~ CHAPTER ONE ~
12.05am: In a cold basement lab, Fitzpatrick stood at the end of the metal autopsy bench and watched Dr Colepepper do his job.
Fitzpatrick, now a 45-year-old man, wondered if there would ever come a time when this scenario might feel less gruesome and heartrending.
Dr Colepepper said: “Well whoever did this washed her good. Very little to go on at first sight. But I’ll be meticulous. Let’s pray for a bit of luck. What I scraped from under her fingernails hasn’t been analysed yet either, so keep your fingers crossed she had a chance to put up a bit of a fight at some point.”
“Still think she was strangled?”
“Yes. Would I say that is the cause of death? Most likely.”
“From the front or behind?”
Dr Colepepper placed his own hands about one inch above the tiny, pale throat on the table in front of him, as if he was about to strangle the child himself, in an utterly macabre gesture. Fitzpatrick looked down. He could plainly see the impressions of another person’s thumbs underneath where Colepepper’s were hovering.
“You can clearly see the thumb marks at the front of the neck, obviously they’d be at the back if our killer was stood behind her. He, or she, obviously didn’t mind looking into those little blue eyes as they stole her life.”
“Control? Sexual motivation?”
“Either. Or, possibly both. It does take it to another level.”
“You said ‘she’?”
“I’d say the killer’s hands were smaller than mine.”
“As small as a woman’s?”
“I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Fitzpatrick started running the middle finger of his right hand across his raised right eyebrow, over and over in a repetitive stroking motion. Dr Colepepper had seen the gesture many times. If Fitzpatrick played poker, this would be his only tell.
12.32am: Maloney let his forehead rest a moment against the cold glass of the drinks machine as he watched a Red Bull wheeze from its spiral wire frame and drop with unforgiving grace to the dispensing tray.
Isaac twisted his head and blinked at Smyth standing to his left.
“I’ve just been going over the pictures I took in the car park, like Fitzpatrick told me. I couldn’t get anything great in the light but there are definitely some very deep tire marks in the mud, which stand out more than the rest, and if you look at them closely I think it’s possible to see the impressions of a vehicle reversing in and then driving off. I thought I’d better show you?”
“Great stuff. I’ll come take a look. We may need to get someone straight back out there to make casts. What about the door knocking?”
“Very few people would come to their front doors at that time of night I’m afraid.”
“Go back out first thing, before anyone has a chance to head off to work.”
“Where’s Arden now?”
“He said we should both go home and get some sleep. But I just thought I’d come back and look through those images first. I guess Arden went home.”
Smyth turned and was about to leave but Maloney detained her.
“How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine. If this is about me being sick. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”
“No, not at all. It’s perfectly normal. It’s never easy. But cases like this, they are the hardest. With a child I mean. I’d like to tell you it gets easier over time. But I’d be lying. You’re doing a good job.”
“Thank you sir.”
“There’s something else. Fitzpatrick wants you and I to go over and talk to the couple who made the call about a missing child to emergency services earlier this evening.”
“I thought the doctor said it’s unlikely to be their daughter?”
“That’s what we are going to try and find out.”
“With this picture. And he wants us to go now.”
~ CHAPTER TWO ~
1.03am: Josephine Copeland-Black stuck to her conviction of not allowing Lucian to drive them back to her house. But she knew she’d have to find a way to head home at some point before morning. Right now she found herself face down on a white polyester sheet, gripping the fabric in both outstretched hands, prostrate and on her knees in a cheap hotel room which smelt predominantly of toilet bowl tablets mixed with mouldy cigarette smoke. She lifted her head and managed to take in a mouthful of pillow to stifle a new wave of ecstasy wavering on a precipice from Lucian’s beating hips.
1.35am: Smyth had been too wired to go home to sleep and didn’t want to be alone. Maloney had reluctantly agreed to take her back to Canton after visiting the parents, Mr and Mrs Mathers, so she could busy her mind with work. Then he’d made an excuse about needing something from the 24-hour supermarket so he could disappear into the night for half an hour.
He was sat in a smoky blue-lit bar staring down into the amber liquid of a whiskey in a dishwasher-smeared glass, perched on a bar stool with his back to the dancers – all working up the clientele quite nicely with the help of their shiny poles.
“Hey mister, you looking for some fun tonight?”
Maloney twisted his neck to see a semi-naked woman with a butterfly belly button ring and augmented breasts smiling at him. Some of the red lipstick she wore smeared her top teeth.
“Thank you,” he said. “But I’m not in the mood.”
Maloney stood. Downed his whiskey in one fluid motion and strode for the exit.
1.37pm: Alice Smythe braced herself, gripping the wash basin with both hands. She stared intensely at the young woman looking back at her from the mirror. The harsh strip light in the ladies toilet was merciless and unforgiving on her red-rimmed bloodshot eyes. Alice stood up straight, not taking her eyes off her reflection.
Then she slapped herself very hard across the face, bending double at the wincing pain in her right cheek, and stamped her left foot twice on the granite floor tiles.
Her inner monologue savagely cut through the fog: “Get it together,” it said.
1.47pm: “I thought you might still be here.”
“What is it doctor?” Fitzpatrick asked, sat behind his dark mahogany desk, telephone to his ear. Dr Cassius Colepepper nodded at the phone. “It’s okay, I’m only listening to it ring. Still trying to get hold of Dr Copeland-Black,” said Fitzpatrick.
“It’s not like Doc Cop to be missing in action.”
“Yes. I mean no. What did you want to tell me?”
“Nothing. Just looking for some company I guess.”
1.59pm: The heels of both of James Arden’s boots where exactly level with the edge of the car park where he stood. Contrary to what Smyth believed, Arden had not gone home to bed. Lifting his hands up as if carrying the weight of a child’s body he strode forward to the area, now ringed in crime tape, where the girl had been left. Looking around him he tried to concentrate hard – to put his mind into the mind of the person dumping the body.
What might he be thinking? Scared of being noticed? Getting the job done quick? But then a contradiction occurred to him. Why leave a body in a public place at all? With thousands of ways to dispose of it, this seemed either arrogant or stupid. Arden brushed the grass with his feet as he walked, disturbing the blades, trying to see beyond the foggy film blurring his weary eyes.
In Victorian Britain, Goldfinches were captured in their thousands.
Their fate? To be kept tied to tiny perches in miniature cages in homes, confined and flightless, for one key reason … their enchanting song.
I had never seen this beautiful bird … until last summer.
I was in my home and suddenly became aware of the most enchanting music coming from my garden. It was hypnotic, mesmerising and compelling. I ventured into my garden to try and find the source of this most magical sound. I felt under a kind of spell. Never had I heard a sound like this.
There, stood on my rooftop, the unmistakeable greeny-brown plumage and red and yellow markings of a Goldfinch.
I stood, willing this dreamlike creature to stay with me. Drowning in its drug. But, all too soon, it was gone.
Now, every day I wait … for one more fleeting encounter with a Goldfinch.