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Authors: Lisa Cutts

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BOOK: Mercy Killing
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She laughed and uncrossed her arms. ‘I always had you down as a bit of a dinosaur. It’s refreshing to hear.’

‘There’s no place in the modern police service for antiquated or misogynist views.’

‘I’m impressed, Harry. About both your views and the fact that you used a couple of long words there.’

‘So,’ he said, ‘I’ll ignore that if you’ve dropped by to tell me all about Albert Woodville and his perverted ways.’

‘Now you’re in danger of flirting,’ she said. ‘Want me to come out to the scene with you and I’ll fill you in as we go?’

‘That’s the best offer I’ve had all day.’

Once in Harry’s car, Laura said, ‘I’ll tell you everything I can about Woodville but I don’t think it’s going to really help you narrow the search
down all that much. He wasn’t very well liked by quite a number of people.’

‘Most sex offenders aren’t though, are they?’ said Harry as he looked across at her, taking in the dark circles under her eyes, probably accentuated by her fair skin and blonde
hair. It crossed his mind how difficult she might be finding the combination of being a single parent and working full-time, especially in such a responsible position. For a second, he almost asked
her but wondered if he’d come across as a little creepy: older man, detective inspector, with a younger, very attractive woman in his car, late at night, all alone. He thought better of it,
and of his pension, so he waited for her reply to his work-related question as he drove up to the security barrier of the police station rear yard.

‘No, they’re not on most people’s Christmas card lists,’ she agreed and paused before she added, ‘Some of them don’t continue to reoffend, but out of the
sixty-six sex offenders I manage, Woodville was one of the most worrying.’

‘You fucking what?’ said Harry, hitting the brake as he drove through the exit. He stared across at her. ‘Did you just say that you manage sixty-fucking-six sex
offenders?’

‘Oh yeah. We’ve got one hundred and thirty-three of them living in our district. Myself and the other DC split them down the middle. The odd one fell to him because we flipped a coin
to see who’d end up with the extra one. He lost so I’ve only got sixty-six and he’s got sixty-seven.’

‘And how often do you see them?’

‘Woodville was considered high risk so I visited him every three months, kept an eye on him when I could, but with dozens more I did my best to stop him reoffending.’

Harry approached a junction and once again glanced across at his colleague. ‘You make it sound like you failed. He didn’t reoffend. He was murdered.’

She moved in her seat and said, ‘Perhaps you’re right but I was keeping a particular eye on him because all the warning signs were there.’ She let out a sigh.

‘And?’ said Harry.

‘He’d only been out of prison for ten months. In that time, he’d moved to a flat with a school near by. There weren’t many places in the area that he could afford to rent
and were available. Unfortunately, this one came up and even though we didn’t like the idea of him living so close to a school, he had to live somewhere. I was on maternity leave at the time
but know that we managed that by giving him licence conditions not to go to the roads around the schools.’

‘That’s a start, a bloody poor one, but a start.’

From the corner of his eye, Harry saw Laura’s head snap in his direction.

‘We do the best we can, you know,’ she said quietly.

‘It wasn’t a go at you.’

‘They kept promising us another member of staff,’ Laura said. ‘It didn’t happen. In the meantime, Woodville befriended a younger woman, a widow. She’s got two
children, an eight-year-old girl and a ten-year-old boy. He probably played on her vulnerability. Paedophiles are usually very manipulative, as you know.’

Harry pulled up outside Albie Woodville’s block of flats. In the harsh lighting now coming from the many police and CSI vehicles in the car park, he could see Laura was biting her lip and
her face was almost white.

‘There’s something else?’ he said.

‘I only told Woodville’s girlfriend about his sex offending two weeks ago and she took the news very badly. It’s not only that. There’s something else, too. Woodville
came into the nick to see me one day. He’d had death threats.’

‘And you think it was the girlfriend or something to do with her?’

‘I think that’s highly unlikely. You see, at the time Woodville brought the threatening notes to me, saying that he was going to be strung up by his privates, that sort of thing, his
girlfriend hadn’t been told about his previous sexual offending.’

