- Published: 1 June 2021
- ISBN: 9781760894320
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 416
- RRP: $32.99
London, April 2007
He opened the new bag of coffee beans and inhaled, relishing the toasted aroma that his favourite brand of arabica gave off. Tipping the contents into the grinder’s basket, he enjoyed the satisfying clatter of the oily rubble, awaiting the revolution of the burrs that would allow them to perform the alchemy that hot water and their grinds could achieve.
This was a ritual for DCI Jack Hawksworth. Ever since his last trip to Australia to see his sister and her family, now living in Melbourne, coffee had taken on a new dimension for him. No longer did he swallow the muddy slurry from vending machines for something warming; now well-brewed caffeine had become a passion. Having tasted the delicious version of a piccolo in the Italian quarter of Melbourne – where unshaven men stood behind hissing, steaming machines twisting buttons and pressing levers that ultimately delivered a shot like liquid liquorice, topped by a layer of caramel-coloured crema – he now prided himself on attaining a similar magic at home.
He sat back now at the small breakfast table, satisfied with this morning’s brew. His laptop was open to read the news but he ignored the screen and instead stared out of the window and across the concrete complex of his temporary home. He’d worried this place might turn him melancholy but contemplated instead that life was looking up. Moving into this apartment while he decided where to live had been wise. And while its architecture seemed to contradict everything he might normally respond to, he enjoyed its convenience and ease. These last few weeks had been coloured by a watershed sense of arriving at peace. Two relationships in a row with intelligent women, both characterised by bright personalities and beauty, had ended horribly. How could one person have such poor luck as to have two lovers who were enmeshed in crime? Anne McEvoy had notoriously emerged as a woman on a revenge spree for a gang rape in her childhood; she’d killed all but one of the perpetrators but in the process had effectively changed Jack’s life, especially as he’d never stopped loving her.
Then along came Lily. The sensuous florist had entered his world by chance and a sense of hope had begun to simmer. He had liked Lily enormously, although they both knew the relationship was doomed. Her Chinese parents had arranged a suitable marriage to a surgeon, but that was not the pain in his heart. The hurt that would never leave was that Lily never got to live her life. It had been snapped out by the sinister fiancé, and Jack had spent a year now trying to regain his faith in himself; he felt he had failed both these women.
He sipped the coffee, allowing its richness to fill his senses and move him away from the past. Tapping the space bar, he watched the screen brighten and he read the headlines and their articles. Most disturbing was the report that a three-year-old child called Madeleine had gone missing during a family holiday in Portugal; he couldn’t imagine a more terrifying scenario for a parent. He wondered how the Europe Desk that he headed up at Scotland Yard might be drawn into the case. There would be a media circus to contend with, and Jack began to imagine the emotional energy building within police from both countries, which would be about to explode. Moving on, he scanned the usual depressing facts: Manchester United had won yet another Premier League final, and Britain had come joint second to last in the Eurovision Song Contest. He sighed.
Jack shifted to the newspaper; if technology continued the way it was, he imagined that one day he might read the news via his phone – now what a crazy world that would be. He shook his head, feeling old, and kept turning the pages; he was now simply scanning, thinking about a second coffee, knowing he should probably get to work. He’d only had the briefest of sleeps, having left the Europe Desk in the small hours and not been able to drift off happily, so he’d been up by five for a run. He checked his watch; it was nearing eight. He was about to close the paper and start his day when a brief caught his attention.
Jack’s forehead knitted with disgust, the good buzz of just moments ago beginning to ebb away as he read that Rupert Brownlow had been released a week earlier; that he was not giving interviews, had done his time and now just wanted to get on with his life.
‘Rupert, you bastard,’ he murmured, recalling the case. He hadn’t worked on it, but the detectives who had were broken for awhile; certainly, the paramedics first on the scene had been collectively traumatised. Four children, two forty-something adults, two seniors – one in her seventies and an older man in his eighties – plus a couple of beloved dogs had died that day, not quite eight years ago, because spoilt, rich, arrogant Rupert Brownlow had been enraged that his girlfriend had dumped him for some other pimply private-school sixth-former. He’d taken some drugs and swallowed more alcohol from his family’s drinks cabinet than a youth of eighteen should at ten in the morning. Then, in his drugged, drunken teenage version of wisdom, Rupert had taken his father’s tomato-coloured Range Rover and gone wheeling around London, a police car and a police bike ultimately on his tail. They finally caught him but not before half-conscious Rupert had ploughed into a suburban street in Potters Bar, ending lives through his selfish hellraising. He’d served just over three years of his appallingly short seven-year sentence.
