Read Like This, for Ever Online
Authors: Sharon Bolton
Weaver nodded. It was something.
‘Pete, can you talk to the people who are analysing the prints?’ said Dana. ‘See if they appear normal?’
Several pairs of puzzled eyes looked at her.
‘Normal how?’ asked Stenning.
‘I’m not sure. Can you ask, for example, whether they can get any idea of the weight of the person leaving the prints? A big, heavy bloke would make deeper prints than a fairly light one, don’t you think? So are these prints consistent with the size of man you’d expect to have size-ten feet?’
Stenning still looked puzzled but he nodded. ‘I’ll ask,’ he said.
‘Neil’s been in charge of processing the immediate areas,’ Dana told Weaver. ‘What can you tell us, Neil?’
‘At first he seemed to be choosing his sites carefully,’ said Anderson. ‘Deptford Creek where we found Ryan, and Bermondsey where Noah was left, are both some distance from residential properties. They’re also generally quiet as far as traffic is concerned. He seemed to be keeping to a minimum the chances of someone spotting him, although the site at Bermondsey is directly across the river from Wapping police station. Tower Bridge, though, is a whole different ball game. It’s as though he’s growing in confidence all the time.’
‘Cameras?’ asked Weaver.
‘Not at the sites themselves, Sir. Although quite a number of the roads accessing the sites do have cameras. We’ve got footage from seventeen different roads taken in the time window when our killer must have driven along several of them to offload Jason and Joshua. Fourteen for the Noah Moore investigation. Similar number for Ryan Jackson.’
Weaver’s eyebrows had risen an inch. ‘How many hours are we talking about in total?’
‘A hundred and seventeen,’ said Dana.
Weaver sighed. ‘I don’t even want to think about how many cars
would have been caught on camera in South London in a hundred and seventeen hours.’
‘Four hundred and twenty-one thousand and two hundred,’ said Dana. ‘We assumed one per second to be on the safe side. It’s going to take a while.’
Weaver nodded. The footage from the cameras could be sent away to a company that specialized in Automatic Number Plate Recognition. It wasn’t foolproof, because so much depended upon lighting conditions, speed of vehicles, angle of number plate, even the font used, but most of the systems offered a reasonably good rate of recognition. If the same vehicle were spotted en route to both Tower Bridge and Bermondsey on the nights in question, it would be one they’d be very interested in.
‘Start with the most likely routes,’ he said. ‘We could get lucky. In the meantime, I want to bring a profiler in. I know you don’t—’
‘Good idea,’ said Dana.
For once, Weaver let what he was feeling show on his face.
‘There’s something very odd about this one,’ said Dana. ‘It’ll be good to have a fresh perspective.’
Dana turned. One of the detectives on her team, a blonde woman in her early thirties called Gayle Mizon, was at her computer. ‘You might want to know that Peter Sweep posted on Facebook at 21.37 hours this evening,’ she said. ‘Announcing quite correctly that Jason and Joshua’s bodies had been found.’
Several members of the team moved closer to Mizon and peered over her shoulder at the screen. More than one helped themselves to an open jar of sweets on the desk. Mizon seemed to eat continually.
‘What’s this?’ asked Weaver, glancing over.
‘We’ve been monitoring social network sites, Sir,’ replied Mizon. ‘A hundred and sixty of them, to be precise. A couple of dozen mention the murders on a reasonably regular basis, mainly the London-based ones and the parents’ chat sites. They all seem pretty innocuous, but we are interested in a Facebook site called the Missing Boys.’
She paused to get her breath and Weaver nodded to show he was following.
‘Quite a few of the contributors seem to have known the boys personally,’ Mizon said. ‘Which is the main reason we’ve been taking an interest, in case one of them lets something slip that they wouldn’t necessarily say to us. Nothing so far, but this chap called Peter Sweep keeps popping up. He knows about developments in the case before anything’s been officially released.’
‘I assume we’ve tried to trace him,’ said Weaver.