‘Any chance she could have known before you told her?’ said Harry.

‘From her reaction, I would say it’s only possible if she’s a superb actor. I thought I was going to have to call an ambulance for her.’

‘So we’re narrowing this down nicely to his girlfriend, her family, any of Woodville’s many victims of sexual offending, and complete strangers who are vigilantes but like to
warn their victims by post. This should be a piece of piss.’

‘There’s one more thing,’ said Laura as Harry was about to open the car door.

‘Of course there is. What’s that?’

‘Woodville also joined an amateur dramatic society. He was sorting out costumes apparently. We thought for a very long time about whether we should disclose to them his previous
convictions and left the decision with the assistant chief constable. Something tipped the balance and I told the society’s chairman.’

‘I know I’m not going to like the answer, but what was the tipping point?’

‘Their next production was
Annie
, with cast from the local primary school.’

Chapter 7

For the third time since putting her two children to bed, Millie Hanson climbed the stairs to check on them. She padded along the hallway and peeked around the door of first
Sian’s room and then Max’s, listening to them breathe.

Her children were the most important part of her life: they were the reason she got up in the morning and made the best of the situation she had found herself in. As she stood watching her son
sleep, lying on his back, mouth wide open, Spider-Man bed covers half kicked off the bed, she felt despair rising in her. How she could have been so stupid, she couldn’t fathom.

She backed away from her son’s bedroom, the sight of the Spider-Man covers enough to bring tears to her eyes. Max now hated them, saying he was too old for something so childish. She
couldn’t afford new ones and knew that was the least of her worries.

Without turning on the light, she went into her bedroom and lay on the bed. It was easier lying there in the dark: she could pretend that she wasn’t on her own, wasn’t so lonely and
scared for herself and the children, missing her husband so much it felt like a physical pain, her chest constricting every time she breathed in, crushing the life out of her. She could so easily
succumb to it but that wasn’t something she usually allowed herself the luxury of. It had been six years since Clive had died, but if she concentrated, if she closed her eyes and kept very
still, Millie was sure that he was there right beside her. He was there, head resting on the pillow, waiting for her to wake up so he could stroke her hair and say, ‘Morning, you. Think
we’ve got half an hour before the kids wake up?’

She could play the scene over and over in her mind. How she’d loved those stolen early mornings with him before anyone else was awake. She couldn’t believe she had everything she had
ever wanted – a husband, family and home.

Now the scene was gone and the same wretched feelings returned to her. She felt a sob rise in her throat but refused to allow herself to fall apart. There had been a few moments over the years
where she had almost given in. For the sake of her children, she held it together and had been foolish enough to think that she could move on and put what had happened behind her, build a new life
for them all.

Millie knew that she was still reasonably attractive. She had kept her slim figure, even after two children, and even she admitted to herself that her jet black hair and deep blue eyes had
turned a few heads in their time. Still, she hadn’t gone looking for someone for her and the children to share their lives with. Then she met Albert Woodville. An older man, but a steady
influence, someone with his own flat, even if he was only renting. He hadn’t even wanted to rush her into sex.

When she thought about it now, he’d seemed more interested in befriending her children. Something at the time she had found charming.

She put her hands up to her head in an unconscious effort to stop the thoughts that were now tramping through her mind. The first time she had met Albie, she’d been in the park with her
children. Sian still loved to go to the pond and see the ducks and swans; Max was more reluctant these days but as long as he got to take his football, he had usually forgotten that he wasn’t
supposed to be enjoying himself by the time they got there.

School holidays and the warmth of the day meant that many people had brought their children out and the park was busy. She had taken drinks and snacks along in a rucksack, hoping for a picnic
but knowing that neither Sian nor Max would sit still for long enough for that to happen.

Despite her awareness of people around her, she had felt perfectly safe in the park, oblivious to the horrors the world could bring to her door. There was no reason for her to be concerned. She
thought that the worst had already happened to them.

