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SANDRA A BROWN
When she left the house earlier that night, she knew she was in some sort of danger.
What she didn’t know was that she’d soon be lying dead in a filthy bedsit, her skin growing paler and paler, as the cold January night progressed.
She gripped the documents tightly. She couldn’t risk dropping them or letting them fall, not after everything she’d been through to find them.
Her breath frosted as it left her mouth. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked. Lights flashed and horns pipped, the goodwill of Christmas season replaced by the grumpiness of normal life. January. Parents would be back at work. Children would be bored of their new toys already.
But she had to do one thing. She couldn’t leave it any longer.
He’d told her he’d be here. She just had to wait. Soon, it would all be over. She didn’t want to involve him. She’d tried her best not to, but it had to be this way.
He caught her eye, walking through the car park. He startled her at first, his figure almost unrecognisable as he powered towards her, rubbing his hands in the cold.
She gripped the documents tightly. She had to do this.
She looked up towards him. Her vision was blurred, and her body shook. Damp goose pimples protruded from her skin as the dark figure moved above her, fuzzy and out of view.
Still, she gripped. She couldn’t let go. She couldn’t let that happen.
She tried to move her legs and hands, but they seemed magnetically attached to wherever it was she lay. Why wouldn’t they move?
She could only keep holding. Keep holding…
If she held tight enough, someone would find her. She just had to keep gripping…keep gripping…
Thompson danced around the dim light flickering in the corner. He wiped her hair out of her face and rubbed his damp hands against his dark black coat. Then he walked towards the door, taking a final glance around the room. Her eyes were still open with shock. She’d watched it happen. Even as he squeezed the final breath from her fragile, failing lungs, she had held on for dear life.
But not anymore.
He shut the door and disappeared outside, past the downtrodden buildings into the frost of night. The cries of locals roared through the claustrophobic little alleyways.
No one saw him leave. No one ever saw anything around here.
The chiming of the church bells that morning was as welcome to Sean Draxel as always–not one bit.
He slumped onto his side with a groan and looked at his clock: six a.m. Six-frigging-a.m. Surely the church figured by now that no one really cared about holy stuff at six a.m. Or maybe that was the plan? Maybe they knew no one really cared about the church anymore. One final form of revenge; a way to keep everyone aware of their presence.
He squeezed the bridge of his nose, his forehead aching. At the foot of his bed, he spotted an empty bottle of anti-depressants on its side. Some of the pills spilled out like a waterfall into a pool on the carpet. Beside them lay three empty bottles of beer, one resting against the other like tipsy dominoes.
The drunken detective. He had to play up the cliché. He couldn’t let anybody know the truth.
Sean winced as he edged onto the side of his bed and rubbed his hands against his face. His white boxers stuck to his legs with the sweat of wearing them for the last few days. But it didn’t matter. It was his time off. He’d worked Christmas and Boxing Day and barely seen anybody over the festive season, so what else did he have to keep busy except drinking and chilling out by himself over New Year?
The rattling of the phone against the table interrupted Sean, his head still in his hands. The one thing worse than church bells at six a.m. was his phone vibrating, especially on his day off. He reached for it, careful not to knock over the silver-plated photo frame on his bedside.
The ringing seared through his tender skull. He didn’t bother looking who it was. Someone was calling him on his day off, which meant bad news regardless.
“Hello?” he said, his voice groggy. How many drinks did he have? Snap out of it–the drink wasn’t causing the problems. He was just becoming too good at fooling himself that it was. He must be doing something right.
“What the hell you playing at?” the voice on the other end bellowed.
Shit. He hadn’t…
He looked over at the miniature calendar on his bedside. Oh, shit. It wasn’t Sunday…
“Pace, I’m sorry, I–”
“First off, I’m DCI Pace to you,” he said. Sean could almost feel spit splashing against his face from the other end of the crackling line. “And as for your apologies, I get it–you’ve got shit going on. I’m an understanding guy. Just sort yourself out and get in here as soon as you can, all right?”
Sean squeezed his eyelids together, his cheeks flushing. “Okay, okay. But seriously, Pace–Detective Chief Inspector. Seriously, I’m sorry.”
DCI Pace snickered. “You can give me a proper apology when you get into work. You’d better get your lazy arse here quick, though–briefing’s in five. There’s something big gone down, and these rookies could do with some professional help. You up to it?”