‘Facebook have been quite helpful,’ replied Mizon. ‘They let us have the email addresses of the site’s main contributors. Then it was a question of getting in touch with the internet service providers to get the IP addresses and the Mac addresses. Most of them are coming from normal family computers in homes, occasionally schools. A lot of them are using their real names and they all check out. Peter, though, doesn’t. He uses computers in public buildings or a mobile phone. No profile, just a completely random picture of roses, and no personal information of any kind, which is just odd for young people on Facebook. They normally like to tell the world everything. And, to me, he just doesn’t sound like the other kids.’
‘Not a kid?’ asked Weaver.
‘So far, he’s not used the same building twice,’ said Dana. ‘If we could pin him down even to a few, we could put cameras in and catch him that way. All we know at the moment is that he probably lives in the same area of South London that most of the murdered boys did.’
‘Any number of people will know what we’re up to before official announcements are made,’ Weaver said. ‘On the other hand, his trying to conceal his identity is interesting in itself. It’s worth keeping an eye on.’
The door to the incident room opened and a woman in civilian clothes made eye contact with the superintendent. She tapped her watch and gestured towards the corridor.
‘Five minutes,’ Weaver told her. She left the room.
‘Press conference at eight,’ Weaver said to Dana. ‘Will that give you enough time?’
As Dana nodded, Weaver walked back to the incident board. He took his time, looking from one young face to the next. ‘We had to
wait a week to find Ryan,’ he said. ‘Noah was missing for five days, and now Jason and Joshua turn up after only two.’
‘We know, Guv,’ said Dana. ‘Whoever he is, whatever he’s doing, he’s killing them faster.’
BARNEY WOKE IN
darkness and knew something was different. He often woke at exactly four o’clock in the morning and then lay for what felt like ages staring up at the ceiling. Usually, though, his head wasn’t anything like this fuzzy. He turned and looked at the clock. Well, that explained it – only just gone midnight. He’d not been asleep much more than an hour and a half.
He sat up, wondering what had woken him. London was never quiet. There was always noise coming up from the street: traffic, sirens, older kids screeching, the occasional drunk. In the back gardens and alleyways, rubbish bins would clatter when cats or foxes got amongst them. He was used to all that, though. Normally, nothing woke him until four o’clock.
He got out of bed, crossed to the window and lifted the blind. If there’d been something in the garden the security lights would be on. They weren’t.
Years ago, Barney’s dad had hired a landscape designer to make the best of the long, narrow, shady plot behind their house. The young man came fresh out of college with grand ideas of Zen gardens and Japanese influences that had worked surprisingly well. From the back door of the house a mosaic path led in gently curving
lines down to the very end of the space. The undulating beds on either side were filled with tall, architectural plants that kept their shape and foliage throughout the winter. Quirky sculptures lay amidst the shrubs like random surprises on a treasure hunt, whilst wind chimes and water features kept silence at bay. There were few flowers, even in spring, and no scent, but thanks to the presence of several small ponds, dragonflies, frogs, even newts could be seen and heard throughout the summer months.
Right at the very end of the garden, only just visible behind the bordering plants, was a tall mirror. It reflected the garden, the mosaic path being the predominant feature. From the house, it gave the impression that the winding, colourful path went on for ever.
As Barney looked out, the moon appeared, only fleetingly, but long enough to cast a soft, silver light across the garden. The mirror glowed and in its very centre a small, pale face looked back at Barney.
Barney stared back, more curious than alarmed, knowing that the pale face was his own reflection. And yet it seemed to have taken on a life of its own out there. As though there were two Barneys: the one he knew inside-out, the constant, the familiar; and then the other one, the one who was him and not him, the boy in the mirror who was both smaller and thinner than he, spectral pale and with a smile on his face that Barney was sure he never saw in the bathroom mirror. He almost expected to see the phantom Barney wave, turn and walk away.
The moon vanished and so did the other boy. Barney let the blind fall back into place then crossed to his bathroom and used the loo. He reached for the flush, then stopped. There was something about the flush of the cistern that always sounded so unnaturally loud at night. He found it a bit unnerving, if he was honest, and if it wasn’t for the fact that he hated to get up and see the mess the next day, he’d never flush the loo at night. Usually the forces of tidiness won, but tonight felt different.
