute-by-minute updated serials. It could be a detective, but he doubted that, because the leaked information was on every serious crime, and no one detective got early information on anything other than his own cases.
The only positive was that Kevin Spinella was savvy, a newspaper reporter with whom the police could do business. So far they had been lucky, but one day he might not be there, and a lot of damage could be done by someone less cooperative in his shoes.
‘Bloody Albion – what is going on with them?’ Michael Foreman strutted in, smartly suited as ever, with gleaming black Oxford shoes.
In the early stages of an inquiry, most detectives wore suits because they never knew when they might have to rush out to interview someone – particularly close relatives of a major crime victim, to whom they needed to show respect. Some, like Foreman, dressed sharply all the time.
‘That second goal!’ DC Nick Nicholl, who was normally quietly spoken, was talking animatedly, shaking his balled fists in the air. ‘Like, what was all that about? Hello!’
‘Yeah, well, Chelsea’s my team,’ said the HOLMES analyst, John Black. ‘Gave up on the Albion a long time ago. The day they left the Goldstone Ground.’
‘But when they move – the new stadium – that’ll be something, right!’ Michael Foreman said. ‘Give them a chance to settle into that – they’ll get their pride back.’
‘Gay Pride, that’s all they’re good for,’ grumbled Norman Potting, who shambled in last, shaking his head, reeking of pipe smoke.
He sat down heavily in a chair opposite Grace. ‘Sorry I’m late, Roy. Women! I tell you, I’ve had it. I’m not getting married again. That’s it. Four and out!’
‘Half the female population of the UK will be very relieved to hear that,’ Bella Moy murmured, loudly enough for everyone to hear.
Ignoring her, Potting stared gloomily at Grace. ‘You know that chat we had before Christmas, Roy?’
Grace nodded, not wanting to be distracted by the latest in the long saga of disasters of the Detective Sergeant’s love life.
‘I’d appreciate a bit more of your wisdom – some time over the next week or so, if that’s all right with you, Roy. When you’ve got a minute.’
When I’ve got a minute I want to spend it sleeping, Grace thought wearily. But he nodded at Potting and said, ‘Sure, Norman.’ Despite the fact that the DS frequently irritated him, he felt sorry for the man. Potting had remained in the force long past the age when he could have taken his pension, because, Grace suspected, his work was all he had in life that gave him purpose.
The last to enter the room was Dr Julius Proudfoot, a tan-leather man bag slung from his shoulder. The forensic psychologist – as behavioural analysts were now called – had worked on a large number of high-profile cases during the past two decades, including the original Shoe Man case. For the past decade he had been enjoying minor media celebrity status, and the spoils of a lucrative publishing deal. His four autobiographical books, charting his career to date, boasted of his achievements in playing a crucial role in bringing many of the UK’s worst criminals to justice.
A number of senior police officers had privately said the books should be on the fiction rather than non-fiction shelves in the bookshops. They believed he had wrongly taken the credit in several cases where he had actually only played a bit part – and then not always successfully.
Grace did not disagree, but felt that because of Proudfoot’s earlier involvement in the Shoe Man case, Operation Houdini, the man could bring something to the table on Operation Swordfish. The psychologist had aged in the twelve years since they had last met, and put on a considerable amount of weight, he thought, as he introduced him to his team members. Then he turned to his agenda.
‘First, I want to thank you all for giving up your weekends. Second, I’m pleased to report that we have no issues from the Crime Policy and Review Branch. They are satisfied to date with all aspects of our investigation.’ He looked down quickly at his agenda. ‘OK, it is 8.30 a.m., Monday 12 January. This is our sixth briefing of Operation Swordfish, the investigation into the stranger rape of two persons, Mrs Nicola Taylor and Mrs Roxy Pearce, and maybe now a third victim, Miss Mandy Thorpe.’
He pointed to one of the whiteboards, on which were stuck detailed descriptions of the three women. To protect their privacy, Grace chose not to display their photographs openly, which he felt would be disrespectful. Instead he said, ‘Victim photographs are available for who those who need them.’
Proudfoot raised a hand and wiggled his pudgy fingers. ‘Excuse me, Roy, why do you say maybe now a third victim? I don’t think there’s much doubt about Mandy Thorpe, from what I have on this.’
Grace looked across to the workstation where Proudfoot was seated.
‘The MO is significantly different,’ Roy Grace replied. ‘But I’ll come on to that a bit later, if that’s OK – it’s on the agenda.’
Proudfoot opened and closed his tiny rosebud lips a couple of times, fixing his beady eyes on the Detective Superintendent and looking disgruntled at being put back in his box.
Grace continued. ‘First, I want to review our progress to date into the rape of Nicola Taylor on New Year’s Eve, and of Roxy Pearce, last Thursday. We have six hundred and nineteen possible suspects at this moment. That number is made up of the staff of the Metro-pole Hotel and guests staying there that night, plus partygoers at the hotel on New Year’s Eve, including, as we know, several senior police officers. We also have names phoned in by the public, some directly to us, some through Crimestoppers. The suspects for the moment include all registered sex offenders in the Brighton and Hove area. And two different perverts who have been making nuisance calls to Brighton shoe shops, who have now been identified through phone records by the Outside Inquiry Team.’
He sipped some coffee.
‘One suspect on this list is particularly interesting. A local repeat burglar and small-time drugs dealer, Darren Spicer. I should think he’s known to a number of you here.’
‘That piece of shit!’ Norman Potting said. ‘I nicked him twenty years ago. Did a series of burglaries around Shirley Drive and Woodland Drive.’
‘He has one hundred and seventy-three previous,’ the Analyst, Ellen Zoratti, said. ‘A regular charmer. He’s out on licence after indecently assaulting a woman in a house in Hill Brow that he broke into. He tried to snog her.’
‘Which is unfortunately a regular pattern,’ Grace said, looking at Proudfoot. ‘Burglars turning into rapists.’
‘Exactly,’ Proudfoot said, seizing his cue. ‘You see, they start off penetrating houses, then they graduate to penetrating any woman they happen to find in the house.’
Grace clocked the frowns on the faces of several of his colleagues, who clearly thought this was mere psychobabble. But he knew that, sadly, it was true.
‘Spicer was released from Ford Open Prison on licence, on 28 December. DS Branson and DC Nicholl interviewed him yesterday morning.’
He nodded at Glenn.
‘That’s right, boss,’ Branson replied. ‘We didn’t get much – just a lot of lip, really. He’s a wily old trout. Claims he’s got alibis for the times all three offences were committed, but I’m not convinced. We told him we want them substantiated. He was apparently seeing a married woman last Thursday night, and refuses to give us her name.’
‘Has Spicer got any form for sex offences, apart from the last one?’ DS Bella Moy asked. ‘Or domestic violence, or fetishes?’
‘No,’ replied the Analyst.
‘Wouldn’t our offender be likely to have some previous as a pervert, Dr Proudfoot, on the assumption that rapists taking shoes is not a regular occurrence?’ Bella Moy asked.
‘Taking trophies of some kind is not uncommon for serial offenders,’ Proudfoot said. ‘But you are right, it is very unlikely these are the only offences he’s committed.’
‘There’s something that could be very significant regarding Spicer,’ Ellen Zoratti said. ‘Last night I studied the victim statement – the one given by the woman Spicer indecently assaulted in her home just over three years ago – Ms Marcie Kallestad.’ She looked at Roy Grace. ‘I don’t understand why no one’s made the connection, sir.’
‘I think you’d better have a read of it. After Marcie Kallestad fought Spicer off, he knocked her to the floor, grabbed the shoes from her feet – and ran off with them. They were high-heeled Roberto Cavallis which had cost her three hundred and fifty quid. She’d only bought them that day, from a shop in Brighton.’
Monday 12 January
There was a palpable change of mood in the briefing room. Roy Grace could sense the sudden, intangible buzz of excitement. It happened every time there was a possible breakthrough in an inquiry. Yet he was the least excited member of his team at this moment.
‘Shame we didn’t know about this yesterday,’ Glenn Branson said. ‘We could have potted Spicer then.’
Nick Nicholl nodded in agreement.
‘We’ve got enough to arrest him now, boss, haven’t we?’ said Michael Foreman.
Grace looked at Ellen. ‘Do we know whether the shoes were recovered subsequently?’
‘No, I’m afraid not,’ she replied. ‘I don’t have that information.’
‘Would they have had a cash value for him?’ Nick Nicholl asked.
‘Absolutely,’ Bella Moy said. ‘Brand-new Roberto Cavalli shoes like that – there are loads of second-hand clothes shops in the city that would buy them – at a knockdown price. I buy things from some of them. You can get brilliant bargains.’
Grace looked at Bella for a moment. In her early thirties, single and living at home, caring for her aged mother, he felt a little sorry for her, because she was not an unattractive woman but appeared to have no real life beyond her work
‘Ten per cent of their cost, Bella?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know – but they wouldn’t pay much. Twenty quid, perhaps, max.’
Grace thought hard. This new information was certainly enough to justify arresting Darren Spicer. And yet… it didn’t feel right. Spicer seemed almost too obvious to him. Sure, the villain was conveniently out of prison in time to have committed the first rape, on New Year’s Day. Even more conveniently, he had been working at the Metropole Hotel, where it occurred. And now they had just learned that he’d taken his last burglary victim’s shoes. But, Grace fretted, could the man really be so stupid?
More significantly, Spicer’s past form was as a career burglar and drugs dealer. He made his living, such as it was, breaking into properties and into safes inside them, taking jewellery, watches, silverware, cash. Neither Nicola Taylor nor Roxy Pearce had, so far, reported any property stolen other than their shoes and, in Nicola’s case, her clothes as well. It was the same with Mandy Thorpe on Saturday night. Just her shoes were gone. Unless Spicer had come out of prison a changed man – which, with his history, he doubted – this did not seem like Spicer’s MO.
