Authors: Chris Collett
Before leaving he walked over and looked down dispassionately at Lindsey's twisted body, still beautiful if you ignored the dark hole in her chest. And those tits; in other circumstances he'd have been tempted to slide a hand inside her blouse, but the medication had put paid to any inclinations of that nature, and besides, he didn't know how much time he had. A woman like Lindsey was bound to have some kind of domestic help. He was just rifling through his pockets for his cigarettes when he heard the door open and a voice behind him said, âMorning, Mrsâ'
McGinley turned to see a young man dressed in outdoor work clothes. He'd stopped abruptly, aghast as he took in the scene, and McGinley reckoned he had about three seconds before he dived for his phone. Raising the gun again, he shot the man in the chest, registering the wedding ring as he fell. Shit. This wasn't in the plan; two more victims he hadn't factored in. This could get out of hand. For a moment he was frozen to the spot, casting around him, half expecting someone else to appear. Then panic galvanized him and he ran back out through the kitchen door and to the car. Getting his breath back he lit up a cigarette to steady his nerves. He couldn't afford to lose it now, before the job was finished. What he'd achieved so far was mostly for him, but now he was on a promise. If he didn't accomplish this last, then it would have all been for nothing. With trembling hands he restarted the car and in minutes was back at the junction, picking up the road where he'd left off.
C Millie Khatoon drove carefully through the back streets of West Heath and Longbridge, the only sound in the car the radio chuntering on low volume in the background. âWell, at least the rain's held off,' she said eventually, accelerating down the slip road and on to the motorway. âMight not be too bad.'
âMm,' Mariner concurred distractedly, noting the clouds above that grew increasingly grey and threatening. He understood that she was making conversation and was only talking about the weather, but he couldn't see how this could ever be anything but the most appalling day.
âIt'll be all right, sir,' she soldiered on. âThis is the worst bit. After today you'll be able to, well, you know â¦' She tailed off and they lapsed into silence once again. Suddenly she said, âYou do know, Boss, that if you ever want to talk â¦'
âYes. Thanks,' Mariner cut in, before the embarrassment got too much. He cleared his throat. âHave you got a date for your exams?' he asked, in the only way he could see of changing the subject. Millie's promotion to Detective Sergeant was long overdue in his opinion, and he'd been encouraging her to put in for them now for months.
âActually I haven't quite got round to it yet.' She was apologetic.
âWell you should,' Mariner retorted, a little more sharply than he'd intended. âYou're wasting your skills running round after me and Tony Knox. I've always said that you've got great potential, but you need to make a start.'
âI know. It's just â it's been so busy lately â¦'
âThere's never an ideal time,' Mariner reminded her. âYou've just got to get on and do it.'
âYes, Boss.' She seemed about to say something else.
Mind your own bloody business
would have been fair enough. But she left it at that and as Mariner didn't have anything helpful to add, the silence reclaimed the car. A song came on the radio and Millie turned up the volume. Perhaps it was a song she particularly liked or perhaps it was simply a way of removing the necessity for further interaction.
The A55 west was a good fast road, and McGinley had to work hard to resist pushing too hard on the gas. Although anxious to put as much distance between him and those bodies, the enormity of what he had just done was beginning to hit home, and he would blow it completely if he drew attention to himself now. So he forced himself to keep at a steady speed that enabled him to blend in with the mostly heavy goods traffic that was heading west in the early morning. Once the police had found the bodies and worked out who it was they were looking for, it wouldn't take them long to identify his car, and then to pick it out on the CCTV that lined his route, but he could live with that. They'd be so fucking delighted with their own brilliance that it would be some time before it occurred to them that it was exactly what he had intended, but he couldn't let them get to him before that. He turned on the radio to catch the eight o'clock news, but there was nothing yet to indicate the discovery of his first two victims. All in all, what with the stops to have a piss, and another to get his medication down him, the journey took just over an hour. Coming into the town he was reminded that Wales wasn't always about male voice choirs and pretty scenery. He headed first for the rounded steel hangar of the ferry port, then, seeing a Lidl supermarket, left the car there while he went into the terminal to buy his one-way ticket to Dublin, making sure that he stopped to examine it right in front of a security camera before he ducked out of the building again.