For one thing, there was that pressing cold weight in his stomach that told him he was alone in the house.
He realized then, for the first time, that he had no idea what time his dad returned home on his evenings out. The pattern they’d
established was always the same. Dad went out at 7.30, immediately after dinner, and phoned on the half-hour, every hour, until 9.30pm when he checked that Barney was in bed and the light was about to go out. He always asked if both doors were locked and Barney always had to get up and check, even though he knew they were. When Barney woke again, at 4am, his dad was always back.
‘Dad!’ he called from the bathroom doorway. No reply.
Barney stepped out on to the landing. On the first floor of the house, the doors to his dad’s bedroom and study and to the two spare bedrooms were all shut. Barney had closed them himself on his way to bed as he always did when he was alone, because it was impossible to go to bed with open doors in the house. So there was really no way of knowing whether his dad was home or not.
Except he knew. Apart from him, this was an empty house.
No, don’t say that again.
Too freaky to keep calling out for a parent who wasn’t there.
Downstairs, in the kitchen, something fell to the tiled floor. Dad was home, after all.
Except he wasn’t. He couldn’t be. The first floor and the ground floor were in darkness. Barney reached behind and pulled the drawstring that switched off the bathroom light.
It had to be his dad. Barney had locked both doors before he’d gone to bed. Both had deadlocks, and the back door that led to the garden had bolts top and bottom. The windows were locked – he had a ritual, he checked them every night, running his hand along the aluminium, making sure the lock was in place. And then he always got up to check after his dad’s last phone call. No one could have broken in.
Except someone was downstairs, he could hear footsteps. The gentle, stealthy footsteps of someone who didn’t want to be heard.
His dad would have switched lights on. His dad didn’t sneak around. Barney had a sudden flashback of the boy in the garden, the thin, pale boy, who was him and not him, slinking round the back of the house, looking for a way in, groping, feeling, pulling. Finding one.
OK, he had to stay calm. His dad’s study was the only room with a lock, he just had to get down the first flight of stairs without being
heard and lock himself in. He’d phone Lacey. She could be here in seconds.
On tiptoe, Barney took the first step and then the second. There was definitely someone in the kitchen, he could hear a distinctive and familiar sound. That made him pause. Why would a burglar, let alone a phantom, open the door of the washing machine?
He reached the first-floor landing and stopped outside the study door. Lock himself in, or carry on down? Could he phone Lacey and say someone had broken in and was doing their washing? And what if the police did turn up, and found him alone in the house? They wouldn’t like it. They might take him away and put him in a care home like the two brothers who’d recently joined his school. They weren’t quite right, those two. They were way behind the rest of the class and had all sorts of what adults called behaviour issues. The rest of the kids had got the message loud and clear. Care homes were not the sort of places you wanted to be.
Barney left the door of the study behind and carried on down, knowing from years of practice how to walk at the left edge so that the stairs never creaked. From the hall at the bottom he could see that the kitchen door was open, and he knew it hadn’t been when he went up to bed.
A hand touched his shoulder and Barney screamed like the kid he hadn’t known he still was.
‘Barney, for heaven’s sake, it’s me.’
His dad, as startled as Barney, had stepped back and raised both hands in the air in a surrender gesture. His dad, looking different somehow. Flushed and excited and nervous. His hair was untidy, there was colour in his cheeks, his clothes looked dishevelled. There was alcohol on his breath, too, not the bitter smell of beer but the sweeter one of red wine. The bottom couple of inches of the left leg of his jeans were wet. He caught Barney’s eye and looked away immediately.
‘Why didn’t you put any lights on?’ asked Barney, whose entire body was still trembling with fright.
‘I didn’t want to wake you up.’
His dad’s right hand was tucked behind his back, as though he were holding something he didn’t want Barney to see. Then he
shoved his hand into his jacket pocket. Whatever he’d been holding was now tucked inside. He raised his other hand and looked at his watch.
‘It’s gone midnight,’ he said. ‘Come on, back to bed.’
For some reason, his dad seemed to have trouble looking at him.
‘You’re wet,’ Barney said.