“I’m on it,” Sean said. The line cut out before he had the chance to say anything else.
He dropped the phone and looked around his living room. Or at least they called it a living room in the rental description. It had everything–built-in kitchen, bed, the whole lot. The only thing it didn’t have was the most useful item you’d want–a loo. He had to walk into a little cupboard for that. At least when no one was around, he could just crack one out into the drainpipe underneath his window. Nobody had to know.
Sean stretched his arms out and lumbered past the empty bottles on the floor. He’d leave those there for now, just in case anybody from work came over and he needed an excuse for his lethargy. He couldn’t have anybody asking questions. Laura visited a few weeks ago just to sort out a few technicalities, and she’d said what a tip the place was in. But what did that matter? He didn’t have to make it nice for anyone. Not until the stuff with Davey was resolved anyway.
Davey. Probably best he kept him out of his head for the time being.
He stepped to the curtains and rested his arms on the metal window frame. Below him, cars headed to work, and buses left the station. The bloody bus station–Preston’s one big grey chunk of pride. It was like a tumour on the city, but one to be proud of. People claimed they hated it, but the second an outsider poked fun at it, it was always, “Well, did you know it was the biggest one in the world before that one in Turkey got built?” Hypocrites, the lot of them.
Sean walked across the room to his desk, where his work clothes were draped over the back of a chair. He held them out, the creases snaking down the sides of the trousers. He’d sort that later. He’d thought the same thing yesterday too, but he really would sort it later.
After slipping into his clothes, he looked at himself in the mirror. His chest became visible underneath his shirt as he rubbed his hands against his belly. He’d have to buy a new shirt eventually. Or go on a food cull. People dieted all the time. He could handle that.
What bothered him more was the growing patch of grey hairs just above his right ear.
He scratched the side of his head and leaned in towards the mirror. His cheeks flushed as the grey hairs stared back at him. Maybe it was better if he didn’t look. Had they always been there, or had he just started to notice them since the split?
And his forearm. He pretended not to notice his forearm.
The phone buzzed against his leg again, just once this time. He pulled it out–Shadsy.
“Where r u? Lazy git x”
He grinned for a second. She’d been good to him lately. She was the only one who had made any sort of effort since he’d come back to work. Screw the rest of them. Miserable gits.
He threw on his coat as he stumbled past his bed and opened the door onto the corridor, which constantly reeked of cigarettes and stale alcohol. Then again, one could expect little else from a hellhole block of flats in the middle of town.
He locked the door of his tiny cabin and walked towards the stairs. All the other doors were shut. No one ever moved in around here unless they really had to. Sean could probably afford someplace else, but it was convenient enough for his needs; close to work and private. Neighbors–who needed them?
He skipped down the flight of steps and rushed out into the bitter air. Something big gone down. Pace didn’t use those words all that often. Nobody in Preston did.
As Sean walked past the early January discount shoppers gathered outside the St John’s Centre, sitting under the glare of the bus station, he didn’t think to check the headline of the Lancashire News on the display stands.
NEW YEAR TRAGEDY FOR PROSTITUTE GIRL.
The sound of phones ringing echoed through from the offices as Sean took the lift upstairs, coffee cup in hand. His stomach turned at the thought of seeing them all again, gloating about their lovely family Christmas. Jim Simon with his ridiculous face. DCI Pace and his disappointment.
As the lift door opened, everyone turned around to look at Detective Sergeant Draxel. It was a sort of, “Isn’t he going to be in trouble with the headmaster?” look that kids received when they’d done something naughty at school. He kept his head down and nodded at a couple of officers before edging over to his cluttered desk right by the door. He draped his coat over the chair.
“Feeling all right this morning, Sean?” Jim Simon asked.
Sean grunted. Jim had only worked in Preston for two years and already considered himself top dog. Sean certainly hadn’t missed Jim’s gaunt, mousy face while on leave. Weedy little bastard didn’t stand a chance, not really. It was the same with most of them these days. It wasn’t like the old times, not anymore. It used to be a laugh sometimes. Now, it was just a case of finishing whatever jobs came his way, going home, and drinking himself into forgetfulness, then doing the same again and again until he could retire into an eternal drunken stupor.