On the other hand, how could he be sure that Spicer had not committed other sexual offences for which he had not been caught? Could he possibly be the Shoe Man? The records produced by Ellen showed that he had been out of jail at the time of the Shoe Man offences. But the Shoe Man raped and assaulted his victims in vile ways. He didn’t just try to kiss them, as Spicer had done. Again, the MO did not match.
Yes, they could bring him into custody. It would please the brass to get such a quick arrest, but that pleasure could be shortlived. Where would he go from there with Spicer? How would he get the proof needed for a conviction? The offender wore a mask and barely spoke, so there was no facial description or voice to go on. They hadn’t even got an estimate of the offender’s height that they were happy with. Medium seemed to be the best guess. Slight build. Few bodily hairs.
The forensic examination results showed that the offender had left no semen in any of the three victims. So far there were no DNA hits on any hairs or fibres or nail scrapings taken – although it was very early days. It would be a couple of weeks before everything taken was examined, and they couldn’t hold Spicer for that length of time without charging him. For certain the Crown Prosecution Service would not consider there was enough to bring any charge on what they had.
They could question him about why he had taken Marcie Kallestad’s shoes, but if he really was the Shoe Man that would alert him. Just as getting a search warrant for his locker at the night shelter would. From what Glenn and Nick had reported, Spicer thought he’d been clever and answered their questions to their satisfaction. Now he might not be worried about offending again. If they showed too much interest in him, it could drive him to ground – or out of the city. And what Grace needed more than anything was a result – not another twelve years of silence.
He thought for another moment, then said to Glenn Branson, ‘Does Spicer have a car, or access to one?’
‘I didn’t get the impression he’s got anything. I doubt it, boss, no.’
‘He said he walks everywhere to save the bus fares, chief,’ Nick Nicholl added.
‘He can probably get one when he needs it,’ Ellen Zoratti said. ‘He’s got a couple of previous convictions for vehicle theft – one for a van and one for a private car.’
That was good he had no transport, Grace thought. It would make the task of keeping him under observation much simpler.
‘I think we’ll get more chance of a result by watching him than pulling him, at the moment. We know where he is between 8.30 p.m. and 8.30 a.m., thanks to the curfew at the night shelter. He’s got his retraining job at the Grand Hotel, so we’ll know where he is during the day on weekdays. I’m going to get Surveillance to watch him when he leaves work and to see he doesn’t leave the shelter at night.’
‘If he’s a real Person of Interest, Roy, which seems to be the case,’ said Proudfoot, ‘then I think you’d better move quickly on this.’
‘I hope to get them started today,’ Grace replied. ‘This would be a good point to tell us your thoughts.’
The forensic psychologist stood up and walked over to a whiteboard on which there was a wide sheet of graph paper. Several spiking lines had been drawn on it in different-coloured inks. He took his time before speaking, as if to demonstrate he was so important he didn’t need to hurry.
‘The offender matrix of the Shoe Man and your current offender are very similar,’ he said. ‘This graph shows the linking factors to date between the two. Each colour is a different aspect: the geography, time of day, his approach to his victims, the form of his attack, appearance of the offender.’
He pointed each out, then stepped aside and continued: ‘There are a number of characteristics of the Shoe Man offences that were never made public, but which nonetheless are apparent in your current offender’s MO. This leads me to say with some certainty that there are sufficient linking factors for us to be able to assume at this stage we are dealing with the same person. One of the most significant is that the same name, Marsha Morris, was used in the hotel register both at the Grand in 1997 and at the Metropole on this past New Year’s Eve – and this name was never made public knowledge.’
He now moved over to a blank whiteboard.
‘I am also fairly certain that the offender is a local man, or at least a man with good local knowledge who has lived here in the past.’
He quickly drew some small squares in the top half of the whiteboard in black ink and numbered them 1 to 5, talking as he drew.
‘The Shoe Man’s first reported sexual assault was a botched one on 15 October 1997. I’m going to discount that for our purposes and just concentrate on the successful ones. His first successful one was at the Grand Hotel, in the early hours of 1 November 1997.’ He wrote GH above the first square. ‘His second was in a private house in Hove Park Road two weeks later.’ He wrote HPR above the second square. ‘The third was beneath the Palace Pier a further two weeks later.’ He wrote PP over the third square. ‘The fourth was in the Churchill Square car park another two weeks later.’ He wrote CS above that one. ‘A possible fifth attack was on Christmas morning, again two weeks later, in Eastern Terrace – although unconfirmed.’ He wrote ET above the fifth box. Then he turned back to face the team, but fixed his gaze on Roy Grace.
‘We know that all five of these women had bought an expensive pair of shoes at one of Brighton’s shoe shops immediately prior to the attacks. I think it is likely the offender was familiar with these locations. It could have been a stranger coming into town, of course, but I really don’t think so. Historically, strangers don’t stick around. They attack, then move on.’
Grace turned to Michael Foreman, who was heading the Outside Inquiry Team. ‘Michael, have you been on to the shoe shops where our current victims bought their shoes, to find out if they have CCTV?’
‘It’s being covered, boss.’
Julius Proudfoot then drew a circle around all five boxes. ‘It is worth noting the relatively small geographical area within the city where these attacks took place. Now we come to the current series of attacks.’
Changing to a red pen, he drew three boxes on the lower half of the whiteboard, numbering them 1 to 3. He turned briefly to his audience, then back to the board.
‘The first attack took place in the Metropole Hotel, which, as you know, is next door to the Grand.’ He wrote MH above the first box. ‘The second attack, approximately one week later, occurred in a private residence in a smart residential street, The Droveway.’ He wrote TD above the second box. ‘The third attack – and I accept there are differences in the MO – took place just two days later on the Palace Pier – or Brighton Pier, as I understand it now calls itself.’ He wrote BP above the third box, then turned back to face the team again.
‘The Droveway is the next street along from Hove Park Road. I don’t think any of us need a degree in rocket science to see the geographical similarities in these attacks.’
DC Foreman raised a hand. ‘Dr Proudfoot, this is a very smart observation. What can you tell us about the offender himself, from your very considerable experience?’
Proudfoot smiled, the flattery hitting his ego’s G-spot. ‘Well,’ he said, flapping his arms expansively, ‘he will almost certainly have had a dysfunctional childhood. Very likely a single-parent child, or possibly a repressively religious upbringing. He may have been subjected to childhood sexual abuse from one or more parent or a close relative. He will probably have been involved in low-level crime in the past, starting with cruelty to animals in childhood and perhaps minor thieving from classmates at school. He will definitely have been a loner with few if any childhood friends.’
He paused for a moment and cleared his throat before continuing: ‘From early adolescence, he is likely to have been obsessed with violent pornography, and probably committed a range of minor sexual offences – exposure, indecent assaults, that sort of thing. He will have graduated to using prostitutes and quite likely become involved with those offering sadomasochistic services. And he’s very likely to be a drug user – probably cocaine.’
He paused for a moment. ‘His use of female clothing as a disguise is indicative to me of both a fantasy world he inhabits and the fact that he is intelligent, and he may have a perverse sense of humour which might be significant – in his choice of locations in 1997 and now and in his timings. The fact that he is so forensically aware is another indication that he is clever – and has knowledge or direct experience of police methodology.’
DC Emma-Jane Boutwood raised her hand. ‘Are you able to suggest any theories, if he is the Shoe Man, why he might have stopped for twelve years, then restarted?’
‘It’s not uncommon. There was a sexual serial killer named Dennis Rader in the US who stopped offending for twelve years after getting married and starting a family. He was on the brink of starting again when he tired of the relationship, but fortunately he was caught before that happened. This could be the scenario for our offender. But it is equally possible that he moved elsewhere in the country, or even went overseas and continued offending there, and now has returned.’
When the briefing ended, Grace asked the forensic psychologist to come to his office for a few minutes. Grace closed the door. It was a stormy day and rain rattled against the windows as he sat behind his desk.
‘I didn’t want to have an argument with you in front of the team, Dr Proudfoot,’ he said firmly, ‘but I’m really concerned about the third attack, on the ghost train. Everything about the MO is different.’
Proudfoot nodded, with a smug smile, like a parent humouring a child.
‘Tell me what you think the key differences are, Detective Superintendent.’
Grace found his tone patronizing and irritating, but tried not to rise to it. Instead, raising a finger, he said, ‘First, unlike all the other victims, Mandy Thorpe had not recently bought the shoes that were used in the assault on her – and I’m including Rachael Ryan, about whom we still have an open mind. All five of those women back then had bought a brand-new pair of expensive designer shoes in the hours or days before they were attacked. As did the first two of our current victims, Nicola Taylor and Roxy Pearce. Mandy Thorpe was different. She’d bought them months ago on holiday in Thailand.’
He raised another finger. ‘Second, and I think this could be significant, unlike all the others, Mandy Thorpe was wearing fake designer shoes – copies of Jimmy Choos.’
‘With respect, I’m no expert in these matters, but I thought the whole point about fakes was that people couldn’t tell the difference.’
Grace shook his head. ‘It’s not about telling the difference. It’s in shoe shops where he finds his victims. Third, and very importantly, he did not make Mandy Thorpe abuse herself with her shoes. That’s how he gets his kicks, through his power over his victims.’
Proudfoot gave a shrug that indicated he might or might not agree with Grace. ‘The young woman was unconscious, so we don’t really know what he did.’
‘Vaginal swabs taken show she was penetrated by someone wearing a condom. There was no indication vaginally or anally of penetration with part of a shoe.’
‘He might have been disturbed and left hurriedly,’ Proudfoot replied.
Grace raised another finger and continued. ‘Perhaps. Fourth, Mandy Thorpe is plump – fat to be blunt. Obese. All the previous victims have been slim.’
