Raymond Shaw has a past he has all but eradicated from his memory. A twisted past involving his parents, a defrocked priest, satanic rituals and murder. But now he dreams of dead girls and he knows the past has resurfaced and is calling to him, calling him back to the purpose he was raised for.
Detective Inspector Frank Giles is investigating a series of ritualistic murders that bring terrifying memories of an earlier case back to him. There had been murders then, too, and the cult of Beliar led by the defrocked priest Father McHinery, and a small boy found hiding behind the sacrificial altar, a small boy named Raymond. McHinery is dead, Frank watched him gunned down, but as his investigations into the current murders continue, the evidence keeps pulling him towards one conclusion. The cult of Beliar has resurfaced and at its head, impossibly, is a resurrected McHinery.
They are killing once again but, more than anything, they want Raymond back. Beliar must be made flesh and only one raised for that purpose can fulfil his need.
Where am I? I’m frightened. They hurt me. They really, really hurt me!
What’s your name?
My name? I… I can’t remember. Fiona, I think. I think it’s Fiona. It’s so hard to remember. They hurt me so very bad.
Who hurt you Fiona? Who was it?
Men. Men, and ladies too. There were so many of them… so many. They hurt me. They did things… things they shouldn’t, and they hurt me! Who are you? I don’t know you. Are you one of them? Please… please, no more. I did everything you wanted me to. I didn’t scream too much did I? After you hit me the first few times, I didn’t scream much then did I? And when you told me to… you know… do things, I did them didn’t I? Was it right, what I did? Was it what you wanted? You said you wouldn’t hurt me any more if I did it. You said if I did it good, if I did just what you told me when you told me then you wouldn’t hurt me any more, and I did, didn’t I? But you still hurt me. You still hurt me so very bad! Please, please don’t do it any more. It hurts. I feel sick. Oh please, please, no more!
No. Don’t go. Don’t run away. I’m not going to do anything. Please believe me. I’m not one of them. My name is Raymond, Raymond Shaw, and I work in an office. I’m a computer programmer, that’s all. I would never hurt you. I want to help you.
Do… do you… promise you won’t… you know… do things?
I promise. I just want to help you.
I… I want to… believe you. You seem nice. I’m so frightened. Where am I? Do you know? Please, tell me where I am. It’s so dark. I want to go home. My mother will be worried. I’ve been out so long. Please take me home.
How old are you Fiona? Can you remember?
I, I think I’m… yes… twelve… but I’ll be thirteen in two weeks, on the 28th… I’ll be thirteen on the 28th… I’m going to have a party and everything. Why am I so cold? Where am I? They’ve ruined my clothes.
Yes, they ripped them, pulled them, when they tied me to that thing… you know… like in church on a Sunday…
Yes, an altar, that’s it. They tied something round my wrists, my ankles, even my neck. It hurt, it really hurt… so tight! And then they… my blouse, my new blouse. My mother will be furious. It’s ripped. They’ve ruined it. It’s my fault, it’s all my fault. Daddy always says I shouldn’t wear such short skirts. He says it’s wrong, but mother always says I’m only twelve, just a child she says… she’s always saying that… I hate it when she says that.
It wasn’t your fault. What they did, it wasn’t your fault.
But maybe I… you know… like they say in the papers… led them on? If only I’d worn longer skirts, or jeans like daddy always says I should. If only I’d got home early like my mother always tells me to. If only…
Don’t blame yourself. What these people did was wrong. It’s not your fault. Now, tell me where you live.
I… I can’t remember. I’m so frightened. Please help me? I don’t know where I live! Please… please help me get out of here… Is that you?
Is what me?
Over there, in the dark. Have you come to save me… to take me home? Is that you? I’m so glad to see you. I’m over here… yes, here… that’s right… Quickly, please…
Fiona… FIONA! It’s not me, do you understand? I’m not there. I can’t be there… IT’S NOT ME!
But… I can see you… who else could it be? Who else knows I’m here? Please, don’t mess around. I’m frightened. I’m so frightened… please come and get me…
NO! Run Fiona! Run away, NOW! Get away from it… run away… I can’t help you… I can’t reach you… you’re too far away, too far on the other side for me… Oh God, please Fiona, please run… I wish I could help but… Fiona?… Fiona?… FIONA!
A cold, wet October morning.
It was not the time of day nor the time of year that Detective Inspector Frank Giles would have chosen to be driving at speed along the winding, unlit road known locally as The Heswall Stretch, running between Heswall and Thurstaston. He liked the North West of England, he liked the Wirral in particular, but the cold fog rolling across the open fields, reflecting the car headlights like an ever-moving solid wall ahead of him, did not improve his already morose personality.
The call had woken him from a less than restful sleep. His back had been paining him for some weeks now, a lingering complaint aggravated, he felt, by the damp weather. He had been half awake when the telephone rang, had fallen out of bed, stumbled down the stairs without bothering to grab the dressing gown off the back of the door, and answered wearily.
There were other detectives based at the Heswall police station, but he was on call that night. Under-staffing made it impossible to always have a senior detective at the station. At times like this he thought 52 was old enough for early retirement.
He glanced at his watch, barely visible by the lights from the dashboard. 5.25am. It was too early and too cold to be dealing with the brutality he had heard about in that early morning telephone call.
The flashing lights of police cars blinked eerily through the trees as he drove through Thurstaston crossroads, lighting the sky and sparking reflections in the windows of the Cottage Loaf pub on the corner. Beams of flashlights flickered in the woods and further up on the hill. The search for evidence was well under way.
He slowed the car, forcing himself to concentrate through the muggy mist of weariness, switched off the full beam, indicated and pulled into the Thurstaston Hill car park.
“Hell of a way to spend a morning!”
Sergeant Watson, almost slipping on wet leaves, pushed his way through the whip-like branches that latticed the pathways between the trees and hurried to meet Frank as he pulled himself from the car.
Watson had only moved into the area from London six months ago, but already the young man had proved his worth with a quick analytical mind that detectives twice his age, with twice as many years on the force, would, and did, envy. Frank had no delusions about his own abilities, and Watson’s fast, often inspirational thinking had complimented his own plodding, methodical methods many times since his arrival.
“Sorry about the call Frank, but I feel better with you here to take control of this. It’s nasty.”
“Scene of Crimes…”
Frank nodded as he shrugged into his heavy overcoat. If S.O.C. had not already attended he would have preferred to stay clear, especially in a location like this where evidence could easily be stepped on, hidden beneath leaves and rotting humus. He shivered, already feeling the damp soaking into his bones.
“Show me what you’ve got then.”
The beam from Watson’s flashlight stroked back and forth across the ground as they trudged along a narrow path into the trees. Frank cursed as he stumbled over a raised tree root, regaining his balance with the help of Watson’s outstretched hand. He tried to ignore the stabbing pain every time he put weight on his ankle.
The tent was already up under the glare of spotlights. Uniformed police officers were on their hands and knees, prodding at the ground, searching for anything out of the ordinary. One uniformed officer stood solemnly outside the flap of the tent, barring entry, even though it was too early for anyone but the police to be there. Flashlights twinkled through the trees and the damp clinging mist as the search spread outward from the scene
Frank glanced at a nearby picnic table, with a collection of evidence bags, sealed and tagged, lined up on the cracked top.
“What have we found so far?”
Watson played his light over the items.
“A few empty cans, sweet wrappers, two used condoms, some women’s underwear, too big to belong to the victim, and a syringe.”
“Used. We’ll get it checked to see what was in it. I don’t think any of this is relevant though. I don’t believe this murder was drug related.”
“You’re so certain even before the forensic report?” Frank took a deep breath and let it out slowly, watching it steam from his mouth and dissipate in the watery pre-dawn light. “Show me.”
Watson led the way into the tent, holding the flap back for Frank, who covered his eyes for a moment against the harsh light of the lamps that illuminated the interior.
The smell hit him immediately. The sickly, cloying smell of violent death. Even before he looked he knew this was going to be no clean strangulation or single knife wound through the heart. This was messy. The smell was messy.
The girl lay on her back, half covered by wet fallen leaves. She couldn’t have been more than 12 or 13 years old. She was naked, her left arm twisted behind her, her right leg folded underneath. Her face, what could be seen of it through the tangle of long black hair, was bruised and cut. It might have been pretty when she was alive, now it was frozen in the ugly violence of her death.
Frank fought down the bile that rose in this throat.
The girl had been split up the middle like a piece of meat on a butcher’s hook. A gaping wound ran from her vagina, up through her belly, separated her slight breasts and stopped in the soft flesh under her chin. Animals had torn at her insides, dragging her intestines, stomach, lungs and other unrecognisable organs out so that they lay, half eaten, around and over her body. Ants and spiders crawled through the bloody mess. A cobweb was strung across the wound in her throat, moisture glinting almost prettily in the artificial light.
Frank glanced towards Watson.
“I still don’t see what makes you so sure this isn’t some frenzied, drug-induced attack? It looks pretty frenzied to me.”
“The wrists, ankles and neck. What do you see?”
