Guilt and grief have driven a wedge between long time crime-fighting partners psychologist Tony Hill and ex-DCI Carol Jordan. But just because they’re not talking doesn’t mean the killing stops.
Someone is killing women. Women who bear an unsettling resemblance to Carol Jordan. And when the evidence begins to point in a disturbing direction, thinking the unthinkable seems the only possible answer.
Cornered by events, Tony and Carol are forced to fight for themselves and each other as never before.
He woke every morning with a prickle of excitement. Would today be the day? Would he finally meet her, his perfect wife? He knew who she was, of course. He’d been watching her for a couple of weeks now, growing used to her habits, getting to know who her friends were, learning her little ways. How she pushed her hair behind her ears when she settled into the driver’s seat of her car. How she turned all the lights on as soon as she came home to her lonely flat.
How she never ever seemed to check in her rear-view mirror.
He reached for the remote controls and raised the blinds on the high skylight windows. Rain fell in a constant drizzle from an unbroken wall of featureless grey cloud. No wind to drive the rain, though. Just a steady gentle downpour. The sort of weather where people hid under umbrellas, heads down, paying no attention to their surroundings, faces invisible to CCTV.
First box ticked.
And it was a Saturday. So she’d have no appointments booked, no meetings arranged. Nobody to notice an unplanned absence. Nobody to raise an alarm.
Second box ticked.
Saturday also meant the chances were much higher that her plans would take her somewhere suitable for their meeting. Somewhere he could follow the first steps of the carefully worked-out plan to make her his perfect wife. Whether she wanted that or not. But then, what she wanted was irrelevant.
Third box ticked.
He took a long slow shower, savouring the sensual delight of the warm water on his skin. If she played her cards right, she’d get to share it with him, to make a pleasant experience even more rewarding for him. What could be better than starting the day with a blow job in the shower? That was the sort of thing that a perfect wife would be thrilled to perform for her man. It had never occurred to him before, and he happily added it to his list. It had never occurred to the first one either, which was typical of her many failures to meet his high standards.
New tick box added to the mental list. It was important to be organised.
He believed in organisation, in preparation and in taking precautions. An outsider, looking at how much time had passed since that bitch had thwarted him, might have thought he’d given up on his quest. How wrong that outsider would have been. First, he’d had to deal with the mess she’d made. That had taken a ridiculous amount of time and he begrudged her every second of it. Then he’d had to be clear about his objectives.
He’d considered trying to buy what he wanted, like his father had done. But pliable though the Asian women were, it sent the wrong message to turn up with one of them on your arm. It screamed inadequacy, perversion, failure. The same went for mail-order brides from the former Soviet empire. Those harsh accents, the chemical blonde hair, the criminal tendencies ingrained like grime – that wasn’t for him. You couldn’t parade one of them in front of your workmates and expect respect.
Then he’d looked at the possibilities of internet dating. The trouble with that was you were buying a pig in a poke. And he didn’t want to poke a pig. He sniggered to himself at his cleverness, his skill with language. People admired that about him, he knew. But the even bigger trouble with internet dating was that there were so few options if things went wrong. Because you’d left a trail a mile wide. It took effort, skill and resources to be truly anonymous online. The risk of exposure with one split second of inattention or error was too high for him to take. And that meant if it all went wrong, he had no way to make her pay the proper price for her failure. She’d simply retreat to her old life as if nothing had happened. She’d win.
He couldn’t allow that. There had to be another way. And so he’d conceived his plan. And that was why it had taken so long to reach this point. He’d had to develop a strategy, then examine it from every possible angle, then do his research. And only now was he ready to roll.
He dressed anonymously in black chain-store jeans and polo shirt, carefully lacing up the black work boots with their steel toecaps. Just in case. Downstairs, he made himself a cup of green tea and munched an apple. Then he went through to the garage to check again that everything was in order. The freezer was turned off, the lid open, ready to receive its cargo. Pre-cut strips of tape were lined up along the edge of a shelf. On a card table, handcuffs, a taser, picture cord and a roll of duct tape sat in a row. He put on his waxed jacket and stowed the items in his pockets. Finally, he picked up a metal case and headed back to the kitchen.