The psychologist shook his head. ‘Her figure isn’t the significant factor. He’s on the hunt. What is significant is the time frame. Previously with the Shoe Man it was two-week gaps. This new spate started off as one week, now it is down to two days. Neither of us knows what he was up to in the intervening twelve years, but his appetite could have become stronger – either from being bottled up if he repressed it for that length of time, or from confidence if he’s continued to offend and got away with it. One thing I am certain about, the more an offender like this gets away with things, the more invincible he feels – and the more he’s going to want.’
‘I have a press conference at midday, Dr Proudfoot. What I say then could come home to roost. I want to put out accurate information that will help us catch our man, and give the public some degree of assurance. Presumably for your reputation, you want me putting the most accurate information out there too – you don’t want to be shown up for getting something wrong.’
Proudfoot shook his head. ‘I’m seldom mistaken, Detective Superintendent. You won’t go far wrong if you listen to me.’
‘I’m comforted to hear that,’ Grace said coolly.
‘You’re an old pro, like me,’ Proudfoot continued. ‘You’ve got all kinds of political and commercial pressures on you – I know you have, every SIO I’ve ever worked with has. Here’s the thing: which is worse for public consumption? For them to believe there’s one violent sexual offender out there, preying on your women, or that there are two?’ The psychologist stared hard at Grace and raised his eyebrows. ‘I know which I’d go for if I was trying to protect the reputation of my city.’
‘I’m not going to be driven by politics into making the wrong decision,’ Grace replied.
‘Roy – if I can call you that?’
‘You’re not dealing with Mr Norman Normal here, Roy. This is a clever guy. He’s hunting victims. Something in his head is driving him to do the same as he did before, but he knows, because he’s not stupid, that he needs to vary his routine or his methods. He’d be having a laugh if he could hear this conversation between us now. It’s not just power over women that he enjoys; it’s power over the police too. All part of his sick game.’
Grace thought for some moments. His training as an SIO told him to listen to experts, but not to be influenced by them, and always to form his own opinions.
‘I hear what you are saying,’ he said.
‘I hope it’s loud and clear, Roy. Just look at my past record if you’ve any doubts. I’m going to put a marker down about this offender. He’s someone who needs a comfort zone, a bit of routine. He’s sticking to the same pattern that he had before. That’s his comfort zone. He’ll take his victims from the same, or at least similar, places. Someone is going to be seized and raped in a car park in the centre of this city before the end of this week and their shoes will be taken. You can tell them that at your press conference from me.’
The smugness of the man was beginning to irritate Grace beyond belief. But he needed him. He needed every straw he could grasp at this moment.
‘I can’t stake out the whole damned city centre – we just don’t have the surveillance resources. If we cover the city centre with uniform it won’t help us catch him. It will just drive him somewhere else.’
‘I think your man is smart enough and bold enough to do it right under your nose. He might even get a kick from that. You can cover the city wall to wall in police and he’ll still get his victim.’
‘Very reassuring,’ Grace said. ‘So what do you suggest?’
‘You’re going to have to make some guesses – and hope you get lucky. Or…’ He fell silent for a moment, thinking. ‘The case of Dennis Rader in the US – a particularly nasty individual who styled himself BTK – initials that stood for Bind, Torture, Kill. He was caught after twelve years of silence when the local paper wrote something about him that he didn’t like. It was just a speculation…’
‘What kind of thing?’ Grace said, very curious suddenly.
‘I think it was questioning the perpetrator’s manhood. Something along those lines. You can be sure of one thing: that your current offender is going to be keeping a hawk-eye on the media, reading every word your local paper prints. The ego goes with the territory.’
‘You don’t think inflaming him will provoke him into offending even more?’
‘No, I don’t. He got away with those attacks twelve years ago. God knows what he’s got away with since then. And now these new attacks. I imagine he thinks he’s invincible – all-clever, all-powerful. That’s how the press coverage to date has made him seem. Create a demon of our Shoe Man, make him the Monster of Brighton and Hove, and, bingo, newspaper sales shoot up across the nation, and so do news audience ratings. And all the time in reality we’re dealing with a nasty, warped misfit with a screw loose.’
‘So we get the local paper to say something demeaning about his manhood? That he’s got a tiny dick or something?’
‘Or how about the truth, that he can’t get it up – or keep it up? No man’s going to like reading that.’
‘Dangerous,’ Grace said. ‘It could send him on a rampage.’
‘He’s dangerous enough already, Roy. But at the moment he’s clever, calculating, taking his time, not making any mistakes. Put him in a rage, provoke him into losing his cool – that way he’ll make a mistake. And then you’ll get him.’
Monday 12 January
Sussex Square was one of the jewels in Brighton’s architectural crown. Comprising one straight row and two magnificent crescents of Regency houses, each with views across five acres of private gardens and the English Channel beyond, the square had originally been built to provide weekend seaside homes for fashionable, rich Victorians. Now most of the buildings were divided up into apartments, but none of their grandeur had been lost in the process.
He drove the van slowly, passing the tall, imposing façades that were all painted a uniform white, checking out the numbers. Looking for no. 53.
He knew that it was still a single-dwelling home on five floors, with servants’ quarters at the top. A fine residence, he thought, to reflect the status of a man like Rudy Burchmore, the Vice-President, Europe, of American & Oriental Banking, and of his socialite wife, Dee. A perfect home for entertaining in style. For impressing people. For wearing expensive shoes in.
He drove around the square again, quivering and clammy with excitement, and this time stopped short of the house, pulling into a gap on the garden side of the road. This was a good place to stop. He could see her car and he could see her front door, but she wouldn’t notice him, regardless of whether she was looking out of her window or coming out of her front door.
He was invisible!
He had learned that certain things were invisible to the inhabitants of the affluent world. There were invisible people, like road sweepers and office cleaners and navvies. And there were invisible vehicles, like milk floats and white vans and taxis. Drug dealers used taxis a lot, because they never aroused suspicion driving around late at night. But the van suited his purposes better than a taxi at the moment.
He smiled, increasingly aroused, his breathing quickening. He could still smell her Armani Code fragrance. He could smell it so strongly, as if his whole van was filled with it now.
Oh yes, you bitch! he thought. Oh yes! Oh yes! Oh yes!
He would enjoy breathing that in while he made her do things to herself with those shoes, and then when he did things to her too. Fear would make her perspire and her perspiration would make the scent even stronger.
He could imagine her coming out of her front door wearing those blue Manolos and smelling of Armani Code. He could imagine her sliding into the driving seat of her car. Then parking somewhere safe, like she had done on Saturday, in an underground car park.
He knew exactly when she would be wearing those shoes. He’d heard her in the shop on Saturday when she bought them. For an important speech, she’d told the assistant. The after-lunch thing for which she had bought a divine blue dress and now had the shoes to match.
It would be nice if Dee Burchmore came out of her front door now, he thought, except she would not be wearing those new blue Manolos today.
Very conveniently, she had a section on her website for all her social engagements. In addition, she had a Facebook site where she announced them. And she told the world her movements, sometimes hour by hour, on Twitter. She was so helpful to him!
She had confirmed on her website and on Facebook that her next big social engagement was on Thursday, when she was giving a speech at a luncheon in aid of the local hospice, the Martlets. She had already started Tweeting it. The great and the good of the city of Brighton and Hove’s female society would be attending. One of the guests of honour would be the wife of the current Lord Lieutenant of Sussex.
The luncheon was being held at the Grand Hotel, which had a big car park behind it.
That really could not be more convenient!
Monday 12 January
There was an insolence about the way Kevin Spinella entered Roy Grace’s office, shortly before ten minutes to midday, pulled up a chair, uninvited, and sat down. Spinella always irked him and yet at the same time there were qualities about the young, ambitious reporter that Grace couldn’t help, privately, liking.
Spinella lounged nonchalantly back in his chair on the other side of Grace’s desk, hands in the pockets of his raincoat. Beneath it he wore a suit, with a slack, clumsily knotted tie. A slight, thin-faced man, Spinella was in his mid-twenties, with alert eyes and thin black hair gelled into tiny spikes. His sharp incisors, as always, were busily working on a piece of gum.
‘So, what do you have for me, Detective Superintendent?’
‘You’re the man in the know,’ Grace replied, testing him. ‘What do you have for me?’
The reporter cocked his head to one side. ‘I hear that the Shoe Man’s back.’
‘Tell me, Kevin, what’s your source?’
The reporter smiled and tapped the side of his nose.
‘I will find out. You know that, don’t you?’ Grace said, his tone serious.
‘I thought you asked me to come and see you because you want to do business.’
Grace held his cool with difficulty and decided to let the subject of the leaks drop for the moment. Changing tack, he said, ‘I want your help. If I tell you something off the record, can I have your word you’ll keep it that way until I tell you otherwise? I need to trust you absolutely on this.’
‘Can’t you always?’
No, not always, actually, Grace recalled. Although, he had to admit, Spinella had been good as gold during this past year.
‘Usually,’ he conceded.
‘What’s in it for the Argus?’
‘Possibly a credit for helping us to catch the offender. I’d certainly give an interview on that.’
‘Just one offender, is there?’ Spinella asked pointedly.
Shit, Grace thought, wondering where the hell he had got that from. Who had speculated about that outside of the briefing meeting earlier this morning? Was it one of his team members? Just where had that come from? Anger rose inside him. But it was clear from Spinella’s expression he would get nothing from him. For the moment he had to park it.
‘At this stage we believe there is one offender responsible for all the attacks.’
Spinella’s shifty eyes said he did not believe him.
Grace ignored that and went on: ‘OK, here’s the deal.’ He hesitated for an instant, knowing he was taking a massive gamble. ‘I have two exclusives for you. The first I don’t want you to print until I tell you, the second I’d like you to print right away. I’m not giving either of these to the press conference.’
There was a brief silence as the two men stared at each other. For a moment Spinella stopped chewing.
‘Deal?’ Grace asked.
Spinella shrugged. ‘Deal.’
‘OK. The first, not for you to print, is that we think there could be another attack this week. It’s likely to be somewhere in the town centre, possibly in a car park.’
