Authors: Kerry Wilkinson
he killer used
a gloved hand to try the front-door handle one final time and make sure it was locked. The back door and windows had already been checked and there was definitely no way in – a good thing, considering the body was already dead on the bed upstairs.
Now the first part was complete, the months of careful planning finally seemed worth it. Getting into a locked house and back out again wasn’t simple on the surface but, once the idea had been struck upon, everything had happened so easily.
The hardest part had been the final act. Was it really that easy to choke the life out of another person when it came down to it?
Yes. Yes it was.
There was no regret, no feelings of anything really. The victim certainly deserved it, as would the others to come.
etective Sergeant Jessica Daniel
slowed her car as she neared the girl in the short purple dress. It was Saturday morning, not quite time for mums and dads to be zipping their kids back and forth to football practice, and the roads were quiet.
Except for the girl in the purple dress. She padded bare-foot across the road near Manchester Metropolitan University, impossibly tall heels in her hand. The girl seemed oblivious to Jessica’s approaching car. Her hair was half pinned up into some sort of beehive bob thing – but there were long straggly blonde bits as well.
Jessica swerved to go around her and then slowed until she was level. ‘You all right?’ she called through the car window.
The girl turned, all streaky eye make-up and dazed hangover. ‘What?’ she said.
‘I was asking if you’re all right.’
‘What’s wrong with your car?’ the girl asked. She didn’t sound local, though that didn’t mean an awful lot in an area filled with students. Jessica had feared the girl had gone through some sort of trauma – but by the sound of it, she was on the Saturday-morning walk of shame. Good for her.
‘Nothing…’ Jessica replied.
‘Sounds like a lawnmower. You sure it’s legal?’
Vehicle maintenance advice from a hung-over student was a new one. Jessica put the car back into gear and pulled away as the girl continued to stumble across the road.
Jessica’s bright red twenty-year-old Fiat Punto was her pride and sometimes joy, even if it didn’t give her much pleasure on the cold winter mornings when it wouldn’t start no matter how much she kicked and swore at it. Her mum and dad had given it to her over ten years ago as a present for passing her theory test, and she had learned to drive in it. It was an attachment to easier, less serious days. How it was still on the road was a mystery far beyond Jessica’s skillset to solve.
Rusting heap or not, it was at least
She pulled up at the address she’d been given in Gorton, which lay to the east of Manchester city centre.
Detective Constable David Rowlands had a grin on his face. ‘I heard the exhaust on that heap you drive from half a mile away.’
Jessica eyed him up and down: ‘It’s come to something when a man with hair like
takes the piss out of anything.’
‘I was still asleep when I got called in,’ he protested. His usually spiky and gelled hair was decidedly fluffy and floppy. It had more than a bit of the skinned rabbit look about it.
Rowlands was younger than Jessica, still not out of his twenties, and tall with spiky jet-black hair – plus the customary skinny tie. He fancied himself with the opposite sex, and had a sharp mouth with a cheeky smile that meant it was hard to get angry with him. Even with his constant bragging about various conquests – which were more than likely fictional – and his obvious cockiness, Jessica had taken an instant liking to him when he had joined the squad a few months after her.
He had once tried it on with her, late one evening a year or so ago. If she was being honest, given his reputation, she would have been bloody annoyed if he hadn’t at some point or another.
It was still a no.
‘What’s your excuse?’ he said now, nodding towards her.
Jessica tugged at her dark blonde hair, even though she was pretty sure there was nothing wrong with it, and then breezed past him, ducking under the police tape. She was in a small front garden of a semi-detached house, not a bad-looking place. Not all the houses in this area were as well kept. The red brickwork looked fairly clean, as did the upstairs and downstairs bay windows. The only thing spoiling the illusion of middle-class fulfilment was the bright white double-glazed front door barely hanging onto its bottom hinge.
Rowlands followed her under the tape. ‘Who did this?’ Jessica asked, nodding at the door as they stepped towards it.
‘Our lot. The tactical entry boys came down this morning.’
‘Bit early for them, wasn’t it?’
‘I guess, but there’s nothing quite like a good battering ram on a Saturday morning.’
Rowlands stopped by the front door while a uniformed officer in the hallway signalled Jessica up the stairs. The house looked as nicely decorated on the inside as it was tidy on the outside, with ornaments in the hallway and prominent plush shaggy carpets in every room.
Jessica found Detective Inspector Cole outside one of the bedrooms. He had his back to the room, facing the stairs, as she got to the top. ‘SOCO are on their way,’ was all he said as he moved aside for Jessica to have a look. That was all they were going to get until Scenes of Crime Officers arrived.
There was a pile of clothes scattered across the floor – because every self-respecting person had some degree of floordrobe, Jessica thought. Beyond that, though, was something that definitely wasn’t found in a typical bedroom.