Frank looked back to the body, suppressing the wave of sickness that threatened. He peered closer at the wrist and ankle that showed, and at the neck either side of the bloody wound.
There were marks, lines, chafing. Evidence of bindings, rope or wire, that had cut, on her right wrist, almost through to the bone.
“She was tied up.” Frank’s voice was flat, emotionless, but his mind had returned home briefly, to his 13-year-old daughter safely asleep in her bed. Somewhere there was a father and mother about to wake up to their worst nightmare.
“Clear evidence, I would suggest, that the murder was premeditated, even ritualistic.”
Watson shrugged. “Can’t tell at this moment, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some sexual assault associated with this.”
“Ritualistic.” Frank rolled the word around his mouth as if tasting a particularly bitter pill. A memory pushed into his mind, a frightening nightmare of a memory. He forced it back into his subconscious. He didn’t want to think of it now, not here.
“I want to know about any missing persons report on a girl in her late pre or early teens. And make sure the forensic report comes through to me as soon as possible. I want to know the detail about this. Is she local? Do you recognise her at all?”
Watson shook his head. “Difficult to tell, but she doesn’t seem familiar.”
“Nor to me. Make sure you look at missing persons countrywide.”
Frank rubbed a hand over his tired eyes and yawned.
“I think I’ll stay around here for a while before heading in to the Station.”
Stepping out of the tent, he stopped and spoke to the uniformed officer standing outside.
“Do me a favour Constable? Pop along to the Cottage Loaf and see if you can get some tea or coffee will you? I doubt they’ll be asleep with all this going on next door. I’ll be in my car.”
He turned back to Watson.
“Go back to the Station and get on the phone to the lab. Push them for an early preliminary on this. I want something we can work on as soon as possible.”
Watson hurried off while Frank followed at a more leisurely pace, wincing as his ankle jolted on the uneven ground. He should have taken Watson’s flashlight. All he needed to make it a perfect morning was to trip and break something.
He thought of his wife and daughter back home and hoped no one saw him wipe away the tears from his eyes.
Margaret Giles squinted at the kitchen wall clock, wishing she hadn’t left her glasses on the bedside cabinet. Around 6am, she couldn’t be sure whether the digital display was showing two zeros or 20 or some other such number, but she was sure the hour was 6. It was still dark outside. Dark and damp and cold. She thought of her husband, out there somewhere, shivering at another murder scene, and she pressed her hands over her face and struggled to hold back the tears.
Frank had already been in the force when they met. She had been told until she was sick of it about the dangers, about the uncertainty of marrying a policeman. She had been a policeman’s wife for over twenty years and she had seen the dangers and experienced the uncertainty, and she had coped with it without the breakdown, without the alcohol or drugs that so many of Frank’s colleagues’ wives had resorted to. She was a strong woman. She had learnt to be. Still, she never quite got used to it.
The telephone had woken her as it had Frank. She had watched through half closed eyes as he shuffled out of the room, and she had listened as he spoke to the caller. There was nothing she could say as he came back up, dressed, kissed her goodbye and left the house. There was never anything she could think to say that would not either make it worse or sound so banal as to be better not said.
She looked in the small mirror standing by the microwave. The hair was turning grey and untidy from sleep, the eyes heavy with weariness and sadness, the lines deeply gouged into her face. The years had left their mark on her 48-year-old body, and at moments like this she felt every second of them.
Her husband was out there, facing another dead body, another murder, perhaps even another murderer. A person who could kill another human being would not hesitate at killing an investigating policeman, and the thought terrified her. She was sorry that someone had lost their life. She was sorry that her husband would once again come home weighed down with fatigue and that strange controlled grief that had never quite left him with all his years on the force. But, even more, it frightened her that he might not come home at all.
She heard the creaking of the stairs and turned to see her daughter standing half way down, her Mickey Mouse night-dress, bought as a present by a well-meaning aunt, crumpled from her bed, pink socks rolled down around her ankles, long brown hair tied back in a pony tail, one strand hanging free over her right eye and cheek.
“It’s very early Sally. Go back to bed. You have to go to school later.”
Sally ignored her mother and descended the last few stairs to the hall and into the kitchen.
“I heard a noise, saw the light. Why are you up? Where’s dad?”
“Your father’s gone out on business and I couldn’t sleep.”
Margaret watched her 13-year-old daughter slump into the chair across the kitchen table and wondered whether Frank’s job ever affected Sally the way it did her. Did the thought that her father might not come home one day ever enter a teenage mind so full of pop music, video games, fashions and boys?
“Do you want some tea? I could make a pot.”
Sally shook her head slowly and looked at her mother. Margaret thought she could see the reflection of a tear in her daughter’s eye.
“Will dad be OK?”
Margaret fought to hold back the tears that welled in her own eyes.
The steady beeping of the travel alarm clock on the bedside cabinet only half woke Raymond Shaw from his troubled sleep. He was dimly aware that it had to be gone 6.40am for the alarm to be nagging him. He didn’t care.
Vague flashes of a dream sparked across his mind, pulling him away from consciousness, tempting him back into the world of his imagination.
There had been a girl, a young girl. He couldn’t remember her name, but he remembered she had been frightened, very frightened, and she had been asking for help.
A sharp knife of pain stabbed behind his eyes and he rolled onto his side, moaning softly. Why was it so hard to remember? Why was it so painful to recall a dream?
The girl had been in danger. He was sure of that. He remembered the feeling of panic. Someone, or something, had taken her. What was her name? Did it really matter? Surely it was just a dream, a flight, however believable, of his not inconsiderable imagination? The girl wasn’t real. Her fear wasn’t real. So why did the thought of her alone in the dark so turn his stomach? It couldn’t have been real!
Raymond was dimly aware of Susan’s arm reaching across him to flick the alarm off. Her body rolled against his and he felt the slight prickle of her pubic hair against his buttocks. It aroused nothing in him but a mild irritation at the interruption to his thoughts. It had been a long time since his wife had aroused anything more.
He kept his eyes closed as her long fingers stroked down his chest, over his belly, and closed around his flaccid penis. There had been a time when that touch would have rushed him straight towards orgasm, now he contrived to turn a little in his ‘sleep’ and her fingers were pulled from him. He heard her sigh deeply and felt the angry bounce of the bed as she swung her legs over the side and padded barefoot out of the bedroom, across the landing to the bathroom.
As he opened his eyes, a rapidly fading memory of the dream surfaced and a cold shiver rattled down his spine. But already what small detail he had been able to recall was gone and all he could truly remember was that it had seemed unnervingly real.
He pushed it from his mind. It was morning now. The dream had passed along with the night. Everyone had the occasional bad dream. And that was surely all it had been. A bad dream.
He heard the toilet flush and his wife returning along the landing. He sat up as she entered the bedroom and forced a smile onto his tired face.
“I’ll go down and make breakfast,” she said as she reached for her clothes without returning the smile.
Raymond watched her dressing, the way her shoulder length brown hair, the tangles of sleep brushed out in the bathroom, bobbed and glistened in the sunlight that struggled through the thin curtains. He had promised that they would buy thicker curtains out of the next monthly wage. He had promised that six months ago.
As he watched her pull on an old pair of jeans and fasten up her pale blue blouse, he knew that he still loved her, but it was the kind of love he would feel for a friend, a companion. Not a lover. Every night he slept alongside her, both of them naked. Occasionally they would make love. She passionately, he mechanically, going through the actions he felt it his duty to perform, his erection drawn out of him by sheer hard work and perseverance. Invariably she would orgasm. Sometimes he would too, although those times were growing increasingly rare. And afterwards she would snuggle up to him and fall asleep and he would lie on his back, staring at the ceiling, trying to remember how good it had been when they first started their lives together.
The sound of her feet treading the stairs down to the kitchen reminded him that breakfast would soon be ready and his tedious routine must begin.
He reached over to the bedside cabinet and took the disposable syringe and two small bottles from the drawer. As he prepared to draw up he reflected on how tiresome this became. He had been insulin dependent diabetic since he was twelve and the routine had quickly become an irritation, but it was an irritation he could not afford to ignore.
He quickly injected 30 units into his arm, closed up the syringe and reached for his clothes.
Susan finally asked the question that had been nagging at her since early morning, when Raymond had woken her with his restlessness and the same name, repeated over and over.
“Fiona?” He looked up from the tea he was pouring as the name sent a shudder through his body, fragments of the nightmare returning momentarily, sharp and clear.
“You were calling her name in your sleep.” Her voice was calm, quiet even, but he was acutely aware of the suspicion, the jealousy, the despair that she barely held in check.
Raymond hesitated, unsure whether he could tell her the truth about his dream, about how he knew that, however much he tried to convince himself otherwise, it was so much more than just another dream. He was unsure whether he could tell her how scared he was just thinking about it.
“I had a bad dream.” He couldn’t tell her everything. “There was a girl called Fiona in it. And no, before you ask, I don’t know anyone called Fiona.”
Susan took another bite of toast, slowly, thoughtfully, her eyes never leaving Raymond.
He could sense the anger, his resentment rising. Susan’s jealousy was just one of the reasons they had drifted apart.