The supermarket was just opening up, so McGinley took the opportunity to stock up on a few essentials. He broke out into a sweat beside the spirits, but he wouldn't have the capacity for carrying bottles yet and he couldn't succumb. His side was starting to hurt and, standing in the checkout queue, he felt a sudden wave of exhaustion from the night's activities, but things were starting to get busy around here, so it wouldn't be wise to hang around for too long. Back in the car he wolfed down the last of the bread and cheese, washing it down with some milk and more painkillers. A light rain had started to fall so, putting on his waterproof jacket and a woolly hat, he retrieved his pack from the boot, locked the vehicle and set off towards the railway station, dropping the keys into an industrial waste bin along with his ferry ticket.
So far McGinley had been blasÃ© about his visibility, but from now on, if this was going to work, he needed to avoid being noticed. Buying his train ticket, he kept his head down under the rim of his hood. He was one of a handful of people at the train station, manual labourers and commuters mainly from the look of it, the slaves to conventional working hours, but the busyness made it easier. As far as was possible without drawing attention to himself, he kept close to other passengers so he didn't look like a man on his own. Now that the thrill of the night before had worn off he felt wired and edgy; today was a day of uncertainties. There was no way of knowing how long the police would take to work things out, or if they would be fooled by his decoy. So meanwhile he had to cover as much ground as possible at the mercy of public transport. Today was the one day when everything could go right or wrong.
Mariner flinched as an icy drip tumbled from a gap in the wooden rafters high above, smacking the back of his neck and sending a shiver through him. He breathed in ancient wood and incense. Aside from the rain drumming on the roof of the little country church, the congregation was hushed, the customary pause allowing everyone his or her personal thoughts of the deceased. Mariner could have stood there for days and it wouldn't have been enough time to revisit the memories, or to conduct the necessary mental and emotional self-flagellation. Nine weeks on, and still his imagination could not stretch to the full comprehension that Anna, bright, passionate and full of life, lay, at this moment, cold and motionless in that insubstantial box in front of the altar, and that he was never going to see her again. The muscles of his mouth trembled involuntarily and he clamped his lips together to avert the spasm. He sucked in a breath, and from the corner of his eye saw Millie cast him a surreptitious glance. Silently he willed her not to reach out and touch him; a comforting arm on his right now and he'd completely fall apart. Then mercifully the two minutes were up, the vicar gave the blessing and as k.d. lang's rendition of Leonard Cohen's âHallelujah' echoed around the chamber, the mourners began to stir, picking up belongings and working their way slowly out of the tiny chapel and into the rain. Mariner stuffed the order of service into his inside jacket pocket as he shuffled along the pew, noticing for no reason that Millie's was the only brown face here.
They stood then in the sodden grass while the burial was conducted, amid all the clichÃ©s about the Gods crying down. Mariner wasn't one of those who went forward to cast earth on to the lowered coffin. If anyone had asked he would have said he didn't believe in the symbolism. âThat's crap,' Anna tormented him, inside his head. âYou just don't want to get your hands dirty.'
âIt was a good service.' Tony Knox fell into step beside him as they made their way out into the canopy of trees that provided some shelter from the wet April afternoon. Mariner didn't know what could possibly constitute a âgood' funeral for a woman cut down so young, but he appreciated what his sergeant was trying to do, so he nodded in agreement anyway. âStill can't believe it though, even now,' Knox went on.
âMe neither.' Millie grimaced and shook her head.