‘Amazing what money and a lenient judge can do, eh?’ Jack remarked to the universe, feeling a punch of despair on behalf of the families who had lost their loved ones and would now know the killer was back out to pick up the threads of his life, repair the gaps and move forward in his twenties . . . contrite perhaps, but still wealthy. Meanwhile those families would likely never escape their loss and move forward, as Brownlow could.
Jack gave a growl, knowing the police would bear the brunt of public scorn, when in fact it was the legal system that had let folk down.
He stood, resigned to get on, hopeful that today they might get news on the careful operation presently underway in Brussels, which was a joint effort by British, French and Belgian task forces. This was an important one for Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism unit, of which he was second-in-command for the International Liaison Section.
As Jack was rinsing the shampoo out of his dark hair, in need of a trim, which he would tame with a firm brush, he heard his phone ring. He reached for the Nokia that was balanced on the basin and stepped away from the showerhead, his other arm grabbing a towel. Eyes stinging slightly from the suds, he answered.
‘Morning, Jack?’ It was his old super, Martin Sharpe, now Acting Chief Superintendent of the Homicide and Serious Crime Branch at Scotland Yard.
‘Morning, sir. This is a surprise.’
‘Have I caught you at an awkward moment?’
‘No, sir. Well . . . just showering. Hang on.’ He put his head briefly under the water again to rinse properly and then, in a slightly muffled tone as he dried his face, he returned to Sharpe. ‘Are you well, Martin? Family okay?’
‘All fine . . .’ He sounded hesitant.
‘Except?’ Jack encouraged him, turning off the water.
‘I’ve got something.’
He waited, but Martin was prepared to wait too, it seemed. Jack began towelling dry. ‘All right, spill it, sir.’
‘Three corpses. All murdered, we believe.’
‘Not as far as we know.’
‘Finsbury Park, another in Eastbourne, a third in Birmingham.’
‘So . . .?’ Jack frowned, perplexed.
‘Two different counties as well as London and we can’t tie them together, I admit. However, their bizarre nature has set off alarm bells. Heads of CID have agreed that the Met should coordinate investigations rather than risk another Ripper.’
Jack blinked with surprise at the mention of Sutcliffe, who still haunted police ops and indeed changed the way they approached major investigations. He decided to leave that alone. ‘Bizarre in what way?’ Jack opened the mirrored cabinet and reached for the deodorant, before filling the basin with hot water. ‘Sorry, sir, hope you don’t mind if I keep getting ready.’
‘Not if it gets you in faster.’
Jack winced. So it wasn’t just advice being sought. He should have known it was coming.
‘I’ll need you on this one, Jack.’
‘Martin,’ he began, hoping to appeal to the mentor he treated with the same affection as a father, on the slim chance he could wheedle out of whatever it was that his old boss was about to lay at his feet. ‘I’m at the pointy end of a huge operation that’s taken almost a year to come to fruition. I’ve been working on—’
‘I know about it . . . not the Secret Squirrel stuff, of course, but I know you’ve been doing a sterling job as deputy head at Counter Terrorism International Liaison. I know your French counterparts especially enjoy working with you and, in particular, Mademoiselle Bouchard at the embassy is impressed by you.’ Sharpe let that hang. So, Martin knew about Sylvie. Jack smiled. Couldn’t hide much from the old fellow. He soaped his face and began shaving. He waited. ‘Are you there, Jack?’ he heard his superior ask.
‘I don’t want to return to my previous role, sir, to be honest.’
‘You wouldn’t be returning to your previous role.’
‘I see,’ he said, relieved. ‘What did you have in mind?’
‘How does Detective Superintendent sound?’
That was unexpected. Jack didn’t know whether to feel elated or cornered. ‘I hadn’t put in for a promotion.’
‘Don’t be coy, son. You’ve earned this and deserve it, but I need you heading up this operation.’
His super was playing with semantics. Not precisely the identical role because he’d have more status, but still heading up a major murder investigation . . . if it was one. ‘There must be half a dozen qualified—’
‘There are,’ Sharpe interrupted, becoming testy. ‘But none as experienced as you.’
‘For what?’ Jack genuinely couldn’t see why he was the best fit.
‘For taking on a serial killer.’
The words hung between them. Jack flung the razor into the soapy water and gave an exasperated sigh. ‘You’ve admitted there are no similarities.’
‘Not with the actual killings, no. And not with the MO either.’
‘I’m sensing a but,’ Jack said, realising he was not going to win this one. He stared at the man in the mirror, the former poster boy for Scotland Yard who had caught two serial killers in back-to-back dramatic operations that had almost claimed his life and that of his best DI, but had also carved away a chunk of his heart and his faith in humanity. ‘Where’s the similarity, Martin?’ he demanded.