“What happened in the dream?” She had tried hard to make the question sound offhand, unimportant, but they both sensed the argument lurking beneath its surface.
“I can’t remember.” Lying came so easily to him in their marriage now. It was a depressing realisation. “I’m never any good at remembering dreams. I hadn’t even remembered the name until you mentioned it.”
The silence in the kitchen was uncomfortable and Raymond had no idea whether she believed him or not. A quick glance at the clock gave him his chance to escape.
“I’ve got to go or I’ll be late for work. See you tonight.”
He moved towards her to deliver the customary goodbye kiss but she dropped her eyes to the table-top, her face turned slightly away from him. He understood the message. He left the kitchen and the house without another word.
Susan waited until she heard the car pull away from the drive, then she relaxed her control and the tears came.
Her marriage was falling apart. She no longer felt Raymond loved her. She suspected he was having an affair, or soon would, although she had no idea who with. This Fiona? He said he didn’t know a Fiona, but he had called her name in his sleep and she didn’t believe him.
“I can’t stay in the house today.”
She spoke the words out loud, hoping that would help calm her. Instead, the sound of her voice echoing in the empty kitchen, the empty house, made her feel more alone, more abandoned than before. She had to get out, to meet with people who were her friends. People she could talk to. People who would understand her as her husband obviously no longer did.
Cold dawn slithered through the trees and painted a grey wash over the blue Rover parked at an odd angle in the car park. The noise of traffic from the nearby road had been growing steadily over the last forty minutes and was now almost constant. Ordinary people going about their ordinary lives on yet another Wednesday. Midweek, and the weekend to look forward to.
Frank finished a cup of coffee and envied those drivers hurrying towards a day at work. He wished his life were so straightforward. He wished his job was as tedious as most people found theirs.
He jumped as the ring tone on his phone beeped to life, pulled it from his pocket and answered it.
The signal was weak and Sergeant Watson’s voice broke up several times, but the message got through on the third try. A preliminary report from the forensic lab had arrived.
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
The drive back along the Heswall Stretch took longer than he would have liked, hampered by other drivers.
Sod’s law. In any sort of a hurry and you can bet you get stuck behind the slowest driver on the road, the pensioner in his flat cap chugging sedately along, wandering between the kerb and the middle line, just enough to make it difficult to overtake.
By the time he drove past Tesco and down to the traffic lights in the centre of Heswall he was edgy. He wanted to see that report. Sitting in the car had been frustrating. Nothing new had been found, no sudden flashes of inspiration had lightened his thoughts as he went back again and again over what he had seen in the tent. Twice he had returned to the scene in case he had missed something, and twice he had come away more frustrated and more nauseous than before. The body had been taken for autopsy and further forensic examination some time ago, but the bloodied ground, the visual reminders and the stench were still there. As was the frustration.
He could go no further in this investigation without the forensic report and, hopefully, something from the missing persons check.
He got through the lights just as they changed, drove past the bus station, through a second set of lights, over the hill, and turned into the Police Station car park. He acknowledged the wave from the driver of a patrol car just heading out and hurried through the side door into the Station.
The light was dim inside, weakly reflected by the off-white walls of the narrow corridor he strode through. He could hear phones ringing somewhere distant and the Desk Sergeant arguing with some angry motorist about why he should have produced his licence when asked to, not two days later. He nodded to a group of uniformed officers before trudging up the stairs to the first floor.
Watson met him at the top and they walked into Frank’s small office. The Sergeant pushed the door closed as Frank dropped into his worn and creaking office chair.
“It’s in your In-Tray. I thought it best to leave it there until you arrived.”
Frank picked up the slim folder.
“How preliminary is this? Will the lab stand by what it says here?”
“They don’t guarantee the findings at this point, obviously, but they seem pretty confident about what they say. They’ll know more after the autopsy’s finished, but their initial findings seem pretty clear.”
“I take it you’ve read it then?”
Watson shrugged and smiled.
“I glanced through it, just in case you were delayed and there was something urgent in there.”
Frank tossed the report back into the In-Tray.
“Why don’t you give me a quick run down on what’s in there and I’ll read the detail later.”
“They estimate the girl was probably in her early teens and has probably been dead for about two days. She had been tied up, probably with some kind of wire, around the neck, wrists and ankles and there are signs that she struggled.”
“So she was alive when she was tied up?”
“And the sexual assault?”
“Almost certainly. The lab found what it believes to be traces of semen in the girl’s mouth, vagina and anus and the anus also shows signs of tearing they would associate with forced entry. She had been severely beaten and would probably have died of those wounds if untreated, had she not been sliced open by some very sharp implement. They can’t say for certain at the moment whether she was alive or already dead when the major wounds were inflicted.”
“So it’s a fairly safe assumption that she was tied up, beaten, raped and sliced open like an animal. No attempt was made to hide the body, so whoever is behind this wanted it found, or at least was not worried about it being found. They either think we’re complete fools or they’re convinced that they’ve covered their tracks.”
“They could just be stark raving mad.”
“I almost wish they were. But I think this was planned, organised by someone thinking very clearly, if twisted. It may not even be the first. Start checking back through the files for anything similar in the last couple of years.”
“Ok. Anything else?”
“A few possibilities. They’re being checked on now. We should have something soon.”
“Let me know as soon as you find anything resembling a match. I want to look at it myself before we put some poor parent through the hell of identifying the body.”
Watson nodded and left the office.
Frank watched him go and turned wearily back to his desk. He lifted the folder from his In-Tray again and opened it to the first page. He’d heard the headlines and they had been depressing enough. Now he had to face the point-by-point, emotionless detail. The words could have been about anything, but he could never forget they were about a human being, a young girl about the same age as his daughter, Sally.
He sighed deeply and began to read.
Her name was Amanda Johnson. She was five foot four inches tall. Her hair was brown and she wore it in a shoulder length bob. Her figure was slim but her breasts were large, not so large that they would attract notoriety but large enough to give her a slight, but nevertheless unfortunate, top heavy look.
Raymond Shaw was in love with her and he didn’t know why.
Her face, although pretty, was not in any way beautiful and he could pick out maybe half a dozen women he would see in any one day who were prettier. She seemed to smile constantly and her personality was, indeed, pleasant, but so were many of the people he dealt with each day. She worked closely alongside him and maybe, in that camaraderie and familiarity, there was the germ that had flourished to change their professional relationship into, at least for Raymond, love.
He didn’t know why. He wasn’t sure that he cared why. All that he really cared about was that, as she sat down at the adjacent desk and turned that smile on him, he felt the fluttering in his stomach that said he wanted to kiss her and the aching in his groin that said he wanted to do so much more.
“And how has your morning been?”
Her voice was soft, pleasing to his ears, high pitched without being irritating, feminine without the falsity of so many women he met as they tried to exude a sexuality that Amanda left in her wake almost nonchalantly.
Raymond looked to the clock that hung alongside the board showing who was in the building and who was out on call. It was five minutes to twelve. He smiled. It seemed only moments ago that he had sat himself in front of his computer and started programming the next procedure following the shit-awful spec from some big local company. Then it had been nine-fifteen. Now it was almost lunchtime.
“You programmers are all the same. Once you get your head into the machine the real world just passes you by.”
He laughed as well, feeling warm and comfortable with her. A part of his mind was telling him this was how he should feel with his wife, not with his work colleague, but he ignored it. He was too happy to feel guilty.
“A few of us are going over to the pub for lunch. You want to join us?”
Just for a moment there was a flash of concern in her brown eyes but then the happy smiling face was back and Raymond all but convinced himself that he had imagined it.
“No. Thanks, but I have some things I need to get from the shops. And I need the fresh air of a walk.”
“It’s cold and it’s wet out there.”
He looked away from her, unwilling to let her see the discomfort he felt must be obvious, dragging his eyes down to the keyboard of his computer.
“The walk will do me good after sitting here all morning.”
He couldn’t tell her the real reason. He couldn’t admit to that weakness. He couldn’t confess to the feelings of panic and claustrophobia that smothered him whenever he found himself part of a crowd.
Other people frightened and oppressed him, seemed to highlight his uniqueness, his otherness and his loneliness. He had seen and done and experienced things that they would only ever read about in the cheapest and most sensational of horror novels. He could never truly feel part of their normal world, never feel comfortable with the calm and reasoned logic of it all.
He supposed that was one of the things that had attracted him to computer programming. The utter logic and saneness. In some small way it helped him deal with his past, although he would never be able to forget it. He felt he could deal with it, as long as he kept to certain self-imposed rules. And one of those rules was not to dwell too long on his essential difference to those people around him. Avoiding crowds was an integral part of that.
He couldn’t tell her the real reason, any more than he had ever been able to tell his wife. But something inside him, a hopeful part of him that he was unfamiliar with, wondered if perhaps Amanda would be the one he could finally tell everything to.
If only she loved him as he loved her.
“Amanda, are you coming?”
The shout came from Andrew Smedley, who also worked in the open plan office.
