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Authors: Kerry Wilkinson

Tags: #Mystery, #Crime, #Jessica Daniel, #Manchester, #Thriller, #detective

Woman in Black

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THE WOMAN IN BLACK

Jessica Daniel Book 3

by KERRY WILKINSON

Someone has left a severed hand in the centre of Manchester and the only clue Detective Sergeant Jessica Daniel has to go on is CCTV footage of a woman in a long black robe placing it carefully on the ground.

With a lengthy missing persons list and frantic families wondering if the body part could belong to their absent loved ones, Jessica has plenty to deal with – and that’s before a detached finger arrives for her in the post.

By the time a second hand is found and a local MP’s wife goes missing, Jessica is left struggling to find out who the appendages belong to, how they are connected and just what the mysterious woman in black has to do with it all.

This is book three in the Jessica Daniel series, following on from
Locked In
and
Vigilante
– plus the Interlude
As If By Magic

 

Copyright © 2011-2012 Kerry Wilkinson

All rights reserved.

ONE

 

Detective Sergeant Jessica Daniel swept the strand of long dark blonde hair away from her face and looked down at the object in front of her before saying the only thing that came to mind. ‘Well, it’s definitely a hand.’

The man standing next to her nodded in agreement. ‘Blimey, nothing gets past you, does it?’

Jessica laughed. ‘Oi. It’s just you never know what you’re going to get, do you? When I was in uniform I got sent out because there were reports of a dead animal blocking a road and it was only someone’s coat. For all we knew, this “severed hand” could have been part of a kid’s doll.’

Detective Inspector Jason Reynolds looked at the scene in front of them, nodding. ‘You’re right but this ain’t a kid’s toy.’

The appendage was greying in colour and blended with the patch of concrete it had been left on. Jessica thought it looked fairly hardened, as if the fingers would be stiff and awkward to move, even though the digits were splayed and it was flat to the ground. Given the clean-looking cut where it would have once been connected to someone’s wrist, Jessica was surprised there was no blood. She didn’t want to touch it but stepped closer and crouched, peering towards the small stump where the person’s ring finger had been neatly sliced off. It looked as if the area had been burned after the amputation to stop any infection and she wondered if the finger had been removed before or after the rest of the hand.

Jessica stood and stepped backwards out of the small white tent into the heat of the morning sunshine with Reynolds just behind her. The inspector was a tall black officer who had an outwardly friendly demeanour but, when he wanted to be, was as tough as anyone she knew. She walked towards the edge of the police tape surrounding the scene, stopping before she got too close to the nearby uniformed officer who was preventing passers-by from getting too good a look. ‘What do you reckon happened to the missing finger?’ she asked.

‘Who knows? It looks as if it was cut off as cleanly as the hand itself,’ the inspector replied.

‘Do you think the person it’s from is dead?’

Reynolds blew out through his teeth as he squinted into the sun. ‘Probably. We’ll have to check the records to see if there have been any remains found in the past year or two that are missing a hand. There’s nothing to say it would definitely be from a body from our area, so we’ll have a bit of work to do. The way it’s been preserved, it could be an old victim or someone brand new. Whoever left it has been very careful.’

‘Not much to go on, was there?’ Jessica said. ‘No tattoos or anything.’

‘I know. Given its shape with the wider fingers I’d bet it was a man’s hand but that could just be minor decomposition. It looks as if whoever cut it off has kept it carefully. We’re going to have to wait for the forensic team to see if they can find anything.’

‘Yeah, you’ve got to
hand
it to the lab boys, they do a top job.’

Reynolds looked at Jessica, eyebrows raised. ‘I really don’t think stand-up comedy is the career for you.’

Jessica grinned back. ‘Oh come on. Just because you’ve been promoted, it doesn’t mean you have to stop laughing at my jokes.’

‘I don’t remember ever laughing at your jokes.’

‘All right, fine, be grumpy. What are we going to do next?’

Reynolds looked around at the buildings surrounding them. ‘The thing is, this is the centre of Manchester, the second or third biggest city in the country. Just look at the cameras.’ He pointed out the CCTV units mounted high on the shops, hotels and flats nearby. ‘This is Piccadilly Gardens. You couldn’t have picked a more public spot if you tried. Whoever left this wanted it to be found.’ He paused, as if pondering what he wanted to do. ‘If you take a constable and look through the footage from last night, I’ll start working through any missing persons reports to see if there have been any bodies found without a hand nationwide. By the time we’ve gone through all that, we might have some test results back to give us a gender and age for the victim.’

Jessica looked to the areas the inspector had pointed out. Piccadilly Gardens was one of the main meeting points in the centre of Manchester. The middle part was a mixture of grassy park areas surrounded by benches and fountains, along with concreted and paved sections for people to walk. One side was dominated by a bus and tram station, the other lined by a wide walkway and shops. Looming over the top of the area was a hotel and a road with more shops edged along the final side.

Jessica looked back towards the area the hand had been found in, just underneath one of the fountains next to a bench. Unless someone had dropped it, which made some very odd assumptions about the types of thing people carried around with them, it seemed clear the hand had been left purposefully.

Jessica could see at least seven security cameras scanning the area, one of which was swivelling high on a pole around fifty feet away from where she was standing. Three other similar cameras were placed around the square. She knew they were linked into a set of other CCTV cameras throughout the city, the images feeding back to a central security point that was manned twenty-four hours a day. Most people thought the cameras were constantly watched by police officers but the operators were a private security firm paid for by the council.

As she scanned around, she could see two other cameras attached to the hotel and a further one high above a shop front. She figured footage from those would be kept somewhere on their respective sites.