‘Hardly rocket science if there have been three in the past two weeks already,’ Spinella retorted sarcastically.
‘No, I agree with you.’
‘Not much of an exclusive. I could have predicted that off my own bat.’
‘It’ll make you look good if it does happen – you can write one of those A senior detective had forewarned the Argus this attack was likely kind of pieces that you’ve been good at inventing in the past.’
Spinella had the decency to blush. Then he shrugged. ‘Car park? So you think he’s mirroring the same sequence as before?’
‘The forensic psychologist does.’
‘Dr Proudfoot’s got a bit of a reputation as a tosser, hasn’t he?’
‘You said that, not me.’ Grace’s eyes twinkled.
‘So what are you doing to prevent the next attack?’
‘All we can, short of closing down the centre of Brighton to the public. We’re going to throw as much resourcing as we can behind it – but invisible. We want to catch him, not drive him away and lose him.’
‘How are you going to warn the public?’
‘I hope we can get the support of the press and media at the conference we’re about to have – and warn them in a general but not specific way.’
Spinella nodded, then pulled out his notebook. ‘Now tell me the one I can print.’
Grace smiled, then said, ‘The offender has a small dick.’
The reporter waited, but Grace said nothing more.
‘That’s it?’ Spinella asked.
The Detective Superintendent shook his head.
‘That’s my exclusive? That the offender has a small dick?’
‘Hope I’m not touching a nerve,’ Grace replied.
Tuesday 13 January
The old lady sat in the driver’s seat of the stolen van, at the start of the steep hill, with her seat belt on as tight as it would go. Her hands rested on the steering wheel, with the engine idling, but the lights switched off.
He stood beside her, holding the driver’s door open, nervous as hell. It was a black night, the sky densely lagged with clouds. He could have used some moonlight, but there was nothing to be done about that.
His eyes scanned the darkness. It was 2 a.m. and the country road, a few hundred yards to the north of the entrance to the Waterhall Golf Club, two miles from the outskirts of Brighton, was deserted. There was a half-mile steep descent, with a sharp lefthander at the bottom, the road winding on through the valley between the hills of the South Downs. The beauty of this location, he figured, was that he could see from the headlights if anything was coming, for over a mile in either direction. It was all clear for the moment.
Time to rock and roll!
He reached across her lap, released the handbrake, then jumped clear as the van immediately rolled forward, picking up speed rapidly, the driver’s door swinging shut with a dull clang. The van veered worryingly into the oncoming lane, and stayed there, as it continued to pick up speed.
It was just as well no vehicle was coming up the hill towards the van, because the old lady would have been incapable of taking any avoiding action, or reacting in any way at all, on account of the fact that she had been dead for ten days.
He jumped on his bike and, with the boost of additional weight from his backpack, pedalled, then freewheeled down the hill after her, rapidly picking up speed.
Ahead of him he saw the silhouette of the van, which he had stolen from a construction site, veering towards the offside verge and, for one heart-in-his-mouth moment, he was sure it was going to crash into the thick gorse hedge, which might have stopped it. But then, miraculously, it veered briefly left, made a slight correction and careered on down the hill on a dead straight path, as if she really was steering it. As if she was having the ride of her life. Or rather, he thought, of her death!
‘Go, baby, go! Go for it, Molly!’ he urged. ‘Enjoy!’
The van, which had the name Bryan Barker Builders emblazoned all over it, was continuing to pick up speed. Going so fast now he was feeling dangerously out of control, he touched the brakes of the mountain bike and slowed a little, letting the van pull away. It was hard to gauge distances. The hedgerows flashed by. Something flapped close to his face. What the fuck was it? A bat? An owl?
The cold, damp wind was streaming into his eyes, making them water, half-blinding him.
He braked harder. They were coming towards the bottom, approaching the left-hander. The van went straight on. He heard the crunching, tearing, screeching of barbed wire against paintwork as it ploughed through the hedge and the farmer’s fence. He brought the bike to a skidding halt, his trainers bouncing along on the tarmac for several yards, narrowly avoiding going head over heels.
Through his watering eyes, more accustomed to the darkness now, he saw a massive black shape disappear. Then he heard a dull, rumbling metallic booming sound.
He leapt off his bike, tossing it into the hedge, pulled out his torch and switched it on, then scrambled through the hole in the hedge. The beam found its mark.
‘Perfect! Oh yes, perfect! Sweet! Oh yes, baby, yes! Molly, you doll! You did it, Molly! You did it!’
The van was lying on its roof, all four of its wheels spinning.
He ran up to it, then stopped, switched the torch off and looked in every direction. Still no sign of any headlights. Then he shone the beam inside. Molly Glossop lay upside down, suspended from her lap-strap, her mouth still closed from the stitches through her lips, her hair hanging untidily down in short grey clumps.
‘Thanks!’ he whispered, as if his voice might travel ten miles. ‘Well driven!’
He shrugged his backpack off and clumsily fumbled the buckles open with his trembling, gloved fingers. Then he lifted out the plastic five-litre container of petrol, hurried through the sodden winter wheat and the sticky mud up to the driver’s door and tried to open it.
It would not budge.
Cursing, he put down the container and pulled the handle with both hands, with all his strength, but it only yielded a couple of inches, the buckled metal shrieking in protest.
It didn’t matter because the window was open; that would do. He shot another nervous glance in both directions. Still no sign of any vehicle.
He unscrewed the cap of the container, which came away with a hiss, and poured the contents in through the window, shaking as much of the petrol over the old lady’s head and body as he could.
When it was empty he replaced the lid and returned the container to his backpack, retied the buckles and put it over his shoulders.
Next, he stepped several yards away from the upturned van, pulled out a packet of cigarettes, removed one and stuck it in his mouth. His hands were shaking so much he found it hard to flick the lighter wheel. Finally a flame erupted, briefly, then the wind blew it out.
‘Shit! Fuck! Don’t do this!’
He tried again, shielding it with his palm, and finally got the cigarette alight. He took two long drags on it and once more checked for headlights.
A vehicle was coming down the hill.
Don’t see us. Please don’t see us.
He flattened himself in the wheat. Heard the roar of the engine. Felt the glare of the headlights wash over him, then darkness returned.
The roar of the engine was fading.
He stood up. Red tail lights were briefly visible, then vanished. He saw them again a few seconds later. Then they were gone for good.
He waited a few more seconds before walking towards the van, then tossed the cigarette in through the open window of the driver’s door, turned and ran for several yards. He stopped and looked back.
Nothing happened. No flicker of a flame. Nothing at all.
He waited for what felt like an eternity. Still nothing happened.
Don’t do this to me!
Headlights were coming from the other direction now.
Don’t let this be the vehicle that passed, now turned round to come and look through the hole in the hedge!
To his relief, it wasn’t. It was a car, sounding like it wasn’t firing on all cylinders, blat-blatting its way up the hill. Its weak tail lights told him it was an old banger of some kind, its electrical system not liking the damp.
He waited another full minute, breathing in the increasingly strong reek of petrol in the air, but still nothing happened. Then he lit a second cigarette, stepped cautiously across and tossed that in. The result was the same. Nothing.
Panic started to grip him. Was the petrol dud?
A third vehicle came down the hill and passed by.
He pulled his handkerchief out, stepped cautiously up to the van, shone his flashlight in and saw both cigarettes, soggy and extinguished, lying in the pool of petrol on the cab roof. What the fuck was this? Cigarettes always lit petrol tanks in movies! He dabbed the handkerchief into the pool of petrol on the roof of the van, then stepped back and lit it.
There was such a violent explosion of flame that he dropped it, from shock, on to the ground. The handkerchief burned so intensely that all he could do was watch the flames consume it.
Now another bloody vehicle was coming down the hill! He hastily stamped on the burning handkerchief, stamping again and again, extinguishing it. His heart thumping, he waited for the sweep of lights to pass and the roar of the engine to fade.
He removed the backpack, took his anorak off, squashed it into a ball, leaned in through the window and dunked it into the pool of petrol for a couple of seconds. Then he stepped back, holding it at arm’s length, and shook it open. He clicked the lighter and there was a massive WHUMPH.
Flames leapt at him fiercely, searing his face. Ignoring the pain, he hurled the blazing anorak through the window, and this time the result was instant.
The whole interior of the van lit up like a furnace. He could see Molly Glossop clearly for some seconds before her hair disappeared and her colour darkened. He stood mesmerized, watching the flames, watching her get darker and darker still. Then, suddenly, what he had hoped for happened. The fuel tank exploded, turning the entire van into a blazing inferno.
Grabbing his backpack, he stumbled back to where he had flung his bike, mounted it and pedalled away from the scene as fast as he could, in the beautifully cool, silent air, taking his planned, circuitous route back to Brighton.
No vehicles passed him all the way back to the main road. He listened intently for the wail of a siren. But heard nothing.
Tuesday 13 January
Billy No Mates was seated in a window table of the café, digging her fork into a mountainous veggie salad, with watercress and frisée lettuce overflowing all around the rim of the bowl. It looked like she was eating a hairdo.
She chewed pensively, picking up her iPhone and staring at something on the screen in between mouthfuls. Her shoulder-length bleached hair was scooped up into a ponytail, with a few loose strands hanging down, just the way it had been the last time he had seen her, in Marielle Shoes, on Saturday.
She had a pretty face, despite her curiously hooked nose, and was dressed casually, almost sloppily, in a shapeless, sleeveless grey tunic over a black roll neck, jeans and sparkly trainers. He would have to get her to change out of those! Trainers on women just did not do it for him.
Clearly Jessie Sheldon didn’t bother with her appearance for work, or maybe her look was deliberate. Her albums on Facebook showed she could look very pretty with her hair down and in nice clothes. Beautiful in some. Stunning. A very sexy lady indeed!