Or so he had them believe.
He flicked on his computer as the rest of the room returned to normal procedure. They’d been different with him lately, after everything that had happened with his family. He had to expect that though, really. They’d forget about it soon. Find something else to whisper about. Move on to the next piece of inane gossip.
The clattering of the door intruded again on the low hum of orderly conversation as DCI Pace stormed through, looking directly at Draxel’s desk. “Right, you lot–less faffing around. You all know the score. Well, most of you do, anyway.” He looked at Draxel for a few painful seconds, then at his watch. “To be fair to you, Draxel, you’ve made it here quicker than I thought. Missed briefing, but still quicker than I thought. DS Marcus’s in the back. You two are going on a little mission nearby. Off your arse and into my office.”
He turned his back without even letting Sean get a word in response and disappeared through the door. The rest of the office, open-jawed, looked at Sean again. He threw his coat over his shoulder, switched off his computer, and crept towards the wooden double doors at the other side of the computer-filled room.
Private meetings with DCI Pace were never something to savour.
Pace’s office stank of cheap aftershave, cheap leather, and cheap whisky. A chair at either side framed his desk. Pace’s own chair, large, black, and reclining, wrapped itself around him like a comfort blanket. The opposite chair was a grey hard plastic seat, fresh from the canteen. The lads called it the electric chair, because sitting on it was like being summoned to your death.
A number of framed certificates coated the walls of the office. Chief Constable Commendations, Divisional Commendations and Citations of Merit, all the credit given to Pace despite the hard work and efforts of others. Numerous photographs also filled in the gaps absent of certificates–Pace with the Chief Constable, Pace with the mayor, Pace with Mrs. Pace.
What Pace had failed to notice was that an unidentified, disgruntled officer with an artistic streak had somehow managed to doctor Pace’s name on each of the photograph, replacing the E with a K.
DS Shadsy Marcus certainly hadn’t failed to notice it, though. She was leaning against the bookcase in Pace’s office as Sean entered and flicked a nervous smile in his direction. She had to hide any sign of amusement, contact or sympathy, of course, in case Pace decided to bollock her, too.
Pace waddled over to Sean and pulled the coffee out of his hand. The hairs in his nostrils were growing bushier by the day. “Nice of you to bring me my morning coffee,” he said before taking a swig. Fucker. Sean waited for Pace’s eyes, bothered by the heat, to sting and twitch, but he simply washed the drink around his cheeks and took another large gulp.
“Sorry for being late aga–”
“Ah, shut your face,” Pace said.
Sean looked at Shadsy, who moved her gaze back towards the ground, her arms wrapped around her front. Recently promoted to Acting Detective Sergeant, she was more accustomed to taking shit than Sean. Had only been working in Preston for a few months, too, after transferring from Bolton. But that’s just the way it was–the further you climbed up the ladder, the more people there were to shout at, the fewer to shout at you. Bullshit rolled downhill, and she didn’t want to be at the bottom anymore.
Sean cleared his throat. At least his headache wasn’t as intense now. There was no way in hell he could’ve put up with this grumpy bastard otherwise. Every cloud had a silver lining…
“What have you got?” Sean asked.
Pace took another gulp of coffee. “I thought you’d never ask.” Some of the coffee dribbled down his chin as his cheeks puffed out like a hamster’s pouches. He picked up a newspaper and threw it over to Sean. “I’m guessing you haven’t seen the news this morning.”
No photograph. Just a bold, strong headline:
NEW YEAR TRAGEDY FOR PROSTITUTE GIRL.
Sean looked back at Shadsy, who was still quiet, arms folded. “So…there’s a girl been murdered?”
“Seeing as you missed the briefing, your crash course briefing today is from the fucking Lancashire News,” Pace said. “One of the residents around the crime scene thought a morning call to the journalists would be more appropriate than a call to the police, and you know how the Lancashire News is acting with us lately. We’ve not even put a name on the girl yet. Some bloke just so happened to find this poor soul dead in her flat. Foster Road.” He grabbed a sandwich from his desk and held it up to his mouth, even though the lettuce was going brown. “No prizes for guessing what he was up to down Foster Road, but anyway. You two know each other already, and as SIO on this case, you’ll both be leading the inquiries, so you’d better get down to Foster Road before the bloodies find something else to moan about.”