Amanda raised her hand in acknowledgement and rose to leave. She paused to make once last attempt.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come over? It’d do you good to relax, have a drink and a chat.”
Raymond forced himself to raise his eyes to her face and smiled.
“I’m sure. But thanks for the offer.”
She turned that smile on once again and Raymond felt his heart jump. It was as if all his problems, past and present, were momentarily lifted from him.
“I’ll see you later.”
She grabbed up her bag from the floor alongside her chair and hurried for the door.
Raymond watched her go, his eyes devouring the flash of her legs, naked from where her skirt finished, just above her knees, to the sensible shoes on her feet.
He looked once more to the clock. Twelve. Just time to check his amendments to the program before breaking for his own lunch.
He looked over to the door at the sound of his name, expecting to see Amanda there, although the voice had been a little too child-like for her.
There was no one, just the suggestion of the swish of a skirt, the trailing of long hair and the strange lingering impression that a child had just run through the office. A young girl.
He glanced quickly around the rest of the small room, but he was alone. The others had already gone to lunch, or were in meetings, or on-site with customers. And there was no sound save the whirring of the computer fans.
Again the voice, child-like and trembling with fear or rage. It was impossible to tell which.
This time it was behind him and he span in his chair.
No one. But for one chilling moment he thought he saw a reflection in the window. The reflection of a young girl’s face, tear streaked and bloodied, the eyes pleading, the mouth opening to a crimson cascade of blood. Then there was nothing.
His programmer’s logic argued that he could not have seen any reflection in the window at this distance and in daylight, but he knew what he had seen, and no amount of logic could take the fear from his heart.
He turned, trembling, back to his computer. He could hide himself in his work, as he had done for years. There was nothing to fear from the cold electronics of the computer.
He was reaching for the keyboard when his eyes glazed over.
The room blurred and he grasped the edge of the desk in his fists to hold his balance. The words on the screen melted, ran in rivers of white pixels down the black screen and seemed to pool at the bottom. Everything was a blur except for the words that formed as he watched, tears streaking his cheeks from eyes that stung almost unbearably.
He couldn’t look away.
He couldn’t close his eyes.
He watched in terrified fascination as the letters grew on the screen until they seemed to shout at him. So simple, so straightforward, and yet they sent such a shudder of fear through him that it was all he could do to stop himself urinating in animal reflex.
YOU DIDN’T HELP ME. NOW I’M DEAD!
And then, as suddenly as they had started, the pain and the blurring were gone.
His body relaxed. His fingers, aching from the strength with which he had gripped the table, wiped at his face, removing the lines of tears. He let out the breath he had unconsciously been holding and, trying to calm the trembling in his muscles, forced himself to look at the screen.
Everything was normal. Just the words he had programmed in. He almost started crying again, but this time with relief.
The full memory of his dream came back to him with startling vividness and he shuddered once more.
The girl. Fiona. Her fear. Her suffering. Her belief that he was there with her, there to save her, when all along it had been something else. Something terrible. Something harmful.
But it remained a dream, surely just a nightmare, no different from thousands of others experienced by thousands of people every night. And the computer screen? Perhaps the result of low blood sugar, something he would need to check. He didn’t want to go hypo when there was no one around to help, should he need it.
Each experience had its rational explanation just as, logically, there was no connection between them. But, however hard he might have tried over the years to deny it, his life held little rationality or logic. He knew with an unerring instinct that the two incidents were connected, and that sent a flame of terror searing through his body that kept him fixed in his chair for the rest of the afternoon, all thoughts of fresh air and the shops forgotten.
He was too afraid that if he stood up he would simply collapse on legs that were shaking too much to be reliable.
Frank Giles stood motionless on the russet sandstone of Thurstaston Hill, looking silently out over the River Dee towards Wales, almost invisible in the slight mist that had persisted through into the afternoon. Behind and on either side the hill stretched away in gentle slopes, a myriad of twisting paths meandering through the rock and the gorse and, a little further off, the trees. Before him, the hill fell away in a steep drop down towards the car park, down towards the picnic areas, down towards the white tent that was invisible to his eyes but never out of his mind.
He had spent much of the day at the Station, poring over the preliminary report from the lab, scrutinising missing persons reports but finding none that matched, meeting frustration at every turn and hating it. Finally, towards late afternoon, he had headed back to the hill, hoping for some sudden inspirational thought but knowing it was unlikely. Inspiration had never been his strong point.
A small crowd of morbid local people and equally morbid, but far more intrusive, reporters had gathered around the tape barriers, and Heswall Station had drafted in extra Constables from surrounding areas to help control the situation. Up here, however, it was quiet, peaceful. He had returned for that very reason.
An old man walking his dog nodded and grumbled “afternoon” as he walked past as if it were just like any other day. Frank shivered and pulled his overcoat tighter around him. The cold was biting, but he was even colder inside.
The word would not leave his thoughts.
The killing was ritualistic. She had been bound at the wrists, ankles and neck. She had been raped and assaulted, humiliated and degraded, beaten close to death and then sliced open in a way that Frank could not accept was random, mindless violence, any more than he could accept that this was the act of one person.
He had no proof, other than a preliminary forensic report that merely suggested he might be thinking along the right lines, but he knew. There was a familiarity to this, an echo from his past, a long suppressed memory that was probing at his mind’s defences, insinuating its way into his consciousness. Not that he had ever truly forgotten, but he had chosen to pretend the memory was no longer the source of so many nightmares.
Excited, animated voices to his right interrupted his thoughts and he watched as two men clambered up the steep path from the car park below. He recognised one as a reporter from the Daily Post. The other was unfamiliar, but had a camera slung around his neck, so it was a relatively easy deduction to presume he was a photographer, perhaps freelance, working with the reporter. They had broken away from the pack, presumably to get some shots of the area surrounding the murder. Unless they were looking for him? Either way, he had no desire to speak to them.
He turned and headed down to his left where the thick foliage would soon hide him from sight. He took the path down towards School Lane, where he had parked his car when he returned, away from the official vehicles in the hill’s main car park. Despite the time of day, he could not face the thought of food, but a hot drink was too tempting to resist.
A short time later he sat at a small circular table in a back corner of Gerrard’s cafe and tried to be invisible.
He had avoided the Heswall Stretch on the drive back, preferring instead to detour through the nearby small village of Irby. He did not want some eager reporter spotting him and following.
His drive had taken him through Pensby and past the two local High Schools, one for Boys and one for Girls, both side by side. Sally would be in there, and he couldn’t help wondering what threat this murder might pose to her.
He always worried when she stayed out late with friends. He would sit up in his favourite armchair, watching television that didn’t interest him, or reading a book he had picked almost at random from the shelves, and wait for her to come in the front door. He would mumble something about not realising the time and head up to bed, satisfied that she was home safely. He never told her to come home earlier, he wanted her to grow up independent and strong, but still he always waited up until she was home.
Margaret thought he was crazy and over-protective. She would go to bed when she was ready, regardless of whether Sally was home or not. She would invariably be asleep by the time he climbed in alongside her.
As he had driven past the school he had almost turned in, just to see Sally, just to know that she had got to school safely, but his common sense prevailed. He knew she would not thank him for such a show of parental concern.
He had parked in the ‘Pay and Display’ car park at the back of the bus station, again to avoid any reporters that might be waiting at the Station. When he had his statement prepared he would be happy to speak to them, or at least let Watson speak to them as the Sergeant seemed to enjoy the limelight, but until then he wanted to think uninterrupted thoughts.
Through the windows of the cafe he could see Heswall bustling with life. The village, and it still called itself a village despite its growth, was quickly passing busy and approaching hectic. The traffic on Telegraph Road, running straight through the centre, had all but slowed to a stop, the daily congestion no lighter on a Wednesday than on, say, a Saturday.
He looked steadily down into his coffee cup, aware that if he looked outside hard enough he would see faces he recognised, people he knew, and he couldn’t handle the strain of exchanging banal pleasantries.
A chattering group of four schoolgirls, Frank guessed them to be early or pre-teens, blustered into the cafe, presumably on their lunch break or perhaps just skiving. As he watched them buying cakes he thought again of the murdered girl, and he found himself scrutinising the other customers seated around him.
His eyes fell on a young man, smartly dressed in a dark grey suit, who sat at a table near the door, a small pot of tea in front of him and a morning paper spread over the top. But his eyes were not on the news. His eyes were on the schoolgirls as they talked and laughed, the backs of their short skirts almost brushing the edge of his table.
Frank was suddenly, chillingly aware of how short the skirt of his own daughter’s school uniform was and of the terrible temptation that might present to the sick twisted bastards that lay in wait out there in the world. Perhaps even the same sick twisted bastards who had butchered that nameless young girl. He should challenge the young man. Question the pervert. Beat the shit out of him if necessary!
He had almost risen from his seat before common sense prevailed.
Christ, what am I doing?
There was nothing necessarily wrong in the man looking at the schoolgirls. He supposed when he was younger he had done much the same thing, although it was difficult to remember now. Funny how being the father of a young girl of school age changed your way of thinking.
“More coffee Frank?”