Jessica felt the warmth of the June sun on her arms and thought about spending the rest of the day indoors watching camera footage from the night before. ‘Whoever left it could have at least picked a rainy day,’ she said to no one in particular.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jessica slumped back into her chair and sighed. The office she was sitting in belonged to the private security firm who monitored the city’s cameras. It felt small, lit only by a fluorescent strip on the ceiling above her and the bank of monitors she was facing. She  leant forward to press a button on a control panel, stopping the video images she had been watching, then pushing back in her seat again and peering at the woman next to her. ‘Bored of being in CID yet?’

The female officer slouched back in her own chair and laughed. ‘We’ve only been looking through the tapes for an hour.’

‘Exactly, an hour; we could have been out doing all sorts. Someone with a name like yours shouldn’t be stuck inside on a day like this. You should be in a rock band or something.’

‘“Isobel” isn’t that strange a name.’

Jessica nodded. ‘Maybe not but “Izzy” sounds cool. Especially “Izzy Diamond”. It’s too good a name to be wasted on the Greater Manchester Police force.’

‘It wasn’t so “cool” when I was at school. “Dizzy Izzy”, “Isobel-End”, “Izzy A Bloke?” and all that.’

‘That’s quite original bullying,’ Jessica said, trying not to sound too impressed. ‘At my school, I just got called “Dan the Man” for ten years.’

Detective Constable Izzy Diamond had only joined Manchester Metropolitan’s Criminal Investigation Department six weeks before. The division’s detective chief inspector, John Farraday, had given up his job almost seven months ago but stayed on for a short while to help guide his successor into the post. The new incumbent, Jack Cole, had previously been a DI and, with his promotion, Jason Reynolds had been elevated from detective sergeant to inspector. Jessica had previously spent just over two years sharing an office with the then DS Reynolds and the pair’s relationship hadn’t altered much despite his change in job.

Because of the reshuffle and the fact one of their colleagues, DC Carrie Jones, had been killed the previous year, two new constables had been hired. DC Diamond was one of the fresh faces and Jessica had taken it upon herself to take the new girl under her wing. There was very little between them in terms of age, with Jessica in her early thirties and the constable less than a year younger.

Jessica glanced away from the monitors to look at the officer. ‘Did you have that colour hair when you were at school?’

Izzy ran her hands through her long bright red mane seemingly without thinking about it. She let it drop to her shoulders then tied it into a ponytail with a band she’d had around her wrist. ‘Nope, it was this type of browny dark colour then. I’ve only been red like this for the past year, since I got married. I fancied a changed after we got back from honeymoon.’

Jessica nodded. ‘I think it’s pretty cool.’

‘It scares off the older guys at the station so that’s a bonus. I think most of them think I’m a vampire or something.’

‘What’s it like?’

The constable grinned and had a twinkle in her blue eyes. ‘What, being a vampire?’

Jessica laughed. ‘No, being married.’

Izzy bit her bottom lip. ‘Marriage is fine. My husband, Mal, would like to start trying for kids but I want to do this for a few more years at least before I think about that. I’d rather try the vampirism.’

Jessica looked back towards the monitors and pressed the button that started the footage at double speed. She kept her eyes on the screen, continuing to talk. ‘Is Mal short for Malcolm?’

‘Malachi.’

‘Wow, you two have the best names ever. You did marry him just for the last name though, didn’t you?’

Izzy laughed. ‘Of course. Who could resist “Diamond” as a surname? I used to be “Isobel Smith”, which was way more boring.’

Jessica had worked on a few minor things with the constable since she had been appointed but the mystery over the severed hand was by far the most serious case Izzy had been involved with. Jessica hadn’t been told by anyone she had to go out of her way to work closely with any of the new recruits but had done so anyway. It felt strange because she was Izzy’s supervisor but, in some respects, she felt inferior to her. Jessica lived in a flat on her own, the constable was married and owned a house. It wasn’t that Jessica was desperate to have a boyfriend or settle down but they were roughly the same age and Izzy seemed like the proper grown-up to her. While the constable would do a full day at work and talk about hosting dinner parties and the like, Jessica would spend her evenings either in front of the television or on the Internet while eating microwaved food. The fact the woman next to her could even contemplate having children nailed her down as a genuine adult. Jessica couldn’t stand other people’s kids – let alone think about having any of her own.

‘My mate’s getting married,’ Jessica said.

‘Someone from the station?’

‘I do have other friends too!.’

‘Sorry, I didn’t mean…’

‘It’s all right. She’s my oldest friend actually, Caroline. We lived together for ages but grew apart. We’ve only been back in regular contact for the last couple of months or so.’

‘Let me guess, the job came between you?’ From her tone, it sounded as if Izzy spoke from experience.

‘You don’t know the half of it…’

Two years previously, Jessica had been trying to find a serial killer. The trail ultimately led her to Caroline’s boyfriend Randall, who tried to kill her. He was currently in a secure hospital and, as far as Jessica knew, hadn’t spoken to anyone since his arrest. After that things hadn’t quite been the same between the pair.

‘Is it something you want to talk about?’Izzy asked, apparently sensing Jessica’s discomfort.

‘Not really. She phoned and asked if I’d be a bridesmaid for her.’

‘Are you doing it?’

‘Of course. We didn’t fall out and I’d still call her my best friend. I’m glad she asked but I’m not so sure about the whole big event thing. I don’t really do dressing up and all that.’

Izzy peered down at the light brown trouser suit she was wearing, fingering the thin lapel on her jacket. ‘Don’t you ever get bored of these suits every day?’

Jessica glanced away from the screens at her own grey suit. ‘I used to, maybe a couple of years ago. I don’t really think about it now. She’s not picked the dresses yet. I’m worried it will be some sort of pink or yellow monstrosity and I’ll be left living with those horrific photos until the end of time. If anyone from the station sees them…’ She drifted off, contemplating how she would struggle to live down those potential images.

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