Fourth and fifth boxes ticked.
He gave the garage one final look, saw he’d trailed in some leaf debris last time he’d been in there. With a sigh, he put down the case and fetched a brush and dustpan. Woman’s work, he thought impatiently. But if everything went right today, soon there would be a woman to do it.
Dr Tony Hill shifted in his seat and tried to avoid looking at the wreckage of her face. ‘When you think of Carol Jordan, what comes into your mind?’
Chris Devine, still formally a detective sergeant with Bradfield Metropolitan Police, cocked her head towards him, as if to compensate for a degree of deafness. ‘When you think of Carol Jordan, what comes into your mind?’ Her voice had a deliberate teasing quality. He recognised it as a bid to deflect him from his line.
‘I try not to think about Carol.’ In spite of his best efforts, the sadness seeped to the surface.
‘Maybe you should. Maybe you need to go there more than I do.’
The room had grown dim as they’d talked. The day was dying outside but the light seemed to be leaching out of the room at a faster rate. Because she couldn’t see him, it was safe for once to let his face betray him. His expression was the opposite of the lightness of his tone. ‘You’re not my therapist, you know.’
‘And you’re not mine. Unless you’re here as my mate, I’m not interested. I’ve told them I’m not wasting my time with a counsellor. But then, you know that, don’t you? They’ll have told you the score. You’re still their go-to guy. The rabbit they pull out of the hat when all the other magic tricks have fallen flat on their arse.’
It was amazing she didn’t sound more bitter, he thought. In her shoes, he’d be raging. Lashing out at anyone who sat still long enough. ‘It’s true, I do know you’ve refused to cooperate with the therapy team. But that’s not why I’ve come. I’m not here to try and counsel you by the back door. I’m here because we’ve known each other for a long time.’
‘That doesn’t make us friends.’ Her voice was dull, all animation stripped from the words.
‘No. I don’t really do friendship.’ It surprised him how easy it was to be candid with someone who couldn’t see his face or his body language. He’d read about the phenomenon but he’d never experienced it at first hand. Maybe he should try wearing dark glasses and feigning blindness with his more intransigent patients.
She gave a dry little laugh. ‘You do a decent facsimile when it suits you.’
‘Kind of you to say so. A long time ago, someone called it “passing for human.” I liked the sound of that. I’ve been using it ever since.’
‘That’s pitching it a bit high, mate. What does the length of time we’ve known each other have to do with the price of fish?’
‘We’re what’s left, I suppose.’ He shifted in his chair, uncomfortable at the way the conversation was going. He’d come because he wanted to reach out, to help her. But the longer he sat here, the more he felt like he was the one who needed help. ‘After the dust has settled.’
‘I think you’re here because you hoped that talking to me would help you understand whatever it is you’re feeling,’ she pointed out with a note of sharpness. ‘Because I took the hit for her, didn’t I? That’s a closer bond than we ever had in all those years of working together.’
‘I thought I was the psychologist here.’ It was a weak response, barely a parry to her thrust.
‘Doesn’t mean you can figure out what’s going on in your own head. Your own heart, come to that. It’s complicated, right, Doc? I mean, if it was only guilt, it would be easy, right? That’d make sense. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? Because there’s a dark side to guilt. The rage. The feeling that it’s just not fair, that you’re the one left carrying the weight. The outrage because you’re left with a sense of responsibility. That sense of injustice, it’s like heartburn, like acid burning into you.’ She stopped abruptly, shocked by her own figure of speech.
Her hand moved towards her face, stopping millimetres from the shiny red skin left by the acid booby trap that had been targeted at someone else. ‘So, what does come into your mind when you think about Carol Jordan,’ she persisted, her voice harsh now.
Tony shook his head. ‘I can’t say.’ Not because he didn’t know the answer. But because he did.