âTom? Tom Mariner?' They turned as one to see a man in his forties coming towards them, blond and dark-eyed; he'd been among the chief mourners on the front row of the congregation. Dr Gareth. Mariner had always said it with sarcasm and realized now that he didn't even know the full name of the man who had effectively snatched Anna from him. Unfairly perhaps, Mariner thought âDr Gareth' suited the man, implying as it did some kind of false and shallow familiarity. Looking towards him now, Mariner did a double take. At Gareth's shoulder was a young woman, petite with cropped brown hair, at first glance a ringer for Anna. His sister? Mariner didn't think so. He was carrying a small cardboard box. âI thought you might want to have this,' he said, holding it out to Mariner. âThere was some stuff of yours. I thought you might like it back.'
Taking the box from him, Mariner lifted one of the flaps and peered inside. Anna's face appeared before his eyes. âTa da!' she cried, showing off the russet-coloured cashmere scarf he'd given her, their last Christmas together. His gift buying had never been very sophisticated, but this unprompted effort had been an unqualified success and she'd worn it often.
Tony Knox must have seen his face and recognized the tactlessness of Gareth's gesture. He stepped forward to take the box. âHere, boss, let meâ'
âNo, it's fine,' said Mariner, his voice husky with emotion. He forced himself to look at Gareth. âThanks.'
âNo probs,' with a brief smile, Gareth turned away. The young woman tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and together they headed off across the churchyard.
âChrist,' said Knox. âIs that his new bird? He doesn't hang about, does he?'
âWho knows,' Mariner said, distracted, closing up the box and tucking it clumsily under his arm. Who cared? They stood there for a moment, adding further awkwardness to the growing accumulation, until, with some relief, they all saw the two uniformed police officers emerging from the church to walk up the path out on to the road. One of the men acknowledged Mariner with a brief nod, throwing them a lifeline of normal conversation.
âHave they made any progress?' Knox asked.
Mariner shook his head. âThey're pretty sure they know who was responsible but there's not enough evidence to even pull him in. They can triangulate a couple of mobile phone calls made to roughly that area, but there's no clear reading of the registration number of the van from motorway CCTV and one of the chief suspects has a pretty unassailable alibi.'
âWhat about Lottie?' asked Millie.
âToo traumatized to be a credible witness,' Mariner said. âShe can't remember any useful detail. The descriptions she came up with could be any of a number of men; there was nothing unique about them. I think they've even tried hypnotherapy.' The casual tone of his voice belied the hopelessness he felt inside; Anna dead and her killer still at liberty. Although grateful for the effort his two colleagues had made to support him, now that the formalities were over he was impatient to be away from here, away from the platitudes and the sympathetic noises, to go somewhere where he could lick his wounds.
After another silence that seemed to go on forever, Knox finally said, âRight, we'd best be getting back then, d'you think, Boss?' His glance sought and received confirmation from Millie.
âYes, but I'm not coming back with you,' Mariner said. Millie and Knox both stared at him. âMy stuff is all packed in the back of the car, and I've booked a couple of weeks' leave, so I'm going on into mid-Wales to do some walking.'
âOn your own?' said Millie.
âThat's the general idea, yes.' Mariner looked pointedly at Knox. âI tried to do it once before.'
âIt was a bad idea, the state you were in,' Knox defended himself.
âI know,' Mariner conceded. âBut I'm perfectly fine now. I just want some time to myself.'
âBut I don't â¦ will you be all right, sir?' Millie asked.
âSure you don't want me along?' Knox checked again, his shoulders hunched against the cold, and hands thrust deep into his coat pockets. âThe gaffer would clear it, you know.'
âThere's no need,' Mariner said, though he shared Knox's certainty about DCI Sharp. That was exactly why this time he'd been forced to spring it on them. They were desperate to keep an eye on him, make sure he wasn't about to come off his hinges. They didn't get that it was the very reason he needed to be on his own; to work through his grief in his own solitary way. âAnd someone's got to keep the mean streets of Birmingham safe while I'm away,' he added, not without irony.
âDoes Katarina know?' asked Knox. That was below the belt.
âLike I said, it's just for a couple of weeks,' Mariner reminded him.
This time Millie couldn't resist reaching out to squeeze his arm. âWell, look after yourself, sir,' she said, doubtfully.