‘The victims. They’re all convicted criminals.’
Jack’s expression changed to one of intrigue. ‘Dead cons?’ he said.
‘It’s the only link we can make. But I have a good nose, you’d agree?’
Jack nodded. ‘And you’re smelling something bad.’
‘That’s right. My office, soon as you can.’
Sharpe gestured to a seat once they’d shaken hands. ‘Good to have you back, Jack.’
‘Am I officially back? This is an order, is it, sir? I have no say?’
‘It is and I’m sorry.’ His boss had the grace to look genuinely sympathetic. ‘We need you on this one.’ He pushed a couple of files across his desk.
Jack opened them to look at crime scene photos, pathology reports, all the other relevant documentation, taking time to have a cursory glance through the material. Martin didn’t mind the brief silence, even fielding a call – one that involved Jack.
‘Yes, he’s with me now. We’ll start the ball rolling this afternoon. No. Absolutely no media. Not yet – we’re not ready to discuss anything outside of these walls . . . unless some wily journalist makes a connection. But as I’ve told you, sir, there’s nothing to join the dots yet, in my opinion, but we’ll see what our boy turns up. Yes, I’ve mentioned that to him, sir. No, I doubt it did.
You know Jack.’ He smiled humourlessly as the person on the other end spoke. ‘No, sir. Nothing yet, other than my twitching gut, Commander,’ he confirmed.
Jack looked up, waiting for Martin to conclude his conversation.
Sharpe put the phone receiver down. ‘He hopes you’re happy with the promotion. So?’ he said in a weary voice, nodding at the files.
‘You all right, sir?’
‘Just a bit tired. I thought I’d hate retirement. My wife assures me she’ll keep me busy . . . there are cruise brochures stacked next to our bed.’
Jack smiled in sympathy.
‘Curiously, I’m feeling ready for it now – retirement, that is, not the cruising. Can’t see myself in slacks and plimsolls.’
‘They’re called sneakers these days,’ Jack quipped.
Martin chuckled. ‘I like to use those words to annoy the grandchildren. Seriously though, can you see me in a polo shirt, strolling a ship’s deck and impatiently awaiting happy hour?’
‘I really can’t.’ Jack grinned. There was a poignant pause between them. ‘You’ll be missed, sir.’
Martin nodded. ‘Until then, we have this problem,’ he said, gesturing towards the files in Jack’s hands. ‘I am not going anywhere until this is sorted. Talk to me.’
Jack blew out his breath. ‘Nasty,’ he agreed. ‘Julian Smythe, in for manslaughter . . . only got five years for beating his wife senseless. He was out in less than three years. Got off lightly,’ he remarked, his eyebrow lifting.
‘Well, I agree until you find out he was killed by being all but cooked to death.’ Jack flipped over the page as Martin spoke. ‘The coroner summarised the pathology report that the perpetrator likely poured several litres of freshly boiled water over his head before setting him on fire.’
Jack shook his head, giving a low whistle of awe. ‘That goes beyond vicious. Even the heavy guys in Vice wouldn’t be bothered with that . . . unless they were torturing him for information.’
‘From all we can tell, he wasn’t connected with any known crims.’
‘The dead men weren’t in the same prison, were they?’
‘No. And Peggy never made it to prison.’
‘Doesn’t sit right with you, sir?’
‘Does it feel odd to you? One of London’s well-known madams, who we’re certain was running an even bigger online prostitution racket, apparently commits suicide with an overdose while sitting next to a tree in Finsbury Park?’
Jack waited, as he could tell that Sharpe was just drawing breath.
‘. . . in the middle of November!’
‘All right, I’ll admit that’s beyond odd, but I’d have to study the victim, understand the circumstances.’ Jack frowned, pondering. ‘So no prison involved here?’
‘Should have been. Peggy Markham was acquitted two years ago for the crime of procuring a girl under sixteen for unlawful sexual intercourse.’ At Jack’s frown, he explained. ‘She was accused of allowing a client to practise his particular deviancy on a fifteen-year-old. The girl died.’
‘That’s a long bow you’re drawing, putting Markham in with these two.’
‘And yet I am. From all I’ve dug up, I can’t find a single reason for Peggy Markham to end her life. If anything, her empire was flourishing. She wasn’t sick, had no troublesome family – a son in Spain running a hotel keeping as much distance as he could between himself and his criminal mother, not to mention his criminal father, long dead. Meanwhile, she’d just dodged a prison cell that had her name on it. She should have been celebrating, not contemplating suicide.’