Even when Albie had approached the three of them, Max sulking because he’d been told to leave his ball for five minutes and cool off with a drink, and Sian scanning the trees for
squirrels, Millie squinting into the sun as she watched him puff over the hill in their direction, he’d appeared to be normal. Reassuringly normal.

He waved at her and shouted, ‘Excuse me. Have you seen a Jack Russell come this way?’

She sat up straighter and shielded her eyes with her hand, saw the dog lead in his hand. ‘No, I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I haven’t. We’ve been here about ten
minutes.’

He stood with his hands on his hips and glanced into the trees behind them. ‘The dog’s not even mine,’ he said, a frown creasing his forehead. ‘I was looking after him
for my elderly next-door neighbour.’

‘Oh dear,’ said Millie.

‘What’s his name?’ said Sian.

‘Charlie,’ said Albie. ‘I’m going to have some explaining to do when I get back. Well, thanks anyway.’

As he turned to go, Max called out, ‘We’ll help you look.’

‘That’s very kind of you,’ said Albie, ‘but carry on having your picnic. I’m sure he’ll turn up somewhere. It’s that now I think of it, he wasn’t
wearing a name tag or contact details.’

‘Perhaps he’s chipped,’ offered Millie, trying to help.

‘No,’ said Albie as he shook his head. ‘She hasn’t had him long and I’m walking him because she’s been ill. This will just about finish her off. I can’t
believe I’ve been so stupid.’

‘Why don’t you leave your number?’ she said. ‘In case we see him or someone finds him?’

His face lit up at this idea. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I hadn’t thought of that.’

Whilst Millie scrambled in her rucksack for a pen and paper, her focus on helping a stranger, Albie Woodville nodded and smiled at her children.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the telephone ringing. She leaned over and grabbed it, hoping that one more noise on Bonfire Night wouldn’t wake her children.

It took her a moment to work out who was calling her.

‘Ian,’ she said. ‘Is that you? I can’t understand you.’

Her brother’s voice eventually made sense to her as he said through an alcohol-fuelled mumble, ‘You don’t have to worry about that dirty bastard Woodville any more.’

Chapter 8

With everyone else out of Albie Woodville’s flat, senior CSI Joanna Styles got down to business. She could hear the officers and PCSOs knocking on doors in the block of
flats and asking those who were living a short distance from a sex offender what they had heard on the evening of his death. From the official tone that her colleagues were adopting, she could make
out that the dead man’s past was not given away or discussed in any way. Whipping people into a frenzy was the job of the media, not local police officers. The latter were investigating a
murder, not trying to titillate a nation for five minutes on the national news before another money-spinning vote via phone-in filled their evening television schedules.

Joanna’s white paper suit and foot coverings rustled as she knelt down beside her kit bag and got out her camera. Her first task was to take dozens of photos of the body, including
close-ups, before anyone disturbed him any further, seizing and exhibiting anything near or on him. She would then set about moving around the two-bedroomed flat from room to room. She knew that it
wouldn’t take her too long in a space as confined as this one, but Joanna was very experienced in her job, not to mention thorough.

Apart from being a very highly regarded senior crime scene investigator, Joanna also taught forensic investigation to everyone from police probationers in their first few weeks of basic training
to senior investigating officers who headed up murder inquiries. It had been one of the police service’s longest slogs to stop its staff from walking through a crime scene whenever they
fancied, picking up items out of curiosity.

To reiterate the point, she was about to finish taking pictures of the open-plan living room and move to the kitchen area, when she heard the sound of Harry Powell on the stairs. It was usually
impossible to mistake Harry for anyone else, as few people were as loud or as forthright as he was.

‘Hello, Matt,’ she heard him say to the officer standing outside the front door. ‘I’ve got my paper suit on, plus these very becoming booties, and I’ve even picked
up a face mask. Give me the scene log and I’ll sign myself in.’

She zoned out of a brief exchange where the DI was warned by the young PC that he wasn’t to touch the front door because of the boot marks, and then the DI, who had probably joined the
police before the uniform officer’s birth, asked his advice on where he could safely walk to get inside the flat without disturbing the forensic evidence.

BOOK: Mercy Killing
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