The next five pages of Six Years, Six Days – a crime novel by Dawn Hinsley
9.25pm: The vehicle made a slow circle around the park – white houses with black doors and iron railings encircled the entire urban green space. There was little human traffic out on the street.
But behind net curtains television screens flickered. Parents argued with their children about homework. A purple-haired pensioner with tight corkscrew curls sang softly to her aging Yorkshire terrier, while next door a middle-aged woman was reading a report she’d brought home from work – a glass of gin and tonic in one hand and a freshly made spliff in the other. A newly married couple, overcome by the excitement of fighting with washing up bubbles, were writhing on the floor of their kitchen completely naked.
The white van eased on by, swung a right, and disappeared beyond the tall trees which made the small car park at the north end of Horse Chestnut Park invisible from the road.
9.25pm: DCI Gabriel Fitzpatrick leaned back into the leather chair in his office and flipped open the case file. The photograph – of a grim-faced, detached and hard-bitten man in his 30s – stared back at him. Lucian Black, orphan, shunted around foster homes from the age of nine. First conviction, robbery of an automobile at gunpoint. Age 12. What’s the connection, thought Fitzpatrick. Where does Josephine even fit into your world? Did she try and make you better?
9.26pm: The boys had been summoned. There was no backing out of a summons. The smell of rotting meat didn’t help. “For the dogs,” was all the man said before delivering his orders. It was useless to protest. There were obvious holes in this plan, through which anyone could fall. And someone usually did – right across the sharp edge of a blade. The boys left; their fates as clear and unwavering to them as the rising and setting of the sun.
9.27pm: Buster had already enjoyed two walks in the past five hours. He’d have been quite happy to curl up in his basket for the night. But his owner was restless. Too much time and very little to fill the lonely hours since his wife died 13 months previous made 86-year-old Tommy Keeton a keen walker. And where Tommy went Buster always tagged along. Tommy hooked on Buster’s lead, lifted his padded jacket from the peg next to his front door, and stepped out onto the deserted street of Horse Chestnut Park Boulevard.
~ CHAPTER THREE ~
10.16pm: Maloney had taken the call just as he was about to clock off for the night. His day shift ended hours previously but time had become a master he’d never learnt to tame.
A girl, dead. In a local park. She was very young. Maloney got into his car and drove straight to the scene. The place was already swarming with men and women, some in white suits and others either in plain clothes or uniform. One of the uniformed officers greeted him.
“Hey Sergeant. This looks bad. She’s got marks around her neck. And…”
“What is it officer?”
“Well… she’s naked.”
“I see.” Maloney’s face gave nothing away. The officer at his side was still staring at the ground, as if something incredibly interesting was happening on his shoes.
Maloney felt something close to compassion. “Listen,” he said. “Will you organise a team to fan out from here, going through the grass blade by blade?”
“Yes. Straight away sir.”
“Who found her? I’d like to speak to them.”
“A dog walker. Old gentlemen. But he’s been taken by the paramedics to hospital, being treated for shock I think.”
“Okay. Get me his details.”
Maloney turned. The rain had ceased but the ground was sodden under foot. Maloney strode forward disregarding the mud sloshing onto his polished shoes. Fitzpatrick was hot on his heels, pulling on a pair of latex gloves.
“What have we got Maloney?”
“Female. Young. Naked. Perhaps strangled.”
Dr Cassius Colepepper was kneeling over the girl when they reached the prostrate little body led on her back. The doctor was lifting up an eyelid and shining a small torch into one eye. He looked up as the men approached.
“Notice anything strange gentlemen?”
“Yes,” Fitzpatrick answered. “She looks too clean for a night like this.”
“And what’s that smell?” Asked Maloney.
“Bleach or some other disinfectant I think,” said the doctor. “I’d hazard a guess she’s been washed in it.”
“Anything you can tell us yet?” Asked Fizpatrick.
“Rigor has appeared.”
“She’s been dead at least two hours?”
“Perhaps. It can be very unpredictable in children – a low muscle mass you see. I’m also willing to speculate COD was asphyxiation,” said Dr Colepepper as Fitzpatrick squatted down next to him.
He looked up to Maloney: “Let’s get Dr Copeland-Black out here before we move the body. Give her a call. In the meantime, get a team to circle outward from this point and see what they can find in the grass.”
“Already organised,” said Maloney, pulling his mobile phone from his trouser pocket.