Sean flicked the front page of the newspaper over. The bloodies. Pace’s name for the Scenes of Crime Officers. “Always stating the bloody obvious, those lot,” he’d say. “Get paid for absolutely nothing.”
“How does the newspaper know she’s a prostitute?” Shadsy asked. It was the first time she’d spoken since Sean entered.
Pace glared at her. “Marcus, have you ever been down Foster Road? Or were there no such things as prostitution hotspots in Bolton?”
Shadsy opened her mouth to reply, but thought better of it and looked down at her shoes.
In the newspaper, the same old stories. A dog had learned to talk, or some crap like that. A rising charity company received funds for an awareness fair. Local businessman fiddled with taxes. Nothing out of the ordinary.
“Having a good read, Detective?”
Sean looked up at Pace and shuffled the newspaper pages shut. “Sorry, Pace–”
“It’s fucking Detective Chief Inspector, okay?”
“Detective Chief Inspector, Detective Chief Inspector. I’m guessing the SOCOs are already there to–?”
“Of course they bloody well are,” Pace exploded. His face was so red that a pinprick could have burst it. “And that bloody weirdo photographer.”
Sean walked towards the door, smiling at Pace as well as he could. He gestured for Shadsy to walk ahead of him.
“Scenes of Crimes Officers,” Pace mumbled under his breath. “Scenes of Crimes Officers. Who the bloody hell are they kidding?”
Sean shut the door. He turned ‘round to face the office, who stared at him, stunned at the lack of battle wounds. “Got yourself fired yet?” Jim asked, his ventriloquist’s dummy grin poking above his computer screen.
Sean laughed. “Actually, I’ve gone and got myself the dead prostitute case. What’s it you’re working on at the moment? Getting your pin dick up?”
Jim sat red-faced as the rest of the office erupted with laughter, whooping and clapping their hands.
“Still got it, Granddad,” DC Perry shouted, his oval glasses shaking as he chuckled.
“As a matter of fact–” Jim squirmed, refusing to back down–”I’m investigating a new street drug. Dramatically lowers inhibitions. Almost unidentifiable when blended with cannabis.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Sean walked away from Simon, who continued to argue his case. “Come on, you.” Sean smiled at Shadsy. “Better get this scene checked out.”
Foster Road wasn’t too far from the offices. Then again, nothing was too far from anything in the city centre. It was hardly a sprawling place. Still, the residents found plenty of fresh things to moan about. Sometimes, the lack of cycle lanes. Other times, the distance between the bus station and the train station. Lazy shits.
Other cars already perched outside the flats as men in black leather coats with cameras flashed away. Yellow tape bridged the gap between the main road and the claustrophobic alleyway.
As Sean opened the car door, he noticed the handle had gone stiff. He turned to Shadsy, who smirked.
“Quit messing about, Cas.”
“What you gonna do? You shit yourself whenever you’re around Pace, and he’s an old fart. What you gonna do to me?” She thumped him in the arm playfully.
“Whatever.” Sean rubbed his arm. He liked Shadsy. She was a tough, smart cop, new to the game over the last few years. “A new generation of officers,”her previous employers at Bolton said. Pace probably hated her for that reason, but then again, Pace hated everybody. It probably didn’t help that she was a woman. Hardly ticking many boxes on Pace’s “Perfect Police Officer” checklist.
The two of them got out of the car and immediately caught the eye of a nearby journalist. He rushed over with his camera like a fly towards dung, his gelled-back hair and thick-rimmed glasses hiding that punchable face underneath.
“Detective Sergeant, is there any news on the identity of the–”
Shadsy pushed him away and he tripped backwards like a diving footballer. Sean kept his head down and walked towards the alleyway of flats. More journalists flocked around their fallen comrade like alarmed ants.
“Cheers for that,” Sean said, when Shadsy caught up.
“I did it for me, not for you.” Shadsy looked up and winked at Sean before they crossed the yellow tape and slipped through into the alleyway beside Foster Road.
The door to the house, painted in a flaking white, was wedged open, and the dim glow of a light crept out. The nearby buzz of voices echoed from the room like whispers in a museum. Sean turned to Shadsy and handed her a blue, disposable forensic paper suit, which he knew would be several sizes too large for her. “Ladies first,” he said as they stood by the door.