A woman was lying on her side, half underneath bed covers that were pulled back to her waist. Her eyes were closed, her skin a light grey, almost pale blue. Deep creases dented the width of her neck and there was blood on the bedcovers. The dark red liquid had pooled and set underneath her, matting into her blonde hair and the sheets. ‘Oh,’ Jessica said.
‘Oh, indeed,’ Cole replied.
essica had seen
bodies in all types of horrific situations – people beaten so badly it was hard to tell if they were male or female, limbs contorted at almost incomprehensible angles, and worse. Parts of her training programme had been pretty grim. In uniform, an officer saw plenty of things most people wouldn’t want to. Some handled it better than others.
She hadn’t seen too many bodies in a state like the victim’s, though; it looked as if the dead woman had been there for a day or two. The deep, vicious gouges in her neck had almost certainly been caused by some kind of thick wire and the colour of her skin made the cause of death pretty clear, even before the Scenes of Crime team arrived.
The SOCOs would already have their hands full, considering it was a Saturday morning. Scenes of Crime teams were a mix of civilians and serving officers and worked citywide, meaning the hours and travelling distances were awful. Saturday and Sunday mornings were by far the worst times for SOCOs, cleaning up the mess of various revellers’ nights out and the inevitable alcohol-related carnage.
Jessica didn’t enter the room any further as she could see all she needed to from the doorway and didn’t want to risk contaminating anything. She turned back around to face her DI, who was still looking away. ‘Do we know who she is?’ Jessica asked.
‘The house is owned by someone called Yvonne Christensen. One of her friends called us two days ago saying she’d not seen her in a couple of days and that no one seemed to be home, even though her car was still parked outside. Uniform were around yesterday and couldn’t get a response. They came back this morning with the tactical entry lot. They had already been out at another job, raiding some place for drugs. Two for the price of one.’
Jessica let his answer hang for a few moments. ‘Does anyone else live here?’
‘We’re not sure. It looks like the body has been there for a couple of days, so probably not.’
Cole didn’t turn around the whole time he talked. He was leaning with both hands on the banister at the top of the stairs. ‘This one’s going to be ours,’ he said quietly.
It was only a few words, but Jessica understood it was more about what he implied than what he explicitly said. He wouldn’t really want too much to do with the grim details, but would help out in his own way and direct operations from the station. The groundwork would be Jessica’s.
She had been promoted to detective sergeant eight weeks earlier. Cole was Jessica’s immediate superior and had been elevated at the same time. She had always got on fine with him when they had been in more junior roles. He was a decent guy – perhaps a bit too nice.
He was in his mid-forties and married, seemingly happily, with two children. He had family days out with them, still took his wife out for meals and to the cinema, and booked his time off sensibly so they could all have weekends away together. Unlike pretty much every other officer, he didn’t drink, and Jessica had never heard him swear.
Cole liked working from his desk and saw any real interaction with criminals, witnesses or anyone outside of the station, as something with which he would rather not be involved.
He was a good management-type.
‘Who’s the friend who called the police?’ Jessica asked.
‘Someone she went to one of those weight-loss clubs with,’ Cole replied. ‘She lives a few doors down. Uniform are with her now but she doesn’t know about her friend yet. Dave has her name.’
This was his second implication:
Go tell her
Jessica walked around him back down the stairs. The interior design seemed far gloomier than it had moments before.
She met Rowlands by the front door. ‘Do you have the details of the friend?’ Jessica asked.
He ummed as he pulled a notebook out of his pocket and flicked through the pages. ‘Mrs Stephanie Wilson,’ he said, folding the book back up and putting it away. ‘She lives down the road.’
‘Are you ready to go talk to her?’
‘Let’s hope she’s not too traumatised, or your hair’s going to tip her over the edge.’
Outside, the sun was surprisingly warm considering the time of the day and the fact it wasn’t yet summer. Mrs Wilson lived a hundred yards away, on the other side of the road. There were a few obvious curtain-twitches as Jessica and Rowlands walked down the road – little surprise considering the row of patrol cars outside the victim’s house and the obvious police presence. Nothing like a good death on the street to get a bit of gossip going.
Rowlands rang the doorbell of Stephanie Wilson’s house, setting off an overly cheery ‘Greensleeves’ chime not really appropriate for the moment. The door was answered by a uniformed officer, who led them through to the kitchen, where a couple were sitting at a small round dining table in the kitchen with mugs of tea in front of them.
Mrs Wilson was a lot larger than her husband, with shoulder-length greying hair. She wasn’t massively overweight but, when compared to her unimposing partner, seemed a lot bigger than she was.
It was Mr Wilson who stood to shake their hands and introduce himself. ‘Hi, I’m Ray and this is Steph. It was Steph’s idea to call you, wasn’t it, dear?’
The words all came out as one stream-of-consciousness. He kept one hand on his wife’s shoulder as he spoke, barely pausing to breathe. Mrs Wilson didn’t look up from the table.
He continued speaking as he sat back down. ‘I wasn’t sure whether we should dial 999; I didn’t want to waste your time. You always see those articles about people phoning up because they’ve lost their slippers or whatever.’