Frank was startled. He hadn’t even seen the middle aged waitress approaching.
“No. No thanks Mary. I’ll stick with what I’ve got.”
Mary smiled and walked away.
Frank watched her go. He had known Mary for almost thirty years. He had known her back when he was just a young Constable, not long in the force. He had even taken her out for a drink once, not long after that investigation broke. The investigation that still haunted his nights when sleep was troubled and the pills didn’t seem to do any good. The investigation that was, even now, pushing its way to the front of his mind.
The memories would not be denied.
It hadn’t been his investigation of course. Back then he had just made plainclothes. A Detective Constable still learning the trade. But he had been taken along as one of the ‘soldiers’, one of the rank and file enlisted to support those senior detectives whose case it truly was.
He didn’t need the nightmares to remember.
He didn’t think he’d ever forget…
There were twenty of them, mostly uniforms, but a small group of plainclothes detectives stood huddled in a group to one side.
The young Frank Giles stood slightly apart, unsure and uneasy about joining either group. His move into plainclothes had distanced him from his old colleagues in uniform, but he had not yet been a detective long enough to earn the respect of his new colleagues. He knew it would take time.
They gathered in the dark of the main car park of West Kirby, a small seaside town on the Wirral. All of them, including Frank, had been drafted in from Liverpool after rumours that several of the local senior officers were implicated in the investigation. To his left, as he stood facing the road, the dark mounds of the small pitch ‘n’ putt course caught his eye and he smiled. He and Betty Roberts had taken the train for a day trip and ended up playing on that very course, before she had dumped him for some loud, foul-mouthed punk, complete with a safety pin earring. Frank was too straight, too boring, to compete with such outrageousness. He was still bitter about it.
The sea-smell of the River Dee, just a short walk past the pitch ‘n’ putt, brought back memories of walking hand-in-hand along the prom, looking over to the hills of Wales, kissing in one of the shelters, his hand creeping, nervously, over her breast, hers grasping confidently at his balls making him jump with alarm. He remembered vividly the way his face had burned as she laughed and laughed. He was a virgin, too frightened of women to be anything else. If she hadn’t realised that before, she did then.
He could feel the blush rising again in his cheeks and he turned on his heel, back towards the other policemen, as if the physical turn would serve to redirect his thoughts also.
He hadn’t known before that morning that he was on this raid. None but those in charge even knew a raid was planned. He couldn’t have guessed what lay ahead of him in the next hour anymore than he could have guessed that in three year’s time he would move job and life over to this side of the Mersey. Or that twenty-eight years beyond that he would be sitting in a cafe just a few short miles from the very same car park, drinking coffee and remembering all of this with frightening clarity.
He glanced at his luminous watch as Detective Chief Inspector Wild, a tall, thin man much respected by his colleagues and in overall charge of the investigation, detached himself from the group of detectives and raised his arm in signal. It was ten minutes to midnight.
The policemen began to move towards the four blue police vans parked in the almost deserted car park. Frank joined them, climbing into the back of the van he had been allocated to, his stomach twisting into nervous knots. This was only the third raid he had been on, and none had been as large as this.
He jumped as the doors were slammed shut. He glanced about with embarrassment. If anyone else had seen they were too wrapped up in their own nervousness to comment.
Four engines being revved into life echoed in the night air as headlights flared on and the mini convoy pulled out into the town.
It wasn’t a long journey, past the closed shops of Banks Road, through the old village and on towards Caldy, but to Frank, trying to wipe the sweat from his palms in the back of the van, it seemed a frightening eternity.
“Anyone know what this is all about?”
The speaker was a young uniformed Constable, his face chubby with youth, his eyes moist with nerves. Frank thought he had seen him around the station but couldn’t be sure. There were so many fresh-faced young policemen wandering the corridors. Frank was not much older than most, but he felt a lifetime away in experience. He looked on the others with a mixture of pity and irritation, forgetting his own early errors and naiveté that seemed much further in the past than was chronologically possible.
“We’re heading into rich people country,” said an equally young Constable further up the van. “You know what rich people are like? Drugs and sex. We’re probably going to break up an orgy or something.”
The other policemen laughed and Frank joined them, but his mind was a whirl. Drugs and sex. Drugs didn’t interest him, never had, but sex played on his mind with a fascination that drew its enormous strength from his reluctant virginity.
He had long ago convinced himself that the constant thinking about sex, the powerful fantasies and desires, the crushing weight of fear he felt when close to an attractive woman, singled him out from the crowd, made him strange, perverse, unhealthy. And so he drew deeper into himself, becoming more sexually frustrated and less sociable, reducing his chances of releasing that frustration. He was trapped on a merry-go-round that spiralled with increasing velocity towards intense depression. Intellectually he told himself he could handle it, concentrate on his work. Emotionally it was killing him.
He jumped for a second time when the van pulled to a stop. The doors were pushed open and he was up and out onto the dark street, surrounded by other policemen. The fear was something he would have to learn to control.
The cold bit into him as his feet hit the tarmac of the road. Funny, but he didn’t remember it being cold in the car park just minutes before. And the light seemed different somehow. Darker. More intense. He could barely make out the street name, black letters on white board, pinned to the brick wall on the corner.
The next part of the operation he knew well enough. The quick briefing that had taken place in Liverpool before they had set out, through the Birkenhead tunnel and towards their destination, had concentrated on this, on what would happen when they unloaded from the vans.
The small army of policemen, uniformed and plainclothes, swarmed towards the fence bordering the house on the corner. The senior detectives pushed their way single file through the small gate. Most of the others clambered over the wooden fencing and, in their dark blue uniforms and dark suits, merged with the blackness and the trees.
Frank hissed a curse as his trousers caught on a jagged piece of broken wood and tore the material on his inner thigh, scraping a bloody red line in his flesh. It stung like hell but he gritted his teeth and pushed on, his heart hammering so loud in his chest that it all but drowned out the wind as it clattered the branches of the trees above him. And the wind was strengthening, gusting with surprising force against his face, blowing fallen leaves and dirt into his eyes, until the tears coursed down his cheeks. He was aware of his colleagues around him but suddenly he felt so very alone.
The night closed about him, locking him in a black room that was claustrophobic and yet whose walls were an infinity away. There was nothing save himself and the blackness and the wind. The blackness that took his eyes away. The wind that took his ears away. He was so intensely alone. There could be nothing else in the whole of his universe.
In reality he had stopped, but in the void of his mind he drifted endlessly forwards, out of control but not caring. Frightened yet calm. Alone yet strangely satisfied with the nothingness.
Then the house reared up before him and his drifting stopped, his fear became panic and his loneliness became despair.
The house was big and old, lights burning in windows that were more like malevolent, staring eyes. And there were noises. Voices. Moaning with ecstasy. Wailing in agony. Screaming and crying. Shouting with joy. Blubbering with fear. He knew, he just knew, that the sounds were sexual. Orgasms mixed with pain. Adoration mingled with humiliation. His penis stiffened as he listened, feeling himself drawn towards the house, wanting to experience the pleasure and, yes, in a strange perverse way, the pain as well. He was suddenly very sure that this was where he wanted to lose his virginity.
It was as if his whole life, his whole miserable, stinking, failure of a life had been leading up to this. Every girl he had wanted so much but been afraid to approach. Every girl he had finally steeled himself to ask who had turned him down, or laughed, or said yes only to end it just days later. Everything had been preparing the way for this one terrible, glorious moment. He was ready to give himself to the house that now stretched high above him, teetering on its foundations as though ready to crush him beneath its crumbling weight.
“Move yourself Giles! We’ve a job to do here!”
The voice, snapping even though whispered, shattered the dark vision as surely and completely as a hammer through a window.
Frank, dazed and disoriented, turned to see Sergeant Trevor glaring at him. Behind the Sergeant he could see his fellow policemen moving forward and he became aware that he was standing still.
Embarrassed, he forced himself on through the overgrown grounds of the house. The vision was gone, the sensations just a frightening, exciting memory. But, to his horror, as he rounded a large tree, the house was still there. Just as big, just as brightly lit and just as malevolent.
He almost stopped again, but the spell was truly broken now and he saw the house for what it was. An old building. Nothing but an old building. The target of their raid. He tried to dismiss the oppressive dread and sense of evil that pervaded the grounds like a smothering blanket.
He could see that the senior detectives had reached the front door of the house. They were struggling with someone in the doorway and Frank saw one of the detectives pull a revolver from his coat. He pointed it at the figure who was then bundled to the ground. Frank saw the flash of handcuffs.
That was the first time he realised that some of the detectives were armed. It was not easy to get weapons issued. It began to dawn on him just how serious this raid was.
As he had been instructed in the briefing, Frank now moved in towards the door of the house and, accompanied by some six other officers, followed Chief Inspector Wild and his senior men into the building.
There hadn’t been time to study the old house in any detail. He just had vague memories of a large hallway with doors off it, and a stairway leading up into darkness, before the Chief Inspector led his troops down the cellar steps.