Shadsy pulled a false smile as the paper suit dangled over her neck before thumping his arm again and leading the way inside. “Tellytubbie ‘Tectives!” she said.
The first thing Sean noticed on the girl was the purple bruises around her neck. Then the plastic ties around her ankles, cutting into her paling flesh.
The “bloodies” were already at the scene, sniffing out clues and evidence like well-trained dogs. They were earlier than usual. Typically in an investigation, the Divisional Surgeon arrived, declaring life extinct. They were followed by the photographer, and then the SIO, and then the SOCOs got free rein of the place. But nothing was in order. Not anymore. And especially not in the midst of a murder. One of the men in a clear coat turned to face Sean and sighed. CarlCoolham, crime scene manager.
“What do we have?” Sean asked.
Carlslipped his glove off and grabbed a Soft Mint out of his pocket before tossing it down his throat, his flabby neck shaking as he gulped it down. Handling a dead girl, then tossing Soft Mints into his mouth. Sean tried to keep a straight face as Shadsy cringed.
“Girl. Obviously.” His cheeks wobbled as he spoke.
Nice sense of humour, too.
“Probably early twenties. By the nature of the wounds, I’d say she was probably held down, forced into submission, something like that.”
Sean edged over to the side of the bed. The room was low on light and dingy, the air moist with sweat.
The girl was completely naked. Her eyes were open wider than seemed humanly possible, staring up in absolute terror at the ghost of her killer above. Around her ankles, sharp plastic ties squeezed into her flesh, piercing the skin. Bruises covered her pale, goose-pimpled body, and a blue one gripped around her neck. Fear lingered in her dead eyes–the realisation of her imminent fate glaring out between thick, stained eyeliner.
Sean put a plastic glove on and crouched down beside her. The goose pimples looked permanently engrained, crafted into her skin like a waxwork model. “Nothing at all on who she could be?”
Carlshrugged. “We’re not sure yet. In fact, we’re not sure about anything. No one’s come forward about her after the vultures leaked the news. Probably just a whore, no family to give a shit, you know? Which makes it even more difficult for us. Thing is, she doesn’t seem like your typical whore. No signs of malnutrition. No obvious signs of drug abuse. Looks a little grubby, but I bet she was a looker when she was scrubbed up.”
Sean turned to Carl, took a deep breath, and moved to the other side of the room. A candle that had burned out long ago poured solid wax onto a fresh pack of unopened Durex on the bedside table.
“It’s a shame for the girl,” Carlsaid. “No one to spend Christmas or New Year with, now no one to look out for her. Real shame.”
“Any prints? Hairs? Anything like that?” Sean looked around the room. An empty glass, red lipstick coating the surface, gathered dust beside the bed.
“The room’s covered in ‘em,” Carlsaid. “As you’d expect from a filthy whorehouse like this, really.”
Sean sighed. Hundreds of men and women would have been in here at some stage. Then again, with no identity for the girl, at least hundreds would narrow it down slightly from every damn person in Preston. “Get all the prints checked. We’ll see what we can do with them.”
Carlbegan to dust an empty glass. “I’ll do my best, but you know what forensics is like for timing these days. Budget cuts–who needs ‘em?”
Carlwas right. Since the new government had been elected, every area of the police department was being squeezed to the point of incompetence.
“You get the idiots on the streets–the idiots in the press–blaming us for everything,” Carlsaid, moving in to dust the bedside table. “If they want to complain, they should take it to bloody Downing Street!”
“What was she holding?” Shadsy called as Sean rubbed his head and walked towards the door for some air. His headache was beginning to sear again.
“What d’you mean, ‘holding’?” Sean turned to Shadsy. She crouched down by the girl’s side, looking at her fingers.
“Her nails.” Shadsy frowned intently at the girl’s lifeless fingers. “They’re dug right into her hand. It’s as if she was holding on to something.”
The girl continued to stare up towards the ceiling in fear. “I dunno,” he said. “Holding on for dear life, probably. Who found the girl?”
“Well, ‘anonymous report’. You know how they are around here. Place is practically the Amsterdam of the north. No one wants to admit any involvement or anything like that. But the bloke next door was lurking about a lot…Seemed very interested in everything, more so than anybody else. Just saying, that’s all.”