Walking towards them was Trainee Detective Constable Alice Smyth and Detective Constable James Arden. Both looked apprehensive, especially Smyth. It was understandable. But Maloney gave her credit for not faltering in her step.
“Smyth,” said Fitzpatrick. “I want you to come take a look at this.”
Maloney, forgetting why his phone was in his hand, looked at Smyth. Smyth looked at Arden, who nodded an almost imperceptible gesture of encouragement. Smyth took a deep breath. She walked over to the body as Fitzpatrick stood.
“Tell me what you see,” he said.
“Well,” she answered, as her internal organs went into freefall on a roller coaster ride. “She’s young. And these are clear marks around the neck.”
“More than that,” Fitzpatrick said.
Smyth placed a hand on her forehead. The other was on her waist. The ground was spinning. She doubled over then spat and coughed. Her dinner of a cheese and pickle sandwich, can of diet coke and chocolate muffin were suddenly all over the ground in front of her. Including across her shoes. Smyth felt a hand on her back.
“I’m sorry,” she spluttered.
“It’s okay,” said Fitzpatrick.
The doctor riffled in his bag for a bottle of water. He passed it to Fitzpatrick who in turn handed it to Smyth.
“Wash your mouth out. Take a few deep breaths. Try again.”
Smyth did as she was told.
When she was ready Fitzpatrick continued: “It’s been raining all day, but the top of the victim’s body is very clean.”
“She’s under a tree as well,” Smyth offered.
“Good,” said Fitzpatrick. “What do you think about that?”
“She was placed here on purpose?”
“And what would all that lead you to conclude?”
“She wasn’t killed here. But brought here after? But possibly not very long ago.”
“I’d agree. I want you and Arden knocking on every door of every house in the vicinity. Someone may have seen something. I don’t care if we wake people up, by tomorrow they could have forgotten something – tiny but significant. A car heading into the car park over there for example. It looks muddy. I don’t know what the surface is but from here it doesn’t look like concrete. Take the camera and photograph all the tire marks you see that are fresh. The car park is floodlit so you should have enough light even at this time of night. By morning we may have lost some evidence. But come back first thing if you need more. You got all that?”
Smyth did a double take: “Is it me or is part of the victim’s body moving?”
Smyth and Fitzpatrick turned in unison to see that a shortish man with strawberry blonde, wildly unruly hair had walked up behind them.
“What did you say?” Smyth asked him.
“Or more commonly known as blowflies or bluebottles. Their larvae are hatching in the body,” repeated the man. “That’s what you can see moving.” Dr Jack was looking at Fitzpatrick when he said this last sentence. Fitzpatrick’s face turned bleak.
“You mean maggots?” Interrupted Smyth.
“Smyth, let me introduce forensic anthropologist Dr Jack Stevens who you haven’t met yet,” said Fitzpatrick. “Dr Jack, this is the newest member of our team, Trainee Detective Constable Alice Smyth.”
“Isn’t this body a bit too fresh for you Dr Jack?” Maloney called over from where he was now standing with Colepepper.
When Jack answered he directed his reply only to Fitzpatrick again: “Was passing, thought I’d take a quick look. You might need me later; it’s going to be a big case. Best to have the benefit of the entire picture; see things from start to finish. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes of course. Take a look at whatever you want.” Said Fitzpatrick. He then turned back to Maloney: “When did you say that couple rang to report a missing girl this evening?”
“I don’t think this is going to be their child,” said Dr Jack. “Rigor, blowflies hatching – blowflies don’t even lay eggs at night. The numbers don’t seem to add up to me.”
Fitzpatrick nodded slowly. Contemplative. Then said: “Maloney. Is Dr Copeland-Black on her way?”
“Ringing her now chief.”
As Smyth headed off to find Arden, Maloney held down the speed dial number to call Dr Copeland-Black on his mobile. He waited, listening to the ringing against his ear.
10.35pm: As Copeland-Black eased herself down on top of Lucian she wondered if the past six years would feel different once he was inside her again. She couldn’t bring herself to look down. It had been a long time, and bashful self-consciousness had somehow tiptoed back into a space where previously no inhibition lived. There was a moment between the first gasp and the deep swelling beneath – that felt almost akin to pain – and the sensation of his hands on the small of her back, when she knew everything from this point on was going to slip out of her control. Josephine didn’t hear her phone’s incessant bring.