And she wasn’t really Billy No Mates at all, although she did look like that at this moment, just sitting there all on her own. She actually had 251 friends, as of earlier today, when he’d last checked out her Facebook site. And one of them, Benedict Greene, was her fiancé – well, as good as, although they were not formally engaged, yet, she’d explained on the site. Sssshh! Don’t tell my parents!
She was a good networker. She kept all her friends updated daily on her activities. Everyone knew what she would be doing in three hours’ time, in six hours’ time, in twenty-four hours’ time, and for the next several weeks. And just like Dee Burchmore, she Tweeted. Mostly, at the moment, about her diet. Jessie is thinking of eating a KitKat… Jessie resisted the KitKat… Lost a pound today!… Rats, put on a pound today! Only eating vegetarian for rest of this week!
She was a good girl, so helpful to him! She Tweeted far more than Dee Burchmore. Her latest was sent just an hour ago: Keeping to diet! Lunching vegetarian today at Lydia, my current fave!
She was tapping away on the iPhone now. Maybe she was Tweeting again?
He liked to keep an eye on his women. This morning, Dee Burchmore was at the spa at the Metropole Hotel, having a Thalgo Indocéane Complete Body Ritual. He wondered whether to have one too. But thought better of it. He had things to do today; in fact he should not be here at all. But it felt so good! How could he resist?
Billy No Mates had Tweeted earlier: Going to look at those shoes again at lunchtime – hope they’ll still be there!
They were! He’d watched her take a photo of them with her iPhone, then tell the assistant she was going to have a think about them over lunch. She asked the shop assistant if she would keep them aside for her until 2 p.m. The assistant said she would.
They were dead sexy! The black ones, with the ankle straps and the five-inch steel-coloured heels. The ones she wanted to wear, she had told the assistant, when she went to a function with her boyfriend, who would be meeting her parents for the first time.
Billy No Mates tapped out something on the keyboard, then raised the phone to her ear. Moments later her face lit up, animated. ‘Hi, Roz! I just sent you a photo of the shoes! Have you got it? Yeah! What do you think? You do? Really? OK! I’m going to get them! I’ll bring them over and show them to you tonight, after my squash game! What film are we going to see? You got The Final Destination? Great!’
He smiled. She liked horror movies. Maybe she might even enjoy the little show he had planned for her! Although it was not his intention to give pleasure.
‘No, the car’s fine now, all fixed. I’ll pick up the takeaway. I’ll tell him not to charge us for the seaweed. He forgot it last week,’ she continued. ‘Yeah, OK, soy sauce. I’ll make sure he puts extra in.’
His own mobile rang. He looked at the display. Work. He pressed the red button, sending it to voicemail.
Then he looked down at the copy of the Argus he had just bought. The front page headline shouted:
POLICE STEP UP VIGILANCE AFTER THIRD CITY RAPE
He frowned, then began to read. The third attack, over the weekend, was in the ghost train on the pier. There was hot speculation that the so-called Shoe Man, who in 1997-8 had committed four and perhaps five rapes – and possibly many more that had never been reported – was back. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, the Senior Investigating Officer, stated it was too soon for such speculation. They were pursuing a number of lines of enquiry, he said, and gave assurances that every possible resource Sussex Police had at their disposal was being harnessed. The safety of the city’s women was their number-one priority.
Then the next paragraph hit him with a jolt.
In an exclusive interview with the Argus, Detective Superintendent Grace stated that the offender had a physical sexual deformity. He declined to be specific, but told this reporter that it included an exceptionally diminutive manhood. He added that any woman who had had previous relations with him would remember this feature. A psycho-sexual therapist said that such an inadequacy could lead a person to attempt to compensate via violent means. Anyone who believed they might know such a person was urged either to phone 0845 6070999 and ask for the Operation Swordfish Incident Room or to call the Crimestoppers number anonymously.
His phone beeped twice with a voicemail message. He ignored it, glaring down at the print with rising fury. Sexual deformity? Was that what everyone was thinking of him? Well, maybe Detective Superintendent Grace was not very well endowed in another department, his brain. The detective hadn’t caught him twelve years ago and he was not going to catch him now.
Little dick, big brain, Mr Grace.
He read the article again, every word of it, word by word. Then again. Then again.
A friendly female voice with a South African accent startled him. ‘Are you ready to order, madam?’
He looked up at the young waitress’s face. Then across to the table next to him by the window.
Billy No Mates had left.
It didn’t matter. He knew where to find her later. In the car park at Withdean Sports Stadium after her game of squash this evening. It was a good car park, open air and large. It should be quiet at that time of day and pitch dark. With luck he’d be able to park right alongside the bitch’s little black Ka.
He looked up at the waitress. ‘Yes, I’ll have a rump steak and chips, bloody.’
‘I’m afraid this is a vegetarian restaurant.’
‘Then what the fuck am I doing here?’ he said, totally forgetting his ladylike voice.
He got up and flounced out.
Tuesday 13 January
At the end of Kensington Gardens he turned left and walked down Trafalgar Street, looking for a payphone. He found one at the bottom and went in. Several cards featuring half-naked ladies offering French Lessons, Oriental Massage, Discipline Classes were stuck in the window frames. ‘Bitches,’ he said, casting his eye across them. It took him a moment to work out what he had to do to make a call. Then he dug in his pocket for a coin and shoved the only thing he had, a pound, into the slot. Then, still shaking with rage, he looked at the first number in the Argus article and dialled it.
When it was answered, he asked to be put through to the Incident Room for Operation Swordfish, then waited.
After three rings, a male voice answered. ‘Incident Room, Detective Constable Nicholl.’
‘I want you to give a message to Detective Superintendent Grace.’
‘Yes, sir. May I say who’s calling?’
He waited for a moment, as a police car raced past, its siren wailing, then he left his message, hung up and hurried away from the booth.
Tuesday 13 January
All the team at the 6.30 p.m. briefing of Operation Swordfish, gathered in MIR-1, were silent as Roy Grace switched on the recorder. The tape that had been sent over from the Call Handling Centre began to play.
There was a background rumble of traffic, then a man’s voice, quiet, as if he had been making an effort to stay calm. The roar of traffic made it hard to hear him distinctly.
‘I want you to give a message to Detective Superintendent Grace,’ the man said.
Then they could hear Nick Nicholl’s voice replying. ‘Yes, sir. May I say who’s calling?’
Nothing for some moments, except the almost deafening wail of a passing siren, then the man’s voice again, this time louder: ‘Tell him it’s not small, actually.’
It was followed by a loud clattering sound, a sharp click and the line went dead.
No one smiled.
‘Is this real or a hoax?’ Norman Potting asked.
After a few moments Dr Julius Proudfoot said, ‘I’d put my money on that being real, from the way he spoke.’
‘Can we hear it again, boss?’ Michael Foreman asked.
Grace replayed the tape. When it finished, he turned to Proud-foot. ‘Anything you can tell us from that?’
The forensic psychologist nodded. ‘Well, yes, quite a bit. The first thing, assuming it is him, is that you’ve clearly succeeded in rattling his cage. That’s why I think it’s real, not a hoax. There’s genuine anger in the voice. Full of emotion.’
‘That was my intention, to rattle his cage.’
‘You can hear it in his voice, in the way the cadence rises,’ the forensic psychologist went on. ‘He’s all bottled up with anger. And the fact that it sounded like he fumbled replacing the receiver – probably shaking so much with rage. I can tell also that he’s nervous, feeling under pressure – and that you’ve struck a chord. Is that information about him true? Something that’s been obtained from statements by the victims?’
‘Not in so many words, but yes, reading between the lines of the witness statements from back in 1997 and now.’
‘What’s your reasoning for giving that to the Argus, Roy?’ Emma-Jane Boutwood asked.
‘Because I suspect this creep thinks he’s very clever. He got away with his attacks before and now he’s confident he’s going to get away with these new ones too. If Dr Proudfoot is right and he committed the ghost train rape as well, then he’s clearly stepping up both the speed and the brazenness of his attacks. I wanted to lance his ego a little and hopefully get him into a strop. People who are angry are more likely to make mistakes.’
‘Or be more brutal to their victims,’ Bella Moy said. ‘Isn’t that a risk?’
‘If he killed last time, Bella, which I think is likely,’ Grace replied, ‘there’s a high risk he’ll kill again, strop or no strop. When someone has taken a life once, they’ve crossed a personal Rubicon. It’s far easier the second time. Particularly if they found they enjoyed it the first time. We’re dealing with a nasty, warped freak here – and someone who’s not stupid. We need to find ways to trip him up. I don’t just want him not being more brutal to a victim – I want him not to have another victim, full stop. We have to catch him before he attacks again.’
‘Anyone figure out his accent?’ Nick Nicholl asked.
‘Sounds local to me,’ DC Foreman said, ‘but difficult with that background noise. Can we get the recording enhanced?’
‘That’s being worked on now,’ Grace replied. Then he turned to Proudfoot. ‘Can you estimate the man’s age from this?’
‘That’s a hard one – anywhere between thirty and fifty, I’d guess,’ he said. ‘I think you need to run this through a lab, somewhere like J. P. French, which specializes in speaker profiling. There’s quite a bit of information they could get us from a call like this. Probably the man’s regional and ethnic background, for a start.’
Grace nodded. He’d used the specialist firm before and the results had been helpful. He could also get a voiceprint from the lab that would be as unique as a fingerprint or DNA. But could they do it in the short amount of time he believed he had?
‘There have been mass DNA screenings in communities,’ Bella Moy said. ‘What about trying something like that in Brighton with the voiceprint?’
‘So all we’d have to do, Bella,’ Norman Potting said, ‘is get every bloke in Brighton and Hove to say the same words. There’s only a hundred and forty thousand or so males in the city. Shouldn’t take us more than about ten years.’
‘Could you play it again, boss, please,’ said Glenn Branson, who’d been very quiet. ‘Wasn’t it that movie, The Conversation, with Gene Hackman, where they worked out where someone was from the traffic noise in the background on the tape?’