‘I’m afraid we have some bad news for you,’ Jessica said.
She paused, but Stephanie didn’t give her a chance to add any more. She looked up from the table for the first time, directly at Jessica. ‘Yvonne is dead, isn’t she?’
There wasn’t too much point in trying to tone things down. ‘Yes, she is.’
The woman let out a little sob. Her husband reached to put his arm around her, making soothing noises as he did so.
‘We need to ask about anything you might have seen,’ Jessica added.
Mrs Wilson blew her nose on a tissue offered by Rowlands and took a sip of her drink. Tea could fix most things, but not this.
‘We always go to this slimming club at the local school on a Wednesday,’ Stephanie said. ‘We began going together at the start of the year. Yvonne had split from her husband at the end of last year and I… Well, I felt I could do with losing a few pounds.’
Rowlands had his notebook out and was writing as Jessica listened.
‘We got on really well, saw each other most days. She lost around eight pounds, but I lost over a stone. I couldn’t believe it. We usually have a brew and a natter, then go to get weighed. I texted her Tuesday morning, some stupid joke, and she replied to say, “See you tomorrow”.’
Stephanie paused for another sip of tea. ‘But the next day, she didn’t seem to be around. I texted her in the afternoon to check times, but didn’t hear back. Then I went over at five o’clock anyway, like usual, but there was no answer. Her car was on the road outside; it still is, so I didn’t think she’d gone anywhere. No one was answering the door and I could hear her phone going off inside when I called. I tried shouting through the letterbox in case she’d hurt herself, but there was no answer. I looked through the windows but couldn’t see anything.’
‘Does she live on her own?’ Jessica asked.
‘Yes. Her husband, Eric, moved out not long before Christmas. He’s shacked up with some other woman and James is off at university. I’ve tried to be there for her.’
‘Is James her son?’
‘Yes, only child. You should’ve seen her on the day he went off to university. Crying ’cos her little baby had grown up.’
‘Have you got any contact details for Eric?’
Stephanie slid her chair backwards with a screech, stretching towards a handbag on one of the counters. She reached in and took out a mobile phone. ‘I have a number for him. I don’t know where he lives, though. I texted him on Thursday, before I called you, to see if he’d seen her.’
‘I only got a one-word reply.’
Stephanie held up the phone for the officers to see the simple answer: ‘
‘I was surprised I got that,’ Stephanie added. ‘That’s when I called you. I didn’t know what else to do.’
Jessica nodded as Rowlands took down the number for Eric Christensen and then handed her the page.
Stephanie tailed off tearfully. ‘I guess I’m glad it wasn’t me that found her…’
Jessica started to say something reassuring, but stopped herself, and thought for a moment. ‘Sorry, can you repeat that?’
The woman breathed in and her sobs slowed for a moment. She took a second to compose herself and then made eye contact. ‘If Yvonne’s front door hadn’t been locked, it might have been me that found her the other day.’
Jessica narrowed her eyes slightly and leaned back into her chair, feeling a slight tingle down her spine. ‘You couldn’t get in…?’
‘No. She would leave me a key to watch the house if she was on holiday, but that was it.’
Jessica offered her thanks and sympathy and told Rowlands to hang around to make sure the Wilsons were okay. She walked back down the street to the victim’s house, weaving in between the parked squad cars, ducking under the police tape and striding towards the busted front door.
The Scened of Crime team had arrived. Usually, it was only one person who attended, but word had obviously gone out this one wouldn’t be so straightforward. Someone Jessica didn’t recognise a little inside the hallway was wearing a white paper suit, and a second person was disappearing up the stairs. Jessica continued on towards the door at the back of the hall that led into the rest of the house.
Cole came out of the kitchen as she reached the already-open hallway door. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked, but she didn’t respond.
Instead, she looked at the wall to the right of the doorway, wanting to make sure she had been right about what she thought she had seen earlier. There was a row of hooks with keys hanging from them. On the right was a set of car keys attached to a fob, but it was what was dangling next to them that she was interested in.
Cole looked at her, bemused, as Jessica approached the paper-suited person still by the doorway and asked for a rubber glove. She returned to the rack and carefully took the key ring hanging on the left hook. It had two keys on it. ‘What are you…?’ Cole started to say.
Jessica took the key to the front door, which was still hanging onto the frame after being smashed through by the police. The door was big, heavy and double-glazed, the type that needed the handle pulling up so it would lock. She crouched and wiggled the key into the lock, turning it to make sure it was the right one.
She then hopped up, striding back past the paper-suited officer and Cole, into the kitchen and through to the back door. It was locked, but the second key on the key ring fitted and turned. Cole was now behind her, next to the door, and spoke more forcefully this time. ‘What are you doing?’
Jessica paused for a moment before replying. ‘If the front door was smashed in because it was locked, but the key was hanging in the hallway, then how did the killer get in – or back out?’