Clinical psychologist Dr Tony Hill and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan face the toughest challenge of their careers when they are confronted with an ‘impossible’ series of murders. Back in Bradfield after her traumatic experiences in Berlin, Carol is surprised to find Tony has followed her there to take up a post in the local secure mental hospital. When a prostitute is murdered in a particularly grotesque and stomach-churning way, she turns to him for help. Bizarrely, this killing matches in every detail a series of murders that took place a couple of years previously. A series of murders for which Derek Tyler was tried, convicted and sentenced. There has never been any doubt about his guilt. But now the ghost of his crimes has risen again. A second prostitute murder soon follows and the team are struggling. While Tony tries to crack Tyler, the police decide to mount an undercover operation that goes horribly wrong.
Just because you hear voices, it doesn’t mean you’re mad. You don’t have to be well smart to know that. And even though you did all that stuff that made the jury look sick to their stomachs, at least you’re clever enough to know that doesn’t make you a nutter. All sorts of people have other voices in their heads, everybody knows that. Like on the telly. Even though you can believe it when you’re watching it, everybody knows it’s not real. And somebody’s got to have dreamed it up in the first place without them ending up where you have. Stands to reason.
So you’re not worried. Well, not very worried. OK, they said you were insane. The judge said your name, Derek Tyler, and he tagged you with the mad label. But even though he’s supposed to be a smart bastard, that judge didn’t know he was following the plan. The way to avoid the life sentence that they always hand down when somebody does what you did. If you make them believe you were off your head when you did it, then it isn’t you that did the crime, it’s the madness in you. And if you’re mad, not bad, it stands to reason you can be cured. Which is why they lock you up in the nuthouse instead of the nick. That way the doctors can poke around in your head and have a crack at fixing what’s broke.
Of course, if nothing’s broke in the first place, the best thing you can do is keep your mouth zipped. Not let on you’re as sane as them. Then, when the time is right, you can start talking. Make it look like they’ve somehow worked their magic and turned you into somebody they can let out on the street again.
It sounded really easy when the Voice explained it. You’re pretty sure you got it right, because the Voice went over it so many times you can replay the whole spiel just by closing your eyes and mouthing the words: ‘I am the Voice. I am your Voice. Whatever I tell you to do is for the best. I am your Voice. This is the plan. Listen very carefully.’ That’s the trigger. That’s all it takes. The intro that makes the whole tape play in your head. The message is still there, implanted deep inside your brain. And it still makes sense. Or at least, you think it does.
Only, it’s been a long time now. It’s not easy, staying on the wrong side of silence day after day, week after week, month after month. But you’re pretty proud of the way you’ve hung on to it. Because there’s all the other stuff interfering with the Voice. Therapy sessions where you have to blank what the real nutters are going on about. Counselling sessions where the doctors try and trick you into words. Not to mention the screaming and shouting when somebody goes off on one. Then there’s all the background noise of the day room, the TV and the music rumbling round your head like interference.
All you have to fight back with is the Voice and the promise that the word will come when the time is right. And then you’ll be back out there, doing what you’ve discovered you do best.
The car park was a place of shadows, hemmed in by high brick walls topped with razor wire. When it had been built, nobody could have anticipated the explosion in car ownership, so it was always over-full, double-parked and a source of irritation to those who had to use it.
It was also supposed to be secure. A sturdy metal barrier had to be raised to permit entry or egress, and the officer in charge of it was supposed to monitor each entrant carefully. But the man leaning