Authors: Conrad Jones
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #International Mystery & Crime
PC Bowers looked up and contemplated climbing over the fence but dismissed the idea quickly. His arms were no longer strong enough to pull his body weight up and he doubted that the flimsy Waney Lap panels would support him. He could end up breaking his spine. “Mrs Webb!” he shouted again in desperation rattling the handle with all his might. Looking through the cracks between the panels, he could see her putting a key into the back door. “Mrs Webb please listen to me,” Bowers lowered his voice in one final attempt to stop her. “You’re putting yourself and your daughter in danger if you enter the building.”
Mrs Webb stopped for a second and looked back to where he was stood. Her face looked confused but determined. She shook her head dismissing his pleas and searched for the key to the back door. Bowers began battering the gate with renewed vigour, driving her into a fluster. The lock was a Yale. She sifted through the bunch, one key at a time until she found one with the correct brand etched onto it. The gate cracked and she heard wood splintering. She slipped the key into the lock and turned it but it wouldn’t open. “Shit, shit, shit!” she whispered under her breath. She pictured her daughter’s kitchen in her mind. The back door was half glazed, fixed with a Yale lock at the centre. The image of sliding bolts, top and bottom appeared in her mind. “Shit!” she sobbed. “Jackie!” she shouted and banged on the glass. “Jackie!” her name turned into a wail. A panel gave way beneath Bower’s force and clattered onto the garden path. He reached through the gap, searching for the handle. It reminded Mrs Webb of cinema posters advertising ‘The Shining’. Jack Nickleson’s manic face replaced the policeman’s for a moment, despite being in her own horror story now. She looked around for inspiration and saw a stone flower pot near the wall, its contents long since withered. They had bought it at a car boot sale in the spring. She could hear Jackie complaining about its weight as they walked back to the car. The thought forced tears from her eyes. Her fingers gripped the edge and she felt a fingernail split. Ignoring the pain, she swung the pot upwards in an arc. The impact shattered the pane and shards of glass exploded across the kitchen. Long daggers of glass remained fixed to the frame making it impossible for her to reach inside to free the bolts without ripping her flesh. “Mrs Webb!” The sound of a another panel cracking made her intensify her efforts as she swung a second time, and a third and fourth smashing the remaining pieces of glass from the door. The glass tinkled across the tiled floor and she reached down to undo the bottom bolt.
“Jackie!” she shouted as she fumbled with the bolt, her fingers only just reaching it. It lifted and she slid it open, trapping her index finger between the bar and the fastening. She yelped in pain and put it in her mouth instinctively and then looked at the injury. A blood blister was rising quickly. She felt desperation taking a hold of her senses. “Jackie it’s Mum!” her greeting was met only by silence and the pounding of her blood in her ears. The gate gave way beneath the relentless battering from the police officer’s shoulder, wood cracked and splintered and the remaining panels clattered along the path. She turned to see him climbing through the gap only to catch his sleeve on an exposed nail. It gave her precious seconds.
“Mrs Webb,” his voice had reached full volume now, anger and exertion tinged his words. “Do not enter that house or I will arrest you!”
The garbled threat meant nothing to her. She reached up and grasped the top bolt with her fingers. The blood blister burst and she whimpered in pain but struggled to slide it open regardless. It slotted home with a clunk and she turned the Yale key with her other hand using her weight to open the door. “Jackie!” she shouted as she stumbled into the kitchen. The silence inside was deafening. “Jackie!” she felt broken glass crunching beneath her feet as she ran towards the door, which led to the hallway. “Jackie!” she turned the handle and pulled it open, her vision now blurred with tears. “Jackie!”
“Mrs Webb!” Bowers was entering the kitchen door. He reached out to grab her, his fingers touching her clothes briefly. “Stop right there!”