Sean crept out of the doorway and leaned his arms against either side of the door. The alleyway was narrow and unkempt, the smell of damp brickwork strong in the air. There was a series of four to five black doors, before a set of stairs that lead to another row of flats. He turned to the door next to the room they were in and nodded at Shadsy. “We’ll have a word with him after we’ve bagged and tagged everything for forensics.”
The alleyway that broke off Foster Road was like all inner-city alleyways; damp, run-down, and not very pleasant. After gathering everything they needed for forensics, Sean stepped across the broken glass under his feet and walked towards the corroding door of the neighbour who had been lurking around the police and the press. Sean hoped for his own sake that the Lancashire News wouldn’t pay him out for breaking the story. The last thing they needed was the incentivisation of crime.
Dry paint flaked from the door’s surface as Sean knocked. Shadsy twitched and sighed beside him.
“What you getting so het up about?” Sean asked.
“This bastard sold the poor girl out to that journo before contacting us. No time for lowlifes like that.”
“Ah, you’ve got a lot to learn about the world, girl.”
“Don’t patronise me.” Shadsy frowned at him. “Just because you’ve got a morbid view of anything and everything doesn’t mean you have to rub it off on everybody.”
“I’m not patronising you. It’s just called life experience. Come back to me when you’ve got more of it.” He winked at her.
Shadsy smiled back. “Life experience, right. How are your wife and kid again?”
Sean felt the weight of a bus hitting him. His smile completely crumbled to the ground. It was a good job the door in front of them opened, or he’d have had to dig himself a hole to fall down.
Sean cleared his throat and stepped ahead of Shadsy. He didn’t want her to see his cheeks flushing.
The man at the door had short hair and a big jaw that seemed to shoot itself out of his pea head. A mole protruded from underneath his eye. It was hard to tell whether he was smiling or pulling a funny face. He waited to be spoken to.
“Ad,” the man spat. “What you doing? I’ve already had police around fucking asking me que–”
“Mr. Ad,” Shadsy said, slicing through the man’s rant. “We just want to clear up a few things so we can work it out in our own heads, okay?”
Ad shuffled his feet and squeezed his hands together before tilting his head backwards. “Come in, then.”
His flat was a carbon copy of the girl’s, only more poorly decorated, which was hard considering the girl’s room wasn’t decorated at all. Empty picture frames were scattered around at random. Specks of tobacco and whatever else coated every surface. A dull hint of cannabis and sweat lurked in the air.
“Take a fucking seat.” Ad fell back onto his bed.
Sean looked down at the seat, covered with something slimy. Shadsy returned a disgusted gaze. “It’s okay.” Sean smiled out of politeness. “We’re only here for a few minutes.”
Ad waved his hand in their direction as if to say, “Suit yourselves.”
“First things first, Ad, we know you called the Lancashire News,” Sean lied. “We’ve got evidence that links the location of the call to somewhere around here. There’s no point lying about that anymore.”
Ad held his mouth open then sighed. He’d fallen for Sean’s bait. “Times are tough. We’ve gotta find a way to make a quick buck, y’know? But I was gonna ring the police, too. I swear I was gonna.”
Singing like a bird already. Good start. “Okay, Ad. What happened last night, from the beginning?”
Ad leaned forward, polishing his voice as if he were telling a story to a classroom. “Well, it was about half-twelve, one-ish. I remember that, ‘cause I was watching the fucking ‘Football League Show’. Waited fucking ages for the Bolton highlights, and they went and showed them last again. Lost as well, so that pissed me off.
“Anyway, Barnsley are on–fucking Barnsley–and I hear this banging next door, and I think nothing of it, ‘cause there’s always fucking banging going on here…you get me?” His eyes glimmered for a moment before thinking better of the implications of his rhetorical question. A sort of naivety washed across his face. He must’ve known damn well the police were aware that Foster Road was one of the largest areas for prostitution, but clearly didn’t want to say anything in case it involved him.
“And what was so startling that you decided to go ‘round and take a look?” Shadsy asked. She moved a tray of moulding cigarettes out of the way so she could lean against the small wooden coffee table, putting her sleeve down to stop her flesh touching any surface.