He played the tape again.
‘Have we been able to trace the call, sir?’ Ellen Zoratti asked.
‘The number was withheld. But it’s being worked on. It’s a big task with the amount coming through the Call Centre every hour.’ Grace played the tape again.
When it finished, Glenn Branson said, ‘Sounds like somewhere in the centre of Brighton. If they can’t trace the number we’ve still got the siren and the time of day – that vehicle sounds like it went right past very close to him. We need to check what emergency vehicle was on its blues and twos at exactly 1.55 p.m., and we’ll get its route and know he was somewhere along it. A CCTV might have picked up someone on their mobile – and possibly bingo.’
‘Good thinking,’ Grace said. ‘Although it sounded more like a landline than a mobile from the way he hung up.’
‘Yes,’ Michael Foreman said. ‘That clunking sound – that’s like an old-fashioned handset being replaced.’
‘He might have just dropped his phone, if he was as nervous as Dr Proudfoot suggests,’ said DC Boutwood. ‘I don’t think we should rule out a mobile.’
‘Or it could be a public phone booth,’ Foreman said. ‘In which case there may be fingerprints.’
‘If he’s angry,’ Proudfoot said, ‘then I think it’s even more likely he’ll strike again quickly. And a racing certainty is that he’ll copy his pattern from last time. He’ll know that worked. He’ll be fine if he sticks to the same again. Which means he’s going to strike in a car park next – as I’ve said before.’
Grace walked over to a map of central Brighton and stared at it, looking at each of the main car parks. The station, London Road, New Road, Churchill Square, North Road. There were dozens of them, big and small, some run by the council, some by NCP, some part of supermarkets or hotels. He turned back to Proudfoot.
‘It would be impossible to cover every damned car park in the city – and even more impossible to cover every level of every multi-storey,’ he said. ‘We just don’t have the number of patrols. And we can hardly close them down.’
He was feeling anxious suddenly. Maybe it had been a mistake telling Spinella that yesterday. What if it pushed the Shoe Man over the edge into killing again? It would be his own stupid fault.
‘The best thing we can do is get plain-clothes officers into the CCTV control rooms of those car parks that have it, step up patrols and have as many undercover vehicles drive around the car parks as we can,’ Grace said.
‘The one thing I’d tell your team to watch out for, Detective Superintendent, is someone on edge tonight. Someone driving erratically on the streets. I think our man is going to be in a highly wired state.’
You think you’ve been clever, don’t you, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace? You think you’re going to make me angry by insulting me, don’t you? I can see through all that shit.
You should accept you are just a lame duck. Your colleagues didn’t catch me before and you won’t catch me now. I’m so much smarter than you could ever dream of being. You see, you don’t realize I’m doing you a favour!
I’m getting rid of the poison in your manor! I’m your new best friend! One day you’ll come to realize that! One day you and I will walk along under the cliffs at Rottingdean and talk about all of this. That walk you like to take with your beloved Cleo on Sundays! She likes shoes too. I’ve seen her in some of the shops I go in. She’s quite into shoes, isn’t she? You are going to need saving from her, but you don’t realize that yet. You will do one day.
They’re all poison, you see. All women. They seduce you with their Venus fly trap vaginas. You can’t bear to be apart from them. You phone them and text them every few minutes of your waking day, because you need to know how much they still love you.
Let me tell you a secret.
No woman ever loves you. All she wants to do is control you. You might sneer at me. You might question the size of my manhood. But I will tell you something, Detective Superintendent. You’ll be grateful to me, one day. You’ll walk with me arm in arm along the Undercliff Walk at Rottingdean and thank me for saving you from yourself.
Tuesday 13 January
Jessie felt a deep and constant yearning all the time she was away from Benedict. It must be an hour now since she had texted him, she thought. Tuesdays were their one night apart. She played squash with a recently married friend, Jax, then after would pick up a takeaway Chinese and go round to Roz’s and watch a DVD – something they had done almost every Tuesday night for as long as she could remember. Benedict, who liked to compose guitar music, had a similar long-standing Tuesday evening commitment – working late into the night with his co-writing partner, coming up with new songs. At the moment they were putting together an album they hoped might be their breakthrough.
Some weekends Benedict played gigs in a band in a variety of Sussex pubs. She loved watching him on stage. He was like a drug she just could not get enough of. Still, after eight months of dating, she could make love to him virtually all day and all night – on the rare opportunities they had such a length of time together. He was the best kisser, the best lover by a million, million miles – not that she’d had that many for comparison. Four, to be precise, and none of them memorable.
Benedict was kind, thoughtful, considerate, generous, and he made her laugh. She loved his humour. She loved the smell of his skin, his hair, his breath and his perspiration. But the thing she loved most of all about him was his mind.
And of course she loved that he really, truly, genuinely did seem to like her nose.
‘You don’t really like it, do you?’ she’d asked him in bed, a few months ago.
‘I think you’re beautiful.’
‘I’m not. I’ve got a hooter like Concorde.’
‘You’re beautiful to me.’
‘Have you been to an optician lately?’
‘Do you want to hear something I read that made me think of you?’ he asked.
‘OK, tell me.’
‘It’s beauty that captures your attention, personality that captures your heart.’
She smiled now at the memory as she sat in the traffic jam in the sodium-lit darkness, the heater of her little Ford Ka whirring noisily, toasting her feet. She was half listening to the news on the radio, tuned to Radio 4, Gordon Brown being harangued over Afghanistan. She didn’t like him, even though she was a Labour supporter, and she switched over to Juice. Air were playing, ‘Sexy Boy’.
‘Yayyyy!’ She grinned, nodding her head and drumming the steering wheel for a few moments, in tune to the music. Sexy Boy, that’s what you are, my gorgeous!
She loved him with all her heart and soul, of that she was sure. She wanted to spend the rest of her life with him – she had never ever been so certain of anything. It was going to hurt her parents that she wasn’t marrying a Jewish boy, but she couldn’t help that. She respected her family’s traditions, but she was not a believer in any religion. She believed in making the world a better place for everyone who lived in it, and she hadn’t yet come across a religion that seemed capable of or interested in doing that.
Her iPhone, lying beside her on the passenger seat, pinged with an incoming text. She smiled.
The rush-hour gridlock up the London Road was being made worse than usual by new roadworks. The traffic light ahead had gone from green to red, to green to red again now, and they hadn’t moved in inch. She was still alongside the brightly lit window display of British Bookshops. She had time to look at her phone safely, she decided.
Hope you win! XXXXXXXXXXXXXX
She smiled. The engine idled and the wipers alternated between a scraping and a screeching sound, flattening the droplets of rain that landed on the windscreen into an opaque smear. Benedict told her she needed new wiper blades and was going to get her some. She could have done with them now, she thought.
She looked at her watch: 5.50. Shit. Normally, the half an hour she allowed to get from the charity’s offices in the Old Steine, where she had a free parking space, to the Withdean Sports Stadium was more than adequate. But this evening she had not moved an inch for over five minutes. She was due on court at 6 p.m. Hopefully it would be better once she was past the roadworks.
Jessie wasn’t the only person being made anxious by the bad traffic. Someone waiting for her at the Withdean Sports Stadium, someone who was not her squash partner, was in a very bad mood. And it was worsening by the second.
Tuesday 13 January
It was meant to be dark here! It had been dark when he’d checked it out last night. It was less than a month since the longest night of the year – only 13 January, for Christ’s sake! At 6 p.m. it should be totally dark. But the sodding car park of Withdean Sports Stadium was lit up like a sodding Christmas Tree. Why did they have to pick tonight to have bloody outdoor athletics practice? Hadn’t anyone told the stadium about global warming?
And where the fuck was she?
The car park was a lot fuller than he had expected. He’d already driven around it three times, checking that he had not missed the little black Ka. It definitely wasn’t here.
She distinctly said on Facebook that she would meet Jax here at 5.45. The court was booked for 6 p.m. As usual.
He’d looked up pictures of Roz on Facebook, too. View photos of Roz (121). Send Roz a message. Poke Roz. Roz and Jessie are friends. Roz was quite a sexy vixen, he thought. She rocked! There were some photos of her all dressed up for a prom night.
He focused on the task in hand as his eyes hunted through the windscreen. Two men hurried across in front of him, each carrying sports bags, heads ducked low against the rain, going into the main building. They didn’t see him. White vans were always invisible! He was tempted to follow them inside, to check in case somehow he had missed Jessie Sheldon and she was already on court. She’d said something about her car, that it had been fixed. What if something had gone wrong with it again and she’d got a lift from someone instead, or taken a bus or a taxi?
He stopped the van alongside a row of parked vehicles, in a position that gave him a clear view of the entrance ramp to the car park, switched the engine off and killed the lights. It was a God-awful cold, rainy night, which was perfect. No one was going to take any notice of the van, floodlights or no sodding floodlights. Everyone had their heads down, dashing for the cover of the buildings or their cars. All except the stupid athletes on the track.
He was prepared. He was already wearing his latex gloves. The chloroform pad was in a sealed container in his anorak pocket. He slipped his hand inside, to check again. His hood was in another pocket. He checked that again too. Just one thing concerned him: he hoped that Jessie would have a shower after her game, because he didn’t like sweaty women. He didn’t like some of the unwashed smells women had. She must shower, surely, because she was going straight on to pick up a Chinese takeaway and then to watch a horror film with Roz.
Headlights approached up the ramp. He stiffened. Was this her? He switched on the ignition to sweep the wipers over the rain-spattered screen.
It was a Range Rover. Its headlights momentarily blinded him, then he heard it roar past. He kept the wipers going. The heater pumped in welcoming warm air.
A guy in baggy shorts and a baseball cap was trudging across the car park, with a sports bag slung over his shoulders, engrossed in a conversation on his mobile. He heard a faint beep-beep and saw lights wink on a dark-coloured Porsche, then the man opened the door.
Wanker, he thought.