The next few minutes were a blur of images. People in robes, screaming and running, being grappled to the ground and handcuffed where possible, beaten unconscious where not. He was aware that some of his colleagues were falling as well, blood pouring from head wounds caused by anything that the fleeing people could grab from around the cellar. He struggled briefly with a man who tried to push past him, slamming the man into a wall where another policeman quickly snapped handcuffs on and swept his legs from under him, pinning him to the ground with a knee in the small of his back. Some managed to escape up the cellar steps where they were caught by other policemen in the hall. A small number actually made it out of the house, but the grounds were sealed off and no one made it to freedom.
The next thing Frank remembered with clarity, and it was a clarity that was shocking and almost unreal, was the wooden table, the altar, set in the middle of the cellar.
He watched with a dread fascination, the subsiding clamour around him forgotten, as Chief Inspector Wild and another senior detective approached the altar, guns drawn and raised. Stretched over it was a naked woman, wrists and ankles tied to the corners, her neck bent back at an almost impossible angle, a wire around her throat drawing blood, fastened somewhere underneath the altar. Frank’s eyes were drawn to her breasts, the dark prominence of her nipples, but any sexuality he might have experienced was utterly destroyed by the dagger that stood to obscene attention between them. A trail of blood followed the curve of her right breast and ran down her side to soak into the wood.
To one side of the altar stood a man. A short, fat, bald man who later investigation would reveal to be Gerald McHinery. A disgraced and defrocked Catholic priest.
He was naked, his robe pooled around his feet on the floor, and he was smiling. Not a slight smile, not a smile of acceptance, but a broad defiant grin. And even as the approaching policemen called on him to step away from the altar, he reached out a fat blood-stained hand and grabbed the handle of the dagger that had killed the girl.
With the soft rubbing sound of metal on skin he pulled the blade free, a fresh well of blood streaming over the woman’s breasts. He raised the dagger, screamed with what sounded to Frank unnervingly like joy, and took one step forward.
Both the Chief Inspector and his senior detective opened fire simultaneously. Frank watched, horrified, as the bullets tore into the naked man. Shattering his ribs. Cracking a cheekbone. Gouging out an eye. Blood sprayed the altar and the cellar floor as the man simply folded, a bloody mess of fat and muscle, of bone and tissue. No longer a thing of humanity, but an object. An inanimate thing.
The next few hours were spent in a complete search of the house and grounds. Chief Inspector Wild, still, to Frank’s mind, looking a little shaken after the shooting in the cellar, had instructed them to separate and investigate every room, corner and alcove they could find and to report on anything unusual. Anything out of the ordinary.
Towards the end of that search Frank found himself in an upstairs bedroom. It was a room that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
There was nothing noticeably strange about the room. A small dressing table stood against one wall, a few jars and tubes of make-up, hairspray and deodorant arranged before a small mirror. A bedside cabinet supported a bedside lamp. Brown curtains were drawn across a narrow window. Even the wallpaper was a conservative floral design. And in the centre of it all, pushed back against the far wall, was the bed.
The bed was nothing special, a plain double bed with an equally plain wooden headboard. The sheets were straight and neat, as if whoever had made it took pride in their work. There was certainly nothing unusual here.
He turned to leave, faintly bored with what was turning into the disappointing aftermath of a frightening but exciting night’s work. And that was when he heard the sound.
It grew out of nothing. He couldn’t describe how it started, whether it faded in or suddenly began, all he could say was that it was there, as if it had always been there and he had somehow not noticed.
It was the sound of a man moaning and the gentle creaking of bedsprings. It was coming from behind him.
He felt an icy finger of terror slide down his spine. Light exploded around him and the room was brightly lit. Instinctively he glanced towards the light bulb, hanging unshaded from the ceiling, but it was not switched on. The light didn’t seem to have any origin. It grew out of everything around him. And still the moaning continued.
He turned. Not because he wanted to. What he wanted to do was run, screaming, out of the room and out of that house. He turned because he was a policeman and it was something he had to do. He could not ignore the possibility that someone was hiding in the room, even though he had seen it empty just seconds before.
He turned, mechanically, wanting to close his eyes, knowing that he must look. He had to know.
The moaning was coming from a naked man lying on the bed, the bed that had been empty when he had entered the room. The creaking springs were caused by the man’s gently writhing body. The reason for both was the woman.
She was beautiful. Frank didn’t think he had ever seen such a beautiful woman before. Her brown hair, no more than shoulder length, was pulled back and tied in a short ponytail. Her profile showed a short, slightly turned-up nose. What he could see of her mouth, her lips, was sensuous. She, too, was naked and, in her position kneeling on the bed alongside the man, almost bent double over him, he could see the curve of her breast and the roundness of her buttocks. But it was not this that caused him to gasp, that, even through his fear, gave him an immediate and powerful erection. It was what the woman was doing that filled Frank’s head with confusion and excitement, loathing and desire.
She had the man’s penis deep in her mouth, and as Frank watched she drew it out so just the tip lay against her lips and then lowered her head, taking it all inside, making the man moan and kick.
Frank’s heart leapt to his throat as the woman lifted her head and turned to him, her lips wet and glistening. Brown eyes sparkled, seemed to laugh at him. When she spoke her voice was soft, alluring, but strangely commanding.
“Come on Frank. Come here so I can suck you as well. Wouldn’t you like to fuck me Frank?”
“You can’t stay a virgin all your life.”
It was only then that some switch in Frank’s mind clicked over and everything was terrifyingly clear. There had been no one there just seconds ago. And how did she know his name? How did she know he was a virgin?
He turned and scrambled for the door, ignoring her laughter, ignoring the looks of his colleagues outside as he ran to the open window at the end of the corridor and breathed in the fresh night air. It was all he could do to stop himself vomiting as his stomach twisted violently.
As he turned back he saw other policemen curiously looking into the bedroom, but he could see by their faces that they saw nothing. Whatever he had witnessed had gone, and he was not about to tell anyone. He preferred to blame a touch of the flu for his sudden dash from the room.
But the memory, the images, would never leave his mind
The sudden laughter of the schoolgirls brought Frank out of his reverie and he stared at the cafe around him, as if unsure where he was.
Everything fell back into place. The schoolgirls at the counter. The young man in the suit. Mary at her station by the coffee machine.
He looked into his coffee cup and, deciding against finishing the cold dregs at the bottom, pushed his chair back and stood up.
Mary smiled as he stopped to pay his bill.
“Leaving so soon Frank? Sure you don’t want another cup of coffee?”
Frank smiled. “I’ve got work to do just like you have Mary. I just needed a break from things for a short while.”
He glanced at the bill and handed her a two-pound coin.
“Keep the change.”
With a slight smile, he turned and headed for the door, edging past the schoolgirls, self consciously avoiding even the slightest physical contact. He glanced in passing at the young man, still holding the paper before him, his eyes flitting between the boring newsprint and the undoubtedly more interesting young girls so close by. He considered once again having a quiet word but shrugged the thought away. He guessed there was no real harm in looking. He was just overreacting because of the murder.
He pushed open the door and stepped onto the street, only dimly aware that the schoolgirls followed him out. He left all thoughts of them behind as he trudged back towards the Police Station.
Inside the cafe, Benjamin Dunstable watched the girls leave and folded the newspaper into his lap, aware of the bulge his erect penis was making.
His thoughts were full of the reality of the girl just a few short nights ago, merging almost seamlessly with his fantasies about what he wanted to do to the schoolgirls who had just left. It had taken all his will power, as they stood so close to him, not to slip a hand under those short skirts. He fantasised about dragging them over the table, beating them, fucking them hard and brutally. He wanted his hand on the knife as they were sliced open.
He rose from the table, his erection hidden behind the carefully held newspaper, and smiled at the knowledge that, with the help of his new friends, those fantasies could shortly become reality.
“So, how’s the marriage holding up?”
Susan Shaw couldn’t help but smile at her friend’s bluntness. She had known Michelle Johnson since college, over ten years, and she had never been one for diplomacy. Not even when walking along the crowded pavements of Chester city centre.
“Sometimes I wish I’d never told you anything was wrong in the first place.”
“It’s amazing how much truth a little wine and sympathy brings out.”
Susan laughed and, for a moment, the sound startled her. It seemed a long time since she had heard herself laugh. It was a good sound, one she had not realised she missed.
Michelle pulled irritably at the red band holding her long black hair back in a ponytail. She had rushed, not even had time to wash her hair, when Susan called. It was not often she heard from her old college friend, even rarer she asked to meet. There had been barely time to pull on an old pair of jeans and a sweatshirt.
“So, you didn’t answer me. How’s life with Raymond going?”
Susan felt the laughter die and a brief well of tears threaten to rise in its place. It took a conscious effort of will to hold them back.
“Last night he mentioned someone called Fiona in his sleep.”
“You think he’s having an affair?”
“No. Maybe. I don’t know. He certainly doesn’t seem interested in me anymore.”
“So, did you ask him who this Fiona was?”
“He claimed he had no idea who she was. Said he didn’t know a Fiona.”
“Do you believe him?”