Ad stared at Sean as if Shadsy wasn’t even there. “There was a load of fucking around going on, I could hear that. Bloke talking a lot afterwards. Didn’t hear what he said, but he was speaking loud, and then I heard a car go. Dunno what it was, but I went out in the morning and the door was open a bit, and I found her in there, as she is.”
Sean rubbed his eyebrows. “The police said the door was closed when they arrived. That’s technically tampering with evidence, Ad.”
Ad waved his hand in their direction again, his face going red. “I don’t know anything about fucking tampering with evidence. I just rang my old mate from the Lancashire News, and he came in the morning. Maybe he shut it, I dunno.”
Draxel glanced at Shadsy. She knew what that look meant. They’d keep an eye on Ad; grill him with more questions, especially without a lead. He was the best they had right now.
“Have you seen the girl before, Ad?” Draxel asked, leaning forward.
Ad shook his head, his eyes scanning the room. “There’s lots of girls come here. Lots of ‘em. Lose track, y’know? But I ain’t seen her, which is weird. Must be a new girl. That’s normal enough.”
Sean kept his voice calm. “And if I were to speak to somebody and find out whether she is a ‘new girl’, then who would that be?”
Ad’s eyes held contact with Sean’s for a moment. He opened his mouth and shut it again. “I just keep myself to myself, y’know?”
“Of course you do, Ad. Of course. We might have a few more questions for you over the coming hours and days, though, you have to understand that. Until then, if you were to remember who this ‘employer’ is, then that would be a great help, okay?”
The sound of the voice sank to the bottom of Sean’s stomach like a rock. He turned around and saw DCI Pace leaning against the door, arms folded. Sean waited for him to speak. He cocked his head and gestured for Sean to leave the room with him. Sean followed him outside, nodding at Ad, who looked on with curiosity.
“Family of a girl gone missing just came in to the station.” Pace reached into his pocket and pulled out a photograph.
He noticed her smile first. Then her eyes. Those green eyes, beautiful and warm.
“Adriel Simpson. Twenty-two years old. Didn’t come home last night. That your girl?” Pace asked.
Sean sighed. “That’s her. I’d better be the one to, y’know–”
“You’re good at that stuff, Sean,” Pace said. “See you back at the station.”
Sean poked his head into Ad’s room again. Shadsy, still crouched against Ad’s coffee table, frowned at him. “Come on, Detective,” Sean said. “Ad–thanks for your cooperation. We’ll be in touch.”
Shadsy followed Sean out of the door as Ad muttered to himself.
“We’ll keep an eye on Ad, but right now we need to head back to the station,” Sean said.
“And why would I head back to the station?”
Sean sighed. He hated this part. “The girl’s called Adriel Simpson. She’s twenty-two. We’re off to tell her parents.”
As they passed the flat, he took a final glance at Adriel Simpson’s terrified, bloodshot eyes and walked towards the police car.
The long walk towards the public interview rooms felt like twice the distance when it was to deliver bad news. Telling parents their daughter had been murdered was the worst sort of news.
Sean stood outside the room where Mr. and Mrs. Simpson sat. He could just about see them through the blinds. Mr. Simpson was a big man, a grizzly bear with ginger hair and a distant, glassy gaze. Mrs. Simpson, with bleached-blonde hair and a fake tan, held her husband’s hand in the middle of the table. Neither of them spoke.
A hand fell onto Sean’s shoulder. He turned ‘round to see Shadsy, her eyes sympathetic and understanding. “You sure you want to do this alone?”
Sean took a deep breath and nodded. He wasn’t family liason officer on this case. That honour went to DS Phillip, who just so happened to have gone home with the shits a couple of hours ago. He brushed the front of his shirt. “Someone’s got to do it. You get back down to Foster one inquiry. I’ll be with you in no time. I’ll make sure Phillip’s fully briefed and at the ready. When he stops shitting.”
“Sean, I–I didn’t mean to insult you when I said about your wife.”
“It’s okay.” Sean smiled to reassure her. He needed to toughen himself up. Three months off on the sick at the end of last year had turned him into a wuss. “The alcoholic detective with marital problems. I’m a walking, talking cliché!”
She laughed and stuck her middle finger up before disappearing past the other interview rooms and into the buzz of the main office.