He stared again at the ramp. Looked at his watch: 6.05 p.m. Shit. He pounded the wheel with his fists. Heard a faint, high-pitched whistling sound in his ears. He got that sometimes when he was all tensed up. He pinched the end of his nose shut and blew hard, but it had no effect and the whistling grew louder.
‘Stop it! Fuck off! Stop it!’
It grew louder still.
Exceptionally diminutive manhood!
Jessie would be the judge of that.
He looked at his watch again: 6.10 p.m.
The whistling was now as loud as a football referee’s whistle.
‘Shut up!’ he shouted, feeling all shaky, his eyes blurring with anger.
Then he heard voices, suddenly, and the scrunch of shoes.
‘I told her he’s an absolute waste of space.’
‘She said she loves him! I told her, like, I mean, what??????’
There was a sharp double beep. He saw a flash of orange over to his left. Then he heard car doors click open and, a few moments later, slam shut. The brief whir of a starter motor, then the rattle of a diesel. The interior of the van suddenly stank of diesel exhaust. He heard the blast of a horn.
‘Sod off,’ he said.
The horn blasted again, twice, to his left.
‘Sod off! Screw you! Fuck you! Fuck off!’
There was a mist in front of his eyes, inside his head. The wipers screeched, clearing the rain. More came. They cleared that too. More came.
Then the horn blasted again.
He turned in fury and saw reversing lights on. And then realized. A big, ugly people carrier was trying to reverse and he was parked right in front of it, blocking it.
‘Fuck you! Screw you!’ He started the van, crunched it into gear, jerked forward a few inches and stalled. His head was shaking, the whistling even louder, slicing his brain to bits like a cheese-wire. He started the van again. Someone knocked on the passenger door window. ‘Fuck you!’ He rammed the gear lever into first and shot forward. He carried on, almost blind with fury now, and hurtled down the ramp.
In his haze of fury he was utterly oblivious of the headlights of the little black Ford Ka racing up the ramp, in the opposite direction, and passing him.
Wednesday 14 January
‘I’m sorry I’m late, my darling,’ Roy Grace said, coming through the front door.
‘If I had a pound for every time you’ve said that, I’d be a millionaire!’ Sandy gave him a resigned smile, then kissed him.
There was a warm smell of scented candles in the house. Sandy lit them most evenings, but there seemed more than usual tonight, to mark the special occasion.
‘God, you look beautiful,’ he said.
She did. She’d been to the hairdresser’s and her long fair hair was in ringlets. She was wearing a short black dress that showed every curve of her body and she had sprayed on his favourite perfume, Poison. She raised her wrist to show him the slim silver bracelet he’d bought her from a modern jeweller in the Lanes.
‘It looks great!’ he said.
‘It does!’ She admired it in the mirror on the Victorian coat-stand in the hall. ‘I love it. You have great taste, Detective Sergeant Grace!’
He held her in his arms and nuzzled her bare neck. ‘I could make love to you right now, here on the hall floor.’
‘Then you’d better be quick. There’s a taxi coming in thirty minutes!’
‘Taxi? We don’t need a taxi. I’ll drive.’
‘You’re not going to drink on my birthday?’
She helped him out of his coat, slung it on a hook on the stand and led him by the hand into the sitting room. The juke box they’d bought a couple of years earlier in the Saturday morning Kensington Gardens market, and had restored, was playing one of his favourite Rolling Stones tracks, their version of ‘Under the Boardwalk’. The lights were dimmed and candles were burning all around. On the coffee table sat an open bottle of champagne, two glasses and a bowl of olives.
‘I had thought we might have a drink before we went out,’ she said wistfully. ‘But it’s OK. I’ll put it in the fridge and we can have it when we get back! You could drink it off my naked body.’
‘Mmmm,’ he said. ‘It’s a lovely idea. But I’m on duty, darling, so I can’t drink.’
‘Roy, it’s my birthday!’
He kissed her again, but she pulled away from him. ‘You’re not on duty on my birthday. You were on duty all over Christmas. You’ve been at work all day today since very early. Now you’re switching off!’
‘Tell Popeye that.’
Popeye was his immediate boss, Detective Chief Inspector Jim ‘Popeye’ Doyle. The DCI had been appointed the Senior Investigating Officer on Operation Sundown, the investigation into the disappearance of Rachael Ryan, which was currently consuming all Grace’s working hours – and keeping him awake every night, his brain racing.
‘Give me his number and I will!’
Grace shook his head. ‘My darling, all leave has been cancelled. We’re on this case around the clock. I’m sorry. But if you were Rachael Ryan’s parents, that’s what you’d expect of us.’
‘You’re not telling me you can’t have a drink on my birthday?’
‘Let me nip up and change.’
‘You’re not going anywhere until you promise me you’re going to drink with me tonight!’
‘Sandy, if I get called out and someone smells alcohol on my breath, I could lose my job and get kicked off the force. Please understand.’
‘Please understand!’ she mimicked. ‘If I had a pound for every time you said that as well, I’d be a multi-millionaire!’
‘Cancel the cab. I’m going to drive.’
‘You are not bloody driving!’
‘I thought we were trying to save money for the mortgage and for all the work on the house.’
‘I don’t think one taxi’s going to make much bloody difference!’
‘It’s two taxis actually – one there and one back.’
‘So?’ She placed her hands on her hips defiantly.
At that moment, his radio phone crackled into life with an incoming call. He tugged it from his pocket and answered.
She looked at him, giving him a Don’t you dare, whatever it is, glare.
It was his DCI.
‘Good evening, sir,’ he said.
The reception was poor, Jim Doyle’s voice crackly.
‘Roy, there’s a burnt-out van just been found in a field by a farmer out lamping for rabbits. The index shows it was stolen yesterday afternoon. There’s a body in it which he thinks is female – he was in the Tank Corps of the army out in Iraq and knows a bit about these things apparently. Sounds possible it could be our missing Rachael Ryan – we need to secure the vehicle immediately. It’s off the Saddlescombe Road, half a mile south of the Waterhall Golf Club. I’m on my way over now. Can you meet me there? How long would it take you?’
Grace’s heart sank. ‘You mean now, sir?’
‘What do you think? Three weeks’ time?’
‘No, sir – it’s just – it’s my wife’s birthday.’
‘Wish her Happy Birthday from me.’
Wednesday 14 January
Norman Potting entered MIR-1 carrying a coffee he had just made in the kitchenette along the corridor. He was stooping, holding the steaming mug out at arm’s length, as if mistrustful of it. He grunted a couple of times as he crossed the room, seeming to be about to say something, then changing his mind.
Like most of the team, Potting had been at his desk since before 7 a.m. It was now coming up to 8.30 a.m., and the morning briefing. Temporarily absent from the room was Roy Grace, who had an early appointment with the ACC, Peter Rigg, and Julius Proudfoot, who was due at any moment.
A phone rang, loudly, to the sound of a trumpet fanfare. Everyone looked around. Embarrassed, Nick Nicholl plucked his offending machine out and silenced it.
As Roy Grace entered the room another phone went off. The ring tone was the Indiana Jones theme. Potting had the decency to blush. It was his.
Mouthing an apology to Roy Grace, he yanked it out of his pocket and checked the display. Then he raised a finger. ‘I’ll just take this quickly… Someone who may have a lead.’
Another phone rang. It was Julius Proudfoot’s. The forensic psychologist entered the room, extricating his mobile from his man bag as he walked, answered it and sat down, holding it to his ear.
The last to arrive was the Sexual Offences Liaison Officer, Claire Westmore, who had been interviewing and spending time with each of the three rape victims. This was the first of the briefings she had attended.
Potting, wedging his phone to his ear with his shoulder, was writing on his notepad. ‘Thank you. That’s very helpful. Thank you.’
He replaced his phone and turned to Roy, looking pleased with himself. ‘We have another suspect, chief!’
‘It’s from a bloke I know, one of my contacts.’ Potting tapped the side of his nose. ‘Drives for Streamline Taxis. Told me there’s a bloke – he’s a bit of a joke among the other cabbies apparently – name of John Kerridge. But he calls himself by a funny nickname: Yac. Well, apparently this Yac fellow drives a journeyman night shift and is always going on about strange stuff – ladies’ shoes is one of his things.’
Now he had the full attention of the room.
‘There have been a few complaints about him by passengers – he gets a bit too personal about things, in particular the toilets in their homes and their footwear. I’ve spoken to the Hackney Carriage officer in the council. He tells me this driver hasn’t actually propositioned anyone, but he’s a bit more personal than some of his passengers like. The council want people – particularly women – to feel safe in licensed taxis, not vulnerable. He says he’s planning to have a word with him.’
‘Do you have an address for Kerridge?’ Grace asked.
Potting nodded. ‘Lives on a houseboat at Shoreham.’
‘Good work,’ Grace said. ‘I’ve got Suspects on the agenda, so we’ll add him to the list when we get to it.’ He put his briefing notes down on the work surface in front of him, along with his Policy Book. ‘OK, it is 8.30 a.m., Wednesday 14 January. This is our tenth briefing of Operation Swordfish, the investigation into the stranger rape of three persons, Mrs Nicola Taylor, Mrs Roxy Pearce and Miss Mandy Thorpe. I’ve asked the SOLO, Claire Westmore, to attend in order to update us on her interviews with the victims.’
He nodded at her.
‘All three of them are, as you would expect, deeply traumatized by what they have been through – the assaults, and the intrusive procedures afterwards,’ the SOLO said in her soft Scouse accent. ‘I’ll start with the first victim, Nicola Taylor, who still has only very limited recall of the attack at the Metropole. Her trauma has deepened since the original interview with her, part of which you and DS Branson witnessed. At the moment she is under sedation at her home in Brighton, being cared for around the clock by a female friend, and has attempted twice to self-harm. She may have to be taken into psychiatric care for a while before we can start a full interview process.’