Mrs Webb bolted into the hallway and glanced into the bathroom. Her mouth fell open loosely and her features changed to an expression of anguish. The sink was covered with dark stains. It looked like blood. Dried black blood. Jackie’s blood? Her legs turned to jelly. The taps were covered in it and the mirror was smeared with finger marks. Blood. Jackie’s blood? “No, no, no,” she whispered. She couldn’t think straight. There were words on the mirror but they didn’t register; all the information flashed through her mind in an instant. Where was Jackie? She grabbed at the wall for support, her knees weakened by the sight of blood. Her daughter’s blood? “Oh, God no,” she gasped as she looked into the living room. Bloody handprints smeared the walls, the door and the frame, long finger marks as if someone had been dragged bleeding along the hallway, desperately trying to claw at the walls for grip. “Jackie!” she screamed as she reached the bedroom door. “Jackie?” she said in a whimper. “Jackie?” Her knees buckled and she flopped to the floor like a pilgrim at prayer. “Jackie?” her chest heaved and her voice cracked with pain. “Oh, no, please no.” She sobbed. “Jackie, Jackie, Jackie,” her words just a whisper in the silence.
Bowers reached her, a panting sweaty heap. His face was purple with anger and exhaustion. “Mrs Webb,” he started to say. As he took in the scene in the bedroom his voice trailed off and his breathing stopped in his chest. He felt the half digested contents of his stomach rising in his throat and he gagged as it erupted from his mouth and splattered onto the carpet.
“Even though they’ve given the all clear, I’m not in the slightest bit happy,” Annie said as she stepped into the kitchen at Sefton Heights. Broken glass cracked beneath her tan leather boots. “Did the Bomb Squad say they’re checking the BMW?” she said to Sterling, who was a few steps behind her.
“They’re on it now, Guv. Underneath it and inside are clear but they want to check the engine just in case.” He grunted. “We didn’t recover the keys so they broke into it instead of waiting for a spare remote to be programmed at a dealership in the city. They’re letting residents back into their apartments so they must be sure there are no devices.”
Annie nodded silently and looked around. The kitchen was tidy; all the appliances were new and expensive. A single cup stood on the draining board. She opened the fridge with a gloved hand and studied the empty shelves. One egg remained in a half dozen box on the top shelf. An inch of semi-skimmed which according to the use by date, was a week old stood in the door. “Looks like she dined out a lot,” Annie said to herself. The image of the jawless corpse at the first scene entered her mind. She shuddered and walked towards the hallway. Stirling filled the bathroom doorway with his bulk. He turned as she approached and grimaced. Annie looked inside and shook her head. It was the opposite of the previous scene. Blood stained the enamel sink and the stainless steel fixtures. There had been no detailed clean up here. The mirror was smeared with congealed blood and the words, ‘when you look in the mirror, what looks back at you?’ were written on the glass.
“What indeed?” Annie answered the question, wondering what the animal that had written it saw when he looked in the mirror. She avoided looking at her own reflection. She hated the false eye with a passion. The jagged scar beneath it had faded significantly and her surgeon had recommended a concealing foundation used by burn victims, which all but hid it completely but she still couldn’t bring herself to linger in front of her reflection.
“Is this all for shock value or is our killer a real loon?” Stirling growled. “I never was good at riddles.”
They glanced into the living room. It was a wide space with real wood flooring and a huge flat screen plasma mounted on the wall. Three White leather settees and two recliners seemed lost in the room. “Mobile beauticians must be raking it in these days,” Annie raised her eyebrows. Stirling grunted in agreement. Blood stained both arms of a reclining armchair as if someone had sat for a while resting or watching television. The black stains stood in stark contrast against the leather. The thought of the killer relaxing before, during or after such an evil act worried Annie to her core. He was ice cold, detracted from reality with no empathy for the victims. They were hunting the most dangerous type of killer that one could encounter.
As they approached the bedroom the air grew thick with decay. Not as bad as the first scene but still stomach churning. She could smell fresh vomit mingled with the decomposition. Although hardened to seeing murder victims in situ, the sight that met them was enough to make her take a sharp intake of breath.
“Mrs Webb saw this?” Annie raised her eyebrows and looked at Stirling. “Jesus.”