Jack blew out his cheeks. Martin was right; it was curious, but privately he wondered if his superior was simply reaching, keen to go out on a triumph. Even thinking that made Jack feel disloyal. Martin had never been someone who sought out the limelight, but he could feel the passion exploding from the other side of the desk.
‘What about Alan Toomey? Remember him?’
Jack shook his head.
Martin threw a file in front of him. ‘Read what happened to him.’
Jack obeyed and was soon enough looking up with an expression of disbelief. ‘So, where do I come in?’
‘I have to be sure, Jack. I’m not leaving for the great yonder knowing there’s unfinished business. Just take a look, would you?’ he appealed. ‘The oddity of these deaths and the vague commonality I sense in the victims are sticking in my craw. You’ve run the two most notorious murder cases in living memory, you’ve got the cred and the knowledge, and I want to put that to good use. So, I’ve been given permission to follow my hunch. Are there more dead crims we are yet to find or haven’t connected the dots to?’
Jack looked back at him, trying not to show his despair at being cornered into accepting the task, as Sharpe sat forward in earnest.
‘Jack, do you agree that these look and even sound like murders?’
‘Yes, to the two men.’ How could he not agree? No one would inflict those injuries on themselves. ‘But Peggy Markham . . . I’d need more time.’
‘Take it. These deaths have occurred over three years, so there’s no panic. Put together a small op – we don’t need the usual dozens. Keep it tight.’ The phone rang and Martin looked vexed. He pressed the button to the loudspeaker on the unit. ‘I said no—’
‘You’ll want to take this, sir,’ his secretary assured him. Martin glanced through the glass to where she sat, and Jack watched her nod firmly. Martin visibly sighed and picked up the receiver. ‘Sharpe here.’
Jack watched the man’s brow crease before he leaned his elbow on the desk and supported his head as though the burden of it was suddenly too heavy.
‘Where?’ was all he said before nodding. ‘All right, I appreciate the early information. Thanks, Doug.’ He put the phone receiver down and glanced at his secretary with a slight nod of gratitude before he looked at Jack. ‘Rupert Brownlow?’
‘Out last week, I heard.’
Sharpe nodded. ‘No justice there for the people he killed because he was dumped by his girlfriend.’
‘Does the Met think we should keep him under supervision now that he’s out? He’s an obvious target who’s going to be hounded by reporters and angry civilians.’
‘Yes, well, he doesn’t have to worry about being chased any longer. His corpse was found near Portsmouth seafront. Dragged behind a car like a ragdoll for quarter of a mile . . . or so the bloodstains suggest.’
Jack stared at his boss, eyes narrowing, taking a moment to process what this meant. ‘Hardly an accident then, sir.’
‘Believe me now, Jack?’
‘Is Joan available?’
Sharpe stood and grinned. To Jack it looked like a grin of relief. ‘Already moving in. Seventh floor. You know the pack drill.’ He extended a hand. ‘Thanks.’
Jack shook hands with the senior officer, knowing the gesture sealed his fate in regard to the European operation he was in charge of. ‘Who’ll take over upstairs?’
‘It’s all in hand. Seriously, Jack.’ Sharpe hadn’t let go of his hand yet. ‘I appreciate your help on this one. Then I can retire and know I left things tidy.’
‘Until the next time,’ Jack murmured but in a lighter tone.
‘That’s someone else’s watch,’ Sharpe replied. ‘Joan’s waiting for you.’
Jack nodded, fully resigned, and began his journey down from the senior corridors to the seventh floor, where his new operation was apparently already underway.
The two men frowned at the map. It made little sense and one referred to the detailed instructions he’d taken good care to note down.
Jean Farmer took the call, and regretted instantly that she’d been the one to pick up the phone.
As the new year of 1910 moved closer to its second month, the world marvelled that there had been so few deaths in Paris when the River Seine rose more than eight metres and flooded the city.
The air sagged beneath the burden of the day’s heat and the African sun felt as pitiless as her mother’s gaze upon meeting the man Louisa had chosen to marry.
York – 1915 The argument had been tame, polite even, but there was no doubt in her mind that if she didn’t make a decision, it would be made for her.
I didn’t dare look at the palm of my hand for fear of seeing the bruising arc pattern of fingernails from the clenching of my fist moments earlier.
Discarded medical equipment litters the floor: surgical tools blistered with rust, broken bottles, jars, the scratched spine of an old invalid chair.
The two suspects sat on mismatched furniture in the white and almost featureless lounge, waiting for something to happen.