Authors: Conrad Jones
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #International Mystery & Crime
Annie and Stirling looked inside. There was a cot bed covered with a sleeping bag, a torch and a large water bottle. “He lifted the desk and the linoleum and hatch were lifted with it,” Annie said. “Then he pulls the hatch down and the weight of the desk pushes everything back into place.”
“Then he unscrews the desk from underneath and if we had moved it, there would have been nothing obvious to make us think there was another way out.” Stirling felt better about the situation now that they had an explanation. “Not that we were looking for anyone else.”
“So who did he shoot?” Annie sighed.
“Someone that he was holding captive,” Stirling shrugged, “but who was he and why did he shoot him?”
“I am looking to speak to Detective Evans?” Gwen heard an American accent when she answered her phone. Her pulse quickened.
“Speaking,” she smiled at the sound of the voice. “Who am I speaking to?”
“This is Sergeant Kowalski from the Metro Investigations Division,” he introduced himself. “My captain asked me to give you a call regarding a couple of vehicle plates that you’re looking at.” Gwen smiled at his pronunciation of vehicle, ‘vi-hi-cal’. “We had it handed to us from traffic.”
“Firstly, thanks very much for taking the time to call me back,” Gwen said. “What time is it there?”
“The time,” Gwen repeated. “How far behind us are you?”
“Er, I’m not sure,” Kowalski said confused. “It’s five after ten here.”
“Eight hours,” Gwen commented. “Tell me did the traffic department explain what it was all about?”
“They did but I don’t understand it all,” Kowalski replied. “All I was told was that you guys are working a double murder and there could be more victims, so we thought it was worth a look.” He paused. “I thought it was going to be a bug hunt but we’re glad that you contacted us.”
“You are?” Gwen couldn’t help but sound surprised.
“Sure. We traced those plates to a company that works out of the bay area; they rent out trucks and RV’s. It’s kinda quiet here now in the winter so both vehicles were in their pound.” He paused as if he was checking something. Gwen could hear papers being rustled. “The owner is a very helpful lady and she let us take a look inside both vehicles. Now we didn’t know what we were looking for so we took CSI with us and one of our crime scene guys sprayed a little Luminol around and guess what?”
“What?” Gwen said hanging on every word.
“The place lit up like Epcot on the fourth!”
“Yep, lot’s of it,” he said. “We have both vehicles being pulled in as we speak. Our CSI will take them to pieces.”
“That’s great,” Gwen commented. “And you’ll keep us in the loop with any results?”
“Thanks very much for the help.”
“No problem but now you can help us a little,” Kowalski lowered his voice. “My captain wants to know where all this blood came from.”
As they walked back to the car, Annie checked her phone for messages. Nothing. They seemed to be constantly waiting for forensic results before they could slot the next piece into place. Each time that they did, they didn’t appear to move any closer to the conclusion. Each piece to the puzzle raised more questions than answers. “What are you thinking, Guv?” Stirling asked blowing into his spade like hands.
“I am thinking that I should be winding this investigation down but instead we’re still chasing shadows.” She shook her head. “Tod Harris butchered two women and we have locked him up for it.” She shrugged her shoulders. “So why do I feel so crappy about?”
“If it had been Barton that had blown his brains out like we thought at first, we’d be laughing,” Sterling said opening the car with the remote. “Do you think Barton is Tod Harris’s accomplice?”
“I don’t know,” Annie shook her head. “Are we sure that he had an accomplice?”
“There’s no forensic evidence to say that he did but,” Stirling didn’t finish the sentence.
“There’s a connection between Barton and the victims so it goes without saying that there’s a connection between him and Harris.”
“Barton was the number one suspect for Simon Barton’s abduction and now we know that Harris had the boy’s underwear in his trophy collection. Coincidence?”
“I can’t swallow coincidences,” Annie grumbled. She opened the passenger door and climbed in. “If he did take the kid then they’re working together. If Barton didn’t take the kid and was innocent then why blow a man’s brains out in his cellar?”
“Peter Barton is a very clever man who has used every grain of his police training to throw us off the scent. Sorry, Guv, I need to get this.” Stirling looked at his phone. “DS Stirling.”
“Sergeant,” a familiar voice said. “This is Coco from Flatfoot Sam’s.”
“Hello,” Stirling frowned and climbed into the driver’s seat and put the call on speaker. “How can I help?”
“I was chatting to some of my men last night about your investigation,” he paused. Stirling remained silent and looked at Annie. “You know that we couldn’t find any camera record of Jackie Webb leaving the club.”
“Well, one of my men remembers a woman being outside of the fire exit next to the ladies toilets.”
“Obviously, when he saw that the exit was opened, he went to investigate,” Coco explained. “He said that there was a woman outside and she was drunk as a skunk, falling all over the place.”
“He said she was a blond.”
“Okay, then what?”
“He remembers that there was a guy holding her up and when he challenged him, he showed him a badge,” he paused. “A detective’s badge. He said that he would make sure that she got home safely so he closed the door and never thought about it again.”
“There’s no cameras on that exit?”
“It covers the entrance to the toilets but there’s a support column blocking the view of the exit.”
“Is it alarmed?”
“As soon as he told me, we checked the door. The sensor had been cut and bypassed. We didn’t even notice until now.”
“Did he give you a description of the man?”
“Thirty to fifty, wearing a hat. About six feet tall. That’s all he could remember. Like I said, once he saw the badge, he didn’t give it a second thought.”
“Doesn’t sound like Tod Harris,” Stirling offered.
“I thought that too,” Coco agreed. “I showed him a picture online but he couldn’t be sure.
Annie made a hand gesture as if she was holding a pen. “We’ll need him to sit down with one of our sketch artists. When is he working again?”
“He’ll be in tonight at about nine.”