She paused to look at her notes. ‘I think we are making some progress with Mrs Roxanna Pearce, who was attacked in her home in The Droveway last Thursday night. What is interesting in her situation is that when the offender struck, she was in the process of getting dressed up – while her husband was away on a business trip in Scandinavia. SOCO found evidence in her kitchen that she was expecting a guest.’
There were a few raised eyebrows. Then Bella said, ‘She could simply have invited a girlfriend round. Why the innuendo?’
‘Well,’ Claire Westmore said, ‘I don’t think the signs indicate an innocent evening with a mate. There were Italian hors d’oeuvres in a carrier bag on the kitchen table. Two steaks on plates. An open bottle of a very expensive wine and another bottle in the fridge. I’ve asked her who she was going to be cooking these steaks for and she goes very defensive. She keeps repeating that she’d bought them to give her husband a treat when he came home. But he wasn’t due home until the next day.’
‘You don’t let a wine breathe that long. It would be kaput,’ Michael Foreman said. ‘It’s one of my interests. Doesn’t matter what the quality, an hour or two perhaps. But that long? Never. I’ve had a look at the report. That opened bottle would cost over a hundred quid. That’s not plonk you drink over a casual supper.’
‘Yep, well, I don’t know much about wine,’ Westmore said, ‘but I would have to agree with you. I think she was expecting someone.’
‘You mean a lover?’ Nick Nicholl asked.
‘You don’t open a bottle of wine for someone who’s going to rape you,’ Emma-Jane Boutwood said.
‘Maybe she was planning a kinky sex session,’ Norman Potting interjected.
‘In your dreams,’ Bella Moy retorted.
‘She’s obviously not going to tell you the truth if she was up to something while her husband was away,’ Potting went on. ‘And she’s not going to want him finding out now, is she?’
‘Could we be looking at a kinky sex game gone wrong?’ Proud-foot asked.
‘I don’t think so,’ Claire Westmore said. ‘Not from the way I’m reading her.’
‘So who was her mystery dinner guest?’ Nick Nicholl asked.
‘She’s denying there was one.’
Glenn Branson spoke. ‘The Mercedes car that was seen leaving her house at around the time of the attack, for which we only have two digits and one letter of the alphabet. We’ve now narrowed that down to eighty-three vehicles registered in the Brighton and Hove area. All the registered keepers are being contacted and interviewed. Of course, we’ve no way of being sure this was a local car, but it seems probable.’
‘How many have been eliminated so far?’ Roy Grace asked.
‘Seventy-one, sir,’ said a young DC, Alan Ramsay. ‘We should have the rest covered in the next twenty-four hours.’
‘So it could be the offender – or her dinner guest,’ Grace said.
‘If it was her guest, why did he drive away, do you think, boss?’ Michael Foreman asked.
‘Sounds like, if Claire is right, we might get a chance to ask him that directly.’ Grace looked at her. ‘Any more on the third victim?’
‘Mandy Thorpe is still in hospital, under observation for her head injury, but she’s improving – physically if not mentally, sir,’ the SOLO said. ‘But she’s responding well to questioning.’
‘Anything new from her?’
‘I’m still not happy about the link with the first two and her. I’m just not convinced it is the same offender.’ Grace looked at Proudfoot, who said nothing. ‘OK, let’s move on to the suspect list. First, can I have an update on where we are with Darren Spicer?’
Glenn Branson spoke again. ‘Me and DC Nicholl interviewed him again last night at the St Patrick’s shelter – we checked first he had been at work all that day at the Grand Hotel, just to see if he was keeping his word about wanting to go straight. We asked him why he’d taken the shoes of his last victim – Marcie Kallestad – after sexually assaulting her.’
‘He said it was to stop her chasing him.’
There was a titter of laughter.
‘Did you believe him?’ Grace asked.
‘Not as far as I could throw him. He’ll tell you whatever he wants you to hear. But I didn’t get the impression he took them for any kinky reason.’
He turned towards Nick Nicholl, who shook his head and said, ‘I agree.’
‘Did he say what he did with them?’
Nicholl nodded. ‘He said he flogged them to a shop down Church Street.’
‘Is it still there?’ Grace asked. ‘Could we get them to verify that?’
‘Think they’re going to remember a pair of shoes twelve years later, sir?’
Grace nodded. ‘Good point. OK. Norman, what can you tell us about this taxi driver, Johnny Kerridge – Yac?’
‘He’s a piece of work, from what I’ve gathered. I’m planning to go and have a chat with him this morning.’
‘Good. If you have enough for an arrest, bring him in. The ACC’s blowing smoke up my backside. But only if you really feel you have enough, understand?’
‘What about a search warrant? Take him by surprise and stop him getting rid of any evidence.’
‘I don’t know if we have enough, chief,’ Potting said.
‘From what I’ve heard we’ve enough to justify. We’re going in hard on all suspects now, so that’s your next action, Norman.’ Grace looked down at his notes. ‘OK, where are we with other sex offenders on the register? Has anyone moved up the offender status?’
‘No, sir,’ Ellen Zoratti said. ‘We’re working through the list. I’ve got a possible in Shrewsbury four years ago – very similar MO and no suspect ever apprehended, and another in Birmingham six years ago. I’m waiting for more details.’
Grace nodded. ‘One important question, Ellen, is have we captured all offences so far in our territory? Are we sure we haven’t missed any? We know for a fact that only 6 per cent of rapes get reported. How are we going to get crucial information from the other 94 per cent? We’ve talked so far to our neighbouring forces, Kent, Surrey, Hampshire and the Met as well. That hasn’t yielded anything.’ He thought for a moment. ‘You’ve been trawling SCAS for stranger rapes – any joy there?’
SCAS was the Serious Crime Analysis Section, which covered every county in the UK except for the London Metropolitan Police, who were not linked in on it.
‘Nothing so far, sir,’ she said, ‘but I’m waiting on several forces to get back to me.’
‘Let me know as soon as you have anything.’
Proudfoot coughed and then spoke. ‘As I said, I’d be very surprised if our man hasn’t offended elsewhere in these past twelve years. Very surprised indeed. You can take it as a given that he has.’
‘Offended as in rape?’ Emma-Jane Boutwood asked.
‘Urges don’t just go away,’ Proudfoot said. ‘He’ll have needed outlets for his urges.’ His phone rang again. After a quick look at the display, he silenced it. ‘I presume you’re in contact with Crimewatch, Roy? They could be helpful here.’
‘We have an excellent relationship with them, Julius,’ Grace replied. ‘Unfortunately, it’s two weeks until they are on air again. I want to have our offender potted long before then.’
He could have added, but did not, that so did the ACC, Peter Rigg, the Chief Constable, Tom Martinson, and the Chief Executive of Brighton and Hove Corporation.
Suddenly, his own phone rang.
It was his former boss from 1997, Jim Doyle, who was now part of the recently formed Cold Case Team.
‘Roy,’ he said. ‘Those missing pages from the Rachael Ryan cold-case file – about the white van seen near her flat on Christmas morning, 1997?’
‘We’ve found out who last signed that file out. I think you’re going to like this rather a lot.’
Wednesday 14 January
‘I’m all ears,’ Roy Grace said.
The next words from Jim Doyle stunned him. Totally stunned him. After they had fully sunk in, he said, ‘You’re not serious, Jim.’
‘Absolutely I am.’
In his nineteen years in the police force to date, Roy Grace had found his fellow officers tended to be good, decent people and, for the most part, people whose company he enjoyed both at work and socially. Sure there were a few prats: some, like Norman Potting, who at least had the redeeming feature of being a good detective, and others, very occasionally, who were a total waste of space. But there were only two people he could really genuinely say that he did not like.
The first was his acerbic former ACC, Alison Vosper, who seemed to have made her mind up from the start that she and Grace were not going to get on; the second was a London Metropolitan Police detective who’d had a brief sojourn here last year, and had tried very hard to stick the boot into him. His name was Cassian Pewe.
Grace excused himself and stepped out of the room, closing the door behind him.
‘Cassian Pewe? Are you serious, Jim? You’re saying that Cassian Pewe was the last person to sign that file out?’
‘Detective Superintendent Cassian Pewe. He was working here in the autumn, wasn’t he?’ Doyle said. ‘Hadn’t he moved here from the Met, to help you out on cold cases?’
‘Not to help me out, Jim, to take over from me – and not just on cold cases, but on everything. That was his plan, courtesy of Alison Vosper! He was out to eat my sodding lunch!’
‘I heard there was a bit of friction.’
‘You could call it that.’
Grace had first met Pewe a few years ago, when the man was a detective inspector. The Met had sent in reinforcements to help police Brighton during the Labour Party Conference, Pewe being one of them. Grace had had a big run-in with him and found him supremely arrogant. Then, to his utter dismay, last year Pewe had moved down to Sussex CID with the rank of detective superintendent, and Alison Vosper had given him Grace’s cold-case workload – plus the clear signal that the former Met officer would be taking over more and more of Grace’s duties.
Cassian Pewe fancied himself as a ladies’ man. He had golden hair, angelic blue eyes and a permanent tan. He preened and strutted, exuding a natural air of authority, always acting as if he was in charge, even when he wasn’t. Working secretly, behind Grace’s back, Pewe had taken it upon himself to ruin Grace’s career by trying to reopen investigations into Sandy’s disappearance – and point suspicion at him. Returning from a trip to New York last October, Grace found, to his utter incredulity, that Pewe had assembled a Police Search Unit team to scan and dig up his garden for Sandy’s suspected remains.
Fortunately, that had proved a step too far. Pewe left Sussex CID and returned to the Met not long after, with his tail between his legs.
After a few more questions to Jim Doyle, Grace hung up and then stood thinking for some moments. There was no way, at this stage, he could mention anything openly to his team. Questioning another officer as high-ranking as Pewe as a suspect would have to be done discreetly, regardless of his personal feelings towards the man.
He would do this himself and it would be a pleasure.