He’d abandoned his intention to use the Underground. The route to Rose’s would have involved a couple of changes. In itself not a big deal, and the lines would have been relatively quiet now. They were never deserted and all of them would have been carrying tourists making their way around the sights as well as the locals going about their daily lives, but he wouldn’t have had to suffer the crush that usually accompanied using them during the rush hour. He might have to wait several minutes between each change for the next train to arrive. He might not of course. He might have been lucky and virtually stepped straight off of one train and straight on to the next. There was probably a way of knowing, but his support of them in principle didn’t extend to carrying around timetables to tell him precisely what would be where and when. A car overland might save him a few minutes or might save him half an hour. It didn’t really matter. There was no need to hurry, but he preferred to be moving rather than waiting.
He’d toyed with the idea of returning to the station to pick up a car there. He could probably have found a driver, and if not could have driven himself. While he was contemplating, he spotted a cab displaying a sign to tell the world it was available. He held up a hand to attract the driver’s attention and it slowed and stopped. Decision made. He stepped inside, leaning forward once he was seated to tell the white haired man behind the wheel his destination through the holes in the Perspex screen.
There was a lot to be said for London cabs. The fact he was seated so far back from the driver, and the screen between them meant that conversation was an effort. Even if the driver wanted to chat, you could easily make it clear that you didn’t by staying way back and parrying any attempt to do so with monosyllabic answers and a pretence, not always necessary, that you hadn’t quite heard what was being said. Most drivers soon got the message and left you to your own thoughts. He often felt cab rides afforded a seclusion you could find nowhere else in the city except for your own home. He relaxed into his own thoughts while the driver negotiated the traffic between where he was and were he wanted to be.
He hadn’t had any brainwaves or flashes of illumination by the time the taxi turned into the street he’d walked down the previous afternoon with Rose. There were no flashing lights. There were three police cars outside the address, but they’d obviously been there long enough for that to no longer be necessary. He couldn’t even see the inevitable ‘Police Line Do Not Cross’ tape across the entrance to the drive until they’d virtually drawn parallel to it. He leaned forward to pay the driver. He didn’t get the ‘what’s going on here then’ question he’d been expecting, so didn’t have to give the ‘mind your own business’ answer he’d decided on. He got a receipt for the $5 note he handed over before stepping out onto the pavement.
Apart from the tape, and the uniformed policeman stood outside the front door, the house looked no different to how it had when he’d arrived with Rose before. He didn’t recognise the man posted to keep out unwanted visitors but holding his warrant card up as he approached secured him an unchallenged entrance. The door was ajar but not wide open. When he stepped through into the small hall there didn’t seem any sign of activity. This changed abruptly when he’d taken a few more steps and entered the lounge. It hadn’t seemed particularly constrained when he’d been in it before with just himself and Rose. Now there were half a dozen people there, all seeming to be purposefully engaged in some individual activity, it did. Actually there weren’t half a dozen. There were half a dozen and one. In the middle of the room, on one of the dining chairs pulled across from the table where it usually resided, sat Rose’s body. On closer inspection, he realised it wasn’t sat at the chair but rather tied to it. Her arms were secured at the wrists and elbows so that they lay along the chair’s own. Simple plastic ties had been all that was needed. Her legs too were drawn back to the chair’s. More plastic ties held them in place.
Signs of violence were obvious, but actually there was very little blood. Her arms and hands were red, criss-crossed with small cuts which had been allowed to bleed unchecked. Here and there on her face too red scrapes showed where a ring or similar had cut into her flesh as she was being hit. It was swollen and bruised. Or at least, that part he could see clearly was. The head lolled forward onto her chest, almost as though she were sleeping rather than passed. It probably hadn’t taken much persuasion to get her to tell everything she knew. And Jon already knew that was virtually nothing. Certainly not enough to be worth killing her for. He wondered if she’d realised that once she’d shared her little knowledge her tormenter would have no more use for her and would want to make sure she could help no-one identify him. He suspected she probably did. His conversation with her had told him she was no Einstein, but that she was no dummy either. If he remembered correctly, many of the paperback books he’d seen had been thrillers and crime novels. Just the sort of thing that would have warned her what to expect. He wondered if she’d died feeling afraid or resigned.
He didn’t need the lady from Forensics to tell him the cause of death. Or at least the apparent cause. The Clingfilm wrapped around Rose’s head would have made it impossible for her to breathe. Her death wouldn’t have been quick. The fact that the chair was facing the kitchen, and that she would therefore have probably seen her killer actually bringing it over for the purpose would have made things far worse, anticipation being as frightening as the act itself. From the killer’s point of view, it had been silent and without mess. Jon thought it showed a callousness, a disinterest in his victim’s feelings, to carry out the act that way. He understood why such a method had been chosen but it was cold. There was nothing to indicate that the killer had enjoyed his task. The means of persuasion appeared to have been just what had been necessary to make Rose tell anything that she knew, or guessed, and then to be sure she was holding nothing back. No more. No signs that her attacker had been enjoying inflicting the pain that had forced her to talk, nothing ‘excessive’. And the means of bringing about her final demise had been calculated. Not a death caused by actions gone too far, or evidence of an increasing frenzy leading up to it. It was like someone had lit a cigarette, taken what they’d needed from it, then simply extinguished it when it could offer no more. There were probably many things about it which made it better than a vengeance killing or a sex crime, where often the whole point was to inflict as much pain as possible, and the victim’s death was seen as a frustrating escape. But to Jon it felt just too unattached. The thought made him shiver, mentally if not physically.