“Thanks for calling,” Stirling said. “I owe you one.”
“No problem. You’re welcome.”
The call ended and Stirling sat back and raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Rob Derry?”
“I’m not convinced.” Annie sighed. She let out a deep breath and looked out of the window. “So Tod Harris might be telling the truth about an accomplice.”
“To a degree,” Stirling agreed. “The evidence still says that he raped and killed them. It makes no difference if there was someone else involved, he’s bang to rights.”
“Agreed,” Annie nodded. “The existence of an accomplice may throw some seed of doubt to a jury but the forensic evidence would overwhelm that.”
“But regardless, now we know that we’re looking for another killer,” Stirling said starting the engine. “Peter Barton.”
“And he’s out there with a head start. What is he trying to achieve?” Annie felt her phone vibrate before the ringtone kicked in. “DI Jones,” she answered. The number calling was from a switchboard.
“It’s Becky, Guv,” her DC sounded stressed.
“Becky, what’s up?”
“We’ve just had a call from uniform at Halewood,” she babbled. “Emilia Harris was found hanging from her stairs.”
“When did this happen?”
“Twenty minutes ago, Guv. Her sister called around to see her and noticed that all the curtains were closed. When she couldn’t get an answer, she called 999. The responding officers said that there’s a note in a sealed envelope addressed to you.”
“We’re at the Barton property,” Annie said holding two fingers to her forehead. She rubbed at her temples to sooth the dull ache that was developing. “We’re not far away, ten minutes at the most. Thanks, Becky.”
Stirling looked at her and waited for her to compose herself. She took a deep breath before she spoke. “Emilia Harris has strung herself up from the banister,” Annie sighed. “We’ll have to notify Harris via his brief. I’m not sure that a warped bastard like Tod Harris will give a monkey’s!”
“I wouldn’t put a rope around my neck for him even if he was my son,” Stirling said, anger in his voice. “Poor woman. It must have been too much for her.”
“She’s left a note.” Stirling looked at her and waited for more. “Apparently, it’s addressed to me.”
They drove through the suburban streets in silence, each consumed by their own thoughts. Murder was never just about the victim. There were always many victims. Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunties, nieces and nephews, friends, work colleagues, schoolmates and even neighbours were often distressed by the victim’s death. Grief rolled out like a ripple in a pond washing over those close to the epicentre. People expected this to happen without giving much thought to those close to the perpetrators. Their grief was equally as devastating but gained far less empathy from onlookers.
“I was talking to a relative of Brendon Ryder at court not long ago,” Stirling broke the silence. “His mother rarely leaves the grounds of her house nowadays.” He tilted his head and glanced at Annie. “Imagine being known as the mother of the Butcher of Crosby Beach. She’s a prisoner in her own home.” As they pulled up at the Harris home, a mortuary van arrived. Stirling opened his door. “I’m chalking Mrs Harris as another victim for Tod, the little shit. She’s as much a victim as Jackie Webb and Jayne Windsor.” He climbed out and slammed the door with the force of a hurricane.
Annie grimaced and opened her own door. “Are you sure that’s closed?”
“Sorry, Guv. Heavy handed.”
“Do you think so?”
Stirling shoved his hands deep into his leather jacket and walked towards the front door. He nodded to the uniformed officer that was guarding the house. “It won’t be long before the press arrive,” Stirling said. “Can you tape off the driveway so they can’t get near.”
“Sarge.” He stepped away from the door to allow them access.
They climbed into forensic suits and placed plastic overshoes on and then stepped inside. The smell of pine air freshener mingled with urine and excrement. Annie closed the door behind them to stop any prying telephoto lenses from snapping images of the body. Emilia Harris was dangling from a blue rope. It was thin but looked strong. Her neck was snapped and her head lolled onto her left shoulder. The mouth was wide open and the blackened tongue hung over her bottom lip. “The rope has cut deep into the flesh,” Annie observed. “Washing line cord maybe?”
Stirling nodded in agreement. “There’s haemorrhaging to the whites of the eyes.” He looked up at the staircase to where the cord had been anchored. “She must have climbed over the banister and then dropped.”
Annie walked into the living room and looked around. On the coffee table a sealed envelope stood leaning against a book. It was addressed in blue ink to DI Jones. Annie picked it up with a gloved hand and opened the gummed flap making sure that she didn’t rip the envelope. She slid out the letter and unfolded it carefully. Stirling stood behind her, looking over her shoulder. She read from the tear stained notepaper.
Inspector, I’m afraid that I’m not strong enough to cope with things. My son is an abomination and the fact that he came from my body is something that I can’t live with. I found this book in the spare room. It was hidden. I think it might help you with your investigation. I truly hope that it does. I want to apologise to the families of the people that my son has hurt as I’m certain that he won’t. His dreadful acts lie too heavy on my heart for me to stay in this world any longer.
Annie looked at Stirling as she folded the letter and placed it back into the envelope. She put it onto the coffee table and picked up the book. “Harry Potter?” Annie said confused. The hardback had a thick plastic protector around it. She opened the cover and read the stamps inside. “Halewood library,” she pointed to the most recent date, “Call them and find out who borrowed this book last.”
“That’s four years ago,” Stirling nodded and took out his phone. He dialled directory enquiries to get the number. Annie turned the book in her hand and noticed that a marker had been placed about halfway through the book. She opened the pages at the marker and a Polaroid fell out facedown onto the floor. Stirling frowned as he spoke on his phone. Annie picked up the photograph and studied the image. At the forefront there were two shadows on a sandy beach. Sand dunes rose in the centre ground. The background was blurred and out of focus but it showed thick evergreen woodland that gave way to a row of houses in the far distance. She recognised the area and she felt her heart quicken. A sinking feeling of dread crept up her spine like icy fingers.