She believed him. People were so used to seeing alcoholic detectives in fiction and on television that they took it as truth. He just had to keep playing up to that image–drinking when he needed to drink, smelling of booze when he needed to smell of booze. He just had to keep up the image and hope nobody asked to see his arms.
Sean took another deep breath and grabbed the cold metal handle of the wooden door. Just go in there and get it over with. He pulled the handle. The eyes of the desperate, searching mother and father stared up at him.
He didn’t even have to say anything to them. He could tell by the way that they looked back at him, they already knew.
The interview room was completely silent for a few moments. Sean let the Simpsons take their time to get their head around things. Not that a few minutes made much difference, but it’d be downright rude to start blabbering on and asking about their dead daughter immediately. He did note a few things, though. Firstly, they didn’t seem like parents of a prostitute. Quite well-kept. Expensive clothing–nothing too scrotey. Unless Adriel had run away from home a while ago or something and made a bit of cash on the side. But that didn’t make sense. They’d reported her missing right away. They’d come to the police station.
“Mr. and Mrs. Simpson, I understand this is a really difficult time for you both, but I just need to ask you a couple of questions, what with the nature of–”
“Who did it?” Mr. Simpson barked. “Have you got anyone?”
Sean leaned forward towards them as Mrs. Simpson snivelled into her hands.
“It’s…I understand your frustrations, but it’s too early in the investigation to start pursuing any solid leads. That’s where I was hoping you could help me. Tell me a little. Talk to me about Adriel.”
It felt strange saying her name. Adriel. What had she done to deserve this?
Mr. Simpson fell back into his chair. “She’s…She was a lovely girl. Always thinking about others.” Mrs. Simpson spluttered and cried some more as her husband, his voice shaky, continued to speak. “I mean, like any girl in their early twenties, she did stuff behind our back, but we didn’t think anything of it, y’know?”
“What sort of stuff?” Sean asked.
Mr. Simpson’s eyebrows twitched. “That look. Get that look out of your eyes. I didn’t say that. Our daughter’s no hooker. She had secrets, but she’s no hooker, I swear to you–”
“Calm down, Rob,” Mrs. Simpson said. “Just…just calm down.”
He sulked in his chair and wrapped his arms around his large belly.
“She drank, probably took a few drugs, but she was just growing up, right?” Mrs. Simpson tried to put on a brave face. “All the kids do it–you know that better than anyone. But nothing…nothing like that. She was a good girl. She was going somewhere in her life.”
“Until that little shit came along,” Robert muttered.
“Who are you referring to, Mr. Simpson?” Sean asked.
“That boyfriend of hers. If she got into anything dodgy, it’s his doing. Off the rails sort. Nicky thought she could ‘rescue him’ or some crap like that, but she was better than him. He just used her for her good nature.”
“Rob, Josh was okay at times–”
“He was a scrote,” Robert roared. “A weedy little scrote. Not good enough for my Nicky. Not good enough.” His arms shook as Shantel Simpson, sniffing back the tears, rubbed her hand against them.
Sean took a note in his diary: Josh. Boyfriend. “Do you have an address for Josh…?”
“Carpenters,” Robert Simpson said. “Josh Carpenters. Lives down by the old hospital on Walter Road. Number six, I think. Do you think he–”
“It’s too early to start suspecting people. But hopefully he can shed a bit of light on why someone might have wanted to kill your daughter.”
The pair flinched with Sean’s words. Too cold, Sean. Too fucking cold. Watch yourself.
“Were there any arguments at home we should know about? Any indications that she might’ve been in trouble?”
Robert Simpson’s eyes narrowed. “Are you implying something?”
Sean kept his cool. “I’m simply intrigued as to why you were so worried about your daughter’s disappearance the morning after a night out, and more importantly, why you linked the death of a suspected prostitute with the death of your daughter.”
Robert and Shantel looked at each other, open-mouthed. Shantel cleared her throat and wiped away a tear with a scrunched-up tissue. “She always came home,” she said. “Didn’t matter how late she’d been out, she always came home. And that road–those brothels and that seedy stuff–she always had to walk up by there. I guess I saw the age and I just…I just panicked. I always told her to walk with her friends, keep her wits about her, but she just saw the good in everyone, y’know? She never saw this coming. Poor girl. Poor, poor girl…”