“I really don’t know what to believe.” Susan hesitated. “Look, Michelle, I appreciate your concern but… could we change the subject? I really wanted to get my mind off things like this by getting out.”
“Sure.” Michelle smiled. “No problem. Fancy a walk down to the river? Maybe stop for a coffee?”
Susan smiled in return. The river and a coffee sounded good. Maybe she could stop thinking about Raymond and what he might be up to. And who with.
The rain started suddenly some ten minutes before the end of the working day. It looked set to continue for most of the night, sweeping across the North West of England in violent storm waves. With it came the wind, pushing the rain before it, carrying a bitter cold that threatened to settle in for what remained of the winter.
The sound of the rain against the dark office window and the wind howling through gaps in the old building’s walls stirred some terrible memory in Raymond but, with only the slightest of shudders, he pushed it aside.
There was a time in his life he had all but forgotten. It had not been easy. Years spent struggling with the memories, the nightmares, aided by the child psychiatrist who would visit the children’s home and talk him through the horrors. He had learned to deal with it and, ultimately, push it to so far back in his mind that he could finally lead a more normal life. There were still the occasional nightmares, the sporadic flashes of memory, but he had been generally free for the past eight years. He intended, with a passion rooted in deep terror, to keep his freedom. He had been driven to the edge of madness, perhaps even beyond, once in his life. He would not be driven there again.
He had all but forgotten the incident with the computer screen. He knew his mind could play strange games of its own sometimes, particularly if he felt hypo. If there had ever been any question in his mind that there was something other than a natural explanation for what had happened, he had quickly forgotten it. Nevertheless, it had kept him anchored to his desk the whole afternoon.
A glance at the clock on the wall showed it to be just gone 5.30pm. The office was packing up, people switching off machines, gathering their coats and bags together and preparing to leave.
Raymond’s eyes settled on Amanda, pulling on her long beige raincoat, her eyes flicking apprehensively to the window and the violent weather that tore through the trees, whipping the branches back and forth, flickering the light of a distant streetlamp into an almost strobe-like effect. She was thinking of the walk to the railway station, he could see that. A walk that was only ten minutes or so, but in weather like this it would seem an eternity.
It seemed the natural, friendly thing to do, but it took all of Raymond’s nerve to approach her, smile, and say, “Can I offer you a lift?”
The trees that lined Church Lane, slicing through the centre of the almost perfect circle that was Wharton Green, seemed to reach towards the white Renault 5 Campus, branches bent by the wind into grasping arms, leaves blowing like disembodied, leathery hands through the beams of the headlights. Street lamps rattled metallically, their cones of near-daylight reassuringly steady in the hectic movement of the storm.
The car’s windscreen wipers swept back and forth with hypnotic regularity, smearing the light of the street lamps into wet streaks. A single brown leaf held fast in the right wiper blade, looking uncomfortably like some small bird, or perhaps a bat, struggling with wind-blown life, vainly trying to get free.
All these things Raymond would have normally noted, considered and even found vaguely pleasing. Tonight, as he drove through the storm towards the railway station at the edge of the village, his mind was filled by one thought only.
She is sitting next to me in my car, alone.
Amanda sat quietly, peering out of the passenger window, her hands clasped in her lap, her bag between her feet on the floor. Apart from a mumbled comment about how awful the weather was she had not spoken a word since Raymond had opened the door for her, trying unsuccessfully not to look as her skirt rode up her thighs as she climbed in.
Her presence filled the car and his thoughts. He breathed her scent with a feeling so close to euphoria that he felt light headed. It was so natural. So ordinary. For the first time he realised that she wore no perfume that he could detect. The scent was just her. He found that so incomprehensibly and overpoweringly attractive and unusual that a feeling he could only describe as love welled up inside him. He smiled. He wanted to laugh but he held it back. He didn’t want her to think he was mad.
Perhaps that was why he loved her so much? She was so undeniably ordinary.
She wore either no make-up or so little that it was all but impossible to see. Her clothes looked more comfortable than stylish. She was an island of normality in a sea of unnervingly painted, scented, dressed-up women. Although he was not naive enough to think she was a virgin, she had a child-like innocence about her that made Raymond want to protect her, shield her from the sickness and perversion that he, more than anyone, knew lay in wait out in the world. In his thoughts she was virginal, and that was all that mattered.
All too soon the lights of the station lay ahead and he pulled reluctantly into the kerb.
“Thanks for the lift. You saved me getting soaked.”
She turned and smiled at him. For a moment he thought he would be unable to stop himself reaching out for her and kissing her.
“That’s Ok. Anytime. I can always come past this way.”
His voice sounded shaky, trembling with the effort of restraint. She didn’t seem to notice.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
She fumbled for the door catch.
The thought crossed Raymond’s mind to reach across and open the door for her, allowing his arm to brush against those breasts, perhaps his fingers to accidentally whisper across the flesh of her leg, but then she had found the catch and was out into the night. She bent to call a final “thanks” and “‘bye” before pushing the door shut and hurrying into the welcoming light and shelter of the red-bricked station.
Raymond watched until she was out of sight, his heart empty with loss. He let his hand rest on the passenger seat where she had sat, feeling her warmth, wishing she was still there. His inability to truly communicate, to say what he felt for her, suddenly angered and frustrated him and he slammed the car into first and pulled away from the kerb.
He was only two hundred yards down the road when the nausea hit him.
It rushed up at him suddenly, like a shock wave that started in his stomach and drove upwards into his head. His vision blurred as the dashboard lights seemed to spin around him like miniature UFOs. He could feel the burning of vomit rising in his throat and he swallowed it back. Almost instinctively he hit the left indicator, turned the wheel in towards the kerb and slammed on the brakes. He heard the squeal as his tyre scraped the pavement and was distantly aware of car horns beeping angrily as other drivers moved around him.
His feet slipped from the pedals and the car lurched forward, stalling the engine. The dashboard was suddenly illuminated with warning lights, red and harsh. They swam before his eyes as he became uncomfortably aware of a desperate need to urinate. His bladder ached so much he hardly dared move.
Understanding brought with it such a powerful self recrimination that he almost lost his hold on the vomit that still threatened.
I had my insulin but I forgot to eat any lunch.
The incident with the computer screen had kept him in his seat all afternoon. He had not eaten. Although the strength and suddenness of the reaction surprised him, he had no doubt as to its cause. Hypoglycaemia.
He was scrambling desperately for the glucose tablets he kept in his jacket pocket, to give himself some much needed sugar, when his eyes were once more drawn by the warning lights on the dashboard. They still swam sickeningly in the air but now there seemed to be a pattern. As they swirled and danced, the after-images drew words in the dark interior of the car, words that finally caused Raymond to lose his tentative control, push open the car door and vomit onto the tarmac.
YOU DIDN’T HELP ME. NOW I’M DEAD. AND THERE WILL BE OTHERS!
The semi-detached house stood on the junction of Westward Road and Croft Avenue in the small town of Byre. The whitewashed pebbledash was beginning to fade and crack. In places, patches of brickwork lay revealed like cancerous sores on the skin of the house. Tiles were cracked and missing from the roof and the chimney pot, long since replaced in its usefulness by electric fires and central heating, stood crooked and black with encrusted soot from years past.
The garden, however, was immaculate. The lawn mowed neatly and often, borders of flowers bright and lively even in the grip of winter. As Raymond turned the car into the short concrete drive he reflected wryly how it was the garden, the one area where Susan took a genuine interest, that flourished while everything else fell into disrepair.
He knew he was to blame. But not all computer programmers were highly paid, and it was a monthly struggle to pay the bills already coming in without adding to them with repair and restoration work. That he had the house at all was due to an anonymous donation via the children’s home. All anyone had ever told him was that it was money from a will left by a distant relative and it was to be held in a high interest account until he was 21. That money had bought the house and got him settled until the job started to pay and he could support himself. There were times when he wondered who the mysterious distant relative was but, as he pulled the handbrake on and pushed open the car door, his mind and body were consumed with the debilitating after-effects of the low blood sugar induced nausea and the frightening message his mind had once again projected into the real world. Any doubts that the words were anything other than hallucination had been quickly dismissed, not through any evidence, but through a fear for his sanity. They were a symptom of his hypoglycaemia. They had to be! Anything else was too frightening to consider.
By the time he reached the front door of the house, his face ashen, his legs trembling, Susan had seen him and correctly judged the situation. She stood in the hall with a glass of milk and sugar to help raise his obviously low blood sugar.
Raymond took the drink and allowed himself to be led to the armchair in the living room. There had been a time on the drive home when he had desperately needed to urinate. The stain on the front of his trousers showed that that was no longer necessary.
He watched as Susan took his coat from him and hurried to the kitchen to get another glass of milk, and for a moment he realised just how much she must love him. He felt a deep guilt at his thoughts of Amanda. Then another wave of nausea drowned all thoughts of anything but himself, and he had to fight to keep from vomiting.
Susan saw his discomfort as she re-entered the room.
“Have you taken any glucose tablets?”
“I took some in the car. They just haven’t had time to work yet.”