Stirling frowned and nodded. “According to PC Bowers she did, although she hasn’t spoken a word since. The paramedics sedated her and took her to the Royal. Bowers threw up,” he added pointing to a pool of sick. “Don’t step in it.”
“Same killer?” Annie asked no one in particular as she stepped over the gooey puddle. She stepped inside and analysed the carnage. The victim lay dressed in a basque, stockings and suspenders, her skin striped by hundreds of narrow cuts and slashes. Her head had been severed and placed on the dressing table facing the mirror. The same words, ‘when you look in the mirror, what looks back at you?’ were smeared on the glass in blood. “See the makeup,” Annie pointed at the severed head. She walked to the dressing table and studied it closely. “That’s been put on her by a man. Clumsily,” she paused. “She looks like a clown.” She scanned the body and saw ink on her toe.
Stirling stared at her foot. “The flower tattoo,” he said looking at Annie. “This is Jayne Windsor.”
“Yes,” Annie agreed. “We have to assume that it is. Our killer is playing a game with us and I for one, am not enjoying it one bit.” She tossed ideas around in her mind but nothing made sense. “Jackie Webb was killed in Jayne Windsor’s house and dressed in her uniform.” She shrugged. “Jayne Windsor is here, tortured to death, beheaded and dressed in lingerie?”
“Could be his fantasies,” Stirling offered. “Cop’s uniform, stockings and suspenders, makes sense?”
“Nothing makes sense here but thanks for putting the male perspective on it.”
“Just thinking aloud.”
“Best not to sometimes.”
“Sorry, Guv,” Stirling sounded wounded.
“Don’t be. You are probably right.”
Stirling looked confused. He walked around the bed and looked at the corpse. “I think she was dressed post mortem just like the first victim. There’s not enough blood on the basque for it to have been worn when he removed her head.”
“Just like the first scene,” Annie agreed. “The killer dressed them after he had finished with them.”
“In which case it’s not a sexual fantasy. It’s a message.”
“Yes but what is the sicko trying to say?”
“God was never here.” Annie said. She stepped closer to the severed head and studied it further. “Her eyelids have been glued open.”
“He wanted her to watch something.” Stirling shrugged. “Do you think he made her watch what he did to Jackie Webb?”
“Probably.” She noticed a purple triangle that protruded from the lips. “There is something in her mouth,” she said reaching for a pair of tweezers. She took her phone from her pocket and snapped three pictures of the lips before pulling at the triangle with the tweezers. Once an inch was revealed, she stopped, leaving the evidence in place for the CSI team to analyze. “It’s a twenty-pound note.”
“He’s degrading the victim,” Stirling frowned. “Money in the mouth, the lingerie, removing the head?”
“We are looking for one sick puppy,” Annie agreed. She turned from the dressing table and looked closely at the body. Deep bruising encircled the wrists and ankles. The indentations had broken the skin in places. Her nails were neatly painted with a natural pink varnish, the tips split and caked with blood. “I hope this belongs to our killer.” Annie commented on it. “And this,” she gestured to sticky residue on the quilt between her thighs. There was deep purple bruising to her legs above the suspenders. The main injuries visible were the long shallow cuts that ran parallel across her skin. “How long would it take to slice the skin so finely like this?” she asked studying the arms and legs.
“Hours, maybe days.”
“It’s been done using a razor blade or a carpet knife?” she shook her head. “The cuts are so fine it couldn’t be anything else. What a way to die.”
“Doesn’t warrant thinking about,” Stirling mumbled. He looked at the walls and ceiling. “There are no satanic markings daubed anywhere, no ancient text similar to the first scene.”
“The level of violence is similar yet the details are different.”
A tallboy stood next to the base of the bed. The top drawer was slightly open. He stepped across the room and opened the drawer an inch wider. “I’m guessing the killer used underwear from here to dress her,” he said nodding towards the drawer. “This is full of similar stuff.” He said poking at the silk, satin and lace with a gloved finger. “Bloody hell!” he recoiled.