Around the room, people were carefully examining everything, now and then putting something that might have been a clue into a sterile bag to be much more carefully looked at later. While he didn’t rule out the possibility their efforts might actually result in a useful clue being found, he seriously doubted it. Having benefited from seeing the room less than twenty four hours before, nothing seemed out of place or worthy of attention. Everything was ‘normal’, Apart from the body in the middle of the room of course. Apart from the body and the chair, the only other difference was that the sofa which Rose had so recently sat at while she talked with him, and the low coffee table that had been between them, had been pushed aside to create the space the dining chair now occupied. The other three dining chairs were still around the small table. Two of them were empty, the third supported a very ashen faced constable. He sat side on to the room, gazing out of the window and seemingly oblivious to Jon’s arrival or to activity around him.
Jon walked across and pulled out one off the other chairs, to sit opposite him. He sat without speaking for a few moments, acutely aware of the silence between them. When he finally introduced himself, he did so quietly.
“This your first one?” he asked gently.
The young P.C. didn’t answer. Not verbally anyway. He seemed to be struggling to speak, then nodded when he realised the ability seemed to have left him temporarily. Jon remembered his own encounter with a real live – or rather dead – corpse. That one hadn’t been a violent death. His own horror had been that the body had obviously been there many days before he’d been called to respond to a neighbour’s concerns. He’d known from the smell that greeted him as soon as he’d forced his way into the house that he was in for an experience he wouldn’t like. He’d managed to hold back his natural reaction to throw up until he’d found the house’s toilet. He’d smelled that smell many times since, and it never got any better. And the memory of it never fully left him either. He’d worked on several suspicious deaths. Some that had proved to have been murder. Indeed it was his work on one that had greatly helped his promotion to inspector. And while he’d never claim to have become completely immune to the sight of dead bodies, he’d certainly grown used to them. But the smell, even from a relatively fresh body, never ceased to remind him of the first one.
It was another couple of minutes until the P.C.s voice returned. It was hesitant at first, slowly building as his confidence returned and as Jon listened without interrupting. He explained that he’d responded to a call from her manager. It had been unlike Rose to just not turn up and Jon’s own visit to the factory the day before had made him concerned. Normally the call would have been dismissed, the caller told to leave it for a few hours and to call back if contact still hadn’t been made then. Jon’s own brief notes, found on the computer system when the manager had explained why he was concerned, had made them treat the call with a little more priority. P.C. James, and his colleague P.C. Thomas – who was the uniform now stationed outside the front door – had been closest and had been assigned to call round to the house to check things out.
The fact that the curtains at the front of the house had been drawn shut when they’d arrived didn’t seem particularly strange. It had still been relatively early, and if the woman was ill and still in bed it would have been quite understandable. Even the lack of a reply to their initial rings and knocks didn’t seem particularly odd. It had, though, been enough to suggest to both the officers that they investigate further. James had remained at the front door, still hopeful of an answer, while Thomas had followed the concrete path that led to the back of the house. The window that James had been looking through when Jon had first sat down had no curtains. It was through this that Thomas had seen the body. He couldn’t be sure that it was a dead body of course. Nor could he see the signs that were obvious when you approached through the hallway. What he’d seen though was enough for him to tell James to force a way in. It hadn’t taken a lot of pressure, nor caused a lot of damage, to make the single lock give way and let James step inside. On seeing the corpse, his training had taken over, and he’d acted almost on auto-pilot. It was obvious that the victim was dead, and that there was nothing to be gained by calling for an accident. He’d managed to give a completely coherent report when he’d called in their discovery on his radio. He’d felt no qualms when told to stay there, keep the premises secure, and await the arrival of backup. It was only when he’d done all he needed to do, the adrenalin had stopped pumping, that he suddenly felt overwhelmed by what they’d found. He’d waited outside at first, with P.C. Thomas, only returning and taking the seat the D.I. had found him on a few minutes before Jon’s own arrival.
Jon knew the rest of the story from there. Or rather, the story that had led to his own involvement. When news of the discovery of the body and the link to Jon had been passed on to Jon’s D.C.I, he’d only just put down an initial detailed report from the Fire Officer about the explosion at Riaz’s flat. They still couldn’t say categorically that the blast had been deliberate, but they’d found enough unusual fragments at the scene and amongst what they’d taken away to at least cast doubt on their initial conclusion that it had been accidental. Taken individually Riaz’s history and the explosion could still have been a coincidence. Rose’s death so shortly after talking to Jon stretched credibility more than a little. Taking into account the manner of her death, and the apparent reason for it, it would have taken a very brave person not to have accepted the probability that they were all connected and added up to a pattern. The D.C.I. wasn’t that brave. At least, not brave enough to risk his credibility by denying Jon’s hunch and letting him run with it. If events or circumstances proved Jon wrong, it would be better and easier to admit that they’d investigated unnecessarily than to not do so only to find later that they should have.
All that Jon could hope was that either he was wrong and that the Forensics team’s painstakingly investigation here or that the enquiries with neighbours that he now needed to embark on would turn up something, anything, that might lead him to Gomez.