Susan watched as he slumped in the chair, his eyes half closed. She knew this lethargy was just one of the after symptoms of his hypoglycaemia, but it had been some time since Raymond had suffered so badly. She had thought he had it under control, was taking his insulin correctly and watching his carbohydrate intake. She could see that something had gone wrong that day, just as she could see that something had gone wrong with their marriage.
After her afternoon with Michelle, she had been intending to confront him this evening, ask the questions that plagued her every waking hour. Did he still love her? Why was he so reluctant to make love to her? Was there somebody else? There were so many questions, but as soon as she had seen his condition she had accepted that those questions would have to wait.
When she had first met Raymond, in a club in Birkenhead so close to the Mersey that you could hear the ferries above the music, and he had told her he was diabetic, she had rushed out and read everything she could find in the library on the subject. She had been that sure that she loved him.
As they spent more time together, eventually marrying, he had trusted her to draw up and deliver his night-time injection. Having read the books, she nagged him until he went to the doctor and got a box of Glucagon so that she had something to inject him with if his blood sugar ever got so low he collapsed. She had watched what he ate and drank, criticising where she thought necessary, and she had insisted he carry glucose tablets with him wherever he went. She had nagged and pleaded and criticised and praised until she felt certain that his control had improved dramatically. That was one thing he could not take away from her. He had told her time and again that she had probably saved his life with her interest and concern. All the more reason that she suffered so much in the face of his recent coldness. If there was something wrong she wanted to know, so they could talk it out. If they talked perhaps they could save their marriage, and she loved him too much to give up on that easily.
She opened her mouth to ask how he was only to notice he had fallen asleep, his breathing slow and regular, his face still pale but now calm and peaceful. She wished with all her heart that it could be that way between them once more.
Frank Giles stood in the middle of the small bedroom and listened with genuine sadness to the sobbing coming from below. It had taken them two days to track the missing persons reports to this house, this life, but now he stood among it.
All around him were the ordered possessions of a very tidy, very normal 12-year-old girl. A poster on the wall of some boy band or other (he was at that age now where they all looked the same) reminded him of his own daughter’s bedroom and he had to fight back tears.
The missing persons reports had finally given them a matching photograph and a name to go with the dead girl’s body. Fiona Carlisle. Her parents sat below with a policewoman and a counsellor from the local Social Services. It was gone 11.30pm and those two people deserved something better than to be grieving over the violent loss of a their only daughter.
Outside he could hear the vague and distasteful chattering of the gathering press. Once the parents had been informed, the details had been released to the media. Publicity could be good for information, but it could be hell on the victim’s family.
He felt anger rising within him, a desire to smash something, frustration at not being able to say, with any honesty, to those parents downstairs that they would catch the people responsible for destroying their lives. He could promise they would do their best. He could say, with complete genuineness, that he would try everything he could to get the bastards who butchered their daughter. What he could not promise was that they would ever find them. Real life didn’t work that way. In real life the bad people often got away.
Fiona’s bed was immaculate, made with loving care by a mother who could not have realised that her daughter would never sleep between those crisp, clean sheets again. A battered old teddy bear and a large rag-doll lay smiling by the pillow, staring at the ceiling. They must have been Fiona’s favourites from years before, as all the other cuddly toys were confined to the darkness of the bedroom cupboard, their places taken by CDs, DVDs, a television and a Playstation with various games scattered around it, the only untidy part of the whole room. A collection of magazines were piled neatly in one corner, under floral curtains held back by a pink sash. They were exactly the kind of magazines he would have expected to find. Teenage magazines, pop-star specials, romantic photo-stories. Perhaps Fiona had not been quite old enough for some of them, but it was obvious she was determined to be ready for her teenage years when they arrived, in just a few months’ time. Now, of course, they would never arrive. She would remain forever 12 years old, desperately wanting that next big step in her life, tragically never reaching it.
Frank had looked into the drawers and cupboards of the room, trying to build as complete a picture as he could of the murdered girl. He had felt guilty, as guilty as he would have done looking through his own daughter’s private possessions, perhaps even more. He could not rid himself of the terrible feeling of perversion and degradation as he had lifted her underwear out of their drawer, never forgetting the horrendous ordeal she had suffered before her death. He had placed the items back as neatly as he had found them.
There was a little fashion jewellery, bright and gaudy, and several rings of the type more often found in newsagents than jewellers. Fiona had particularly liked bracelets, thick plastic bracelets with bright patterns or, sometimes, images of pop and TV stars. There was a drawer full of them and more laid out on the dressing table.
She had liked to play with her long hair, change its look, try different styles. This was obvious from the number of hair bands, hair slides and at least two brushes and three or four combs, each with a different width of teeth. There was also a can of hairspray that, Frank guessed, had been borrowed from her mother’s dressing table. He remembered the tangle of matted hair that had straggled across her face as she lay dead on Thurstaston Hill and tried to imagine her with it brushed and styled, clean and fashionable. He had no doubt that she would have been a very pretty young girl as she walked around town with her friends.
The wardrobe contained a mixture of shirts, skirts and jumpers that could be combined into her school uniform, alongside equally sensible dresses, skirts and blouses that were a parent’s idea of how a 12 year old should dress. At the end of the rail were a few more colourful blouses and shorter skirts, still nothing outrageous or controversial, but a clear indication of how Fiona had seen herself. A young girl growing rapidly into a young woman.
He took one more sweeping look around the room and walked out onto the small landing. The sobbing from below had ceased, replaced by quiet murmurings. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. This was the part of his job he hated the most. There were questions that had to be asked. Questions about where Fiona had been before she disappeared. Questions about boyfriends, although he had seen no photographs or boys’ names anywhere in her bedroom. Questions about their family, was it a happy one? What parent in their position would say anything but yes? Was Fiona happy? Had anything been said that might lead to her running away from home?
They would hate him for it, but he had to know the answers. He had to trace her movements before the already cooling trail grew any cooler, before people’s all too often sieve-like memories developed even more holes.
He held onto the banister rail as he walked down the stairs. His legs were trembling slightly. He had lost count of the number of times he had faced this situation in his career, but it still scared the shit out of him.
Susan Shaw woke, curled up on the couch, her arms and legs aching with the discomfort of her position.
She vaguely remembered lying down to watch TV, Raymond sitting opposite her in the armchair, dozing, looking pale. She was glad she had persuaded him to call into work sick for the last couple of days. He didn’t look well.
She glanced at her watch. 11.53pm. She looked over to the chair where she had left her husband and was immediately alert, sitting upright and afraid.
The chair was empty.
For one irrational moment she was so afraid that he had left her, walked out the door while she slept, that she trembled and tears welled up in her eyes. She forced herself to calm down. Perhaps he had gone up to bed?
She heard a faint sound behind her. It sounded like quiet sobbing.
She stood up, a little shakily, and turned to see Raymond sitting at the dining table, head in his hands. His shoulders trembled and she realised he was crying.
“Raymond? What’s wrong? What is it?”
She crossed quickly to him and put an arm around his shoulders. He raised his head, eyes puffed with tears.
“I thought I was just imagining it. You know, blood sugars out of control, hallucinations, that sort of thing.”
His voice crackled with emotion and she held him tighter, feeling his sobs grow heavier as if, in her arms, he could let himself go, let the full force of his feelings flow through him. She fought to control her own voice but could hear it shaking as she spoke.
“What is it? Tell me. I don’t understand? What did you see?”
“I really thought it was just my diabetes. I really did.”
He seemed to be pleading, as if desperate that she should believe him.
“I didn’t know, didn’t think that it could be anything other than that. Now… Now I think I might be going mad.”
She felt the tears rolling down her own cheeks.
“You’re not mad Raymond. You’re upset. Your blood sugars have been all over the place, obviously. We’ll call the hospital tomorrow, first thing, talk to one of the diabetic nurses. They’ll know what to do.”
His voice snapped with such anger that she stepped back from him, fearing that he would lash out and hit her. His eyes were staring, wide and frightened, his face flushed. For one terrible moment he looked as if he would fly into a rage, but then he calmed, visibly shrinking from tenseness to a loose resignation.
He picked up the TV remote, pressed for the local headlines.
The body of a young girl, found two days ago at the local beauty spot of Thurstaston Hill, has been identified as 12-year-old Fiona Carlisle of Higher Bebington.
Fiona. That name again.
Susan looked up at Raymond, unsure what she should say.
“I don’t see…” she began hesitantly.
“I spoke to her.” His voice was almost a whisper. “I saw her. I should go to the police.”
“Why?” She was confused, angry. Why did the death of this girl mean so much to him? It was sad, tragic even, but she could have found other stories in the headlines just as sad, just as tragic. So he saw her, spoke to her. So what? A coincidence perhaps? An unfortunate gathering of incidents?
“Because I spoke to her,” repeated Raymond.
“She must have had friends who spoke to her all the time. Why is it so important that you should go to the police? Why are you so worked up about this?”
When Raymond spoke she felt a cold slab of fear slip down her chest and settle in her stomach. It wasn’t possible, and yet he obviously believed what he said.
“Because when I spoke to her, she was already dead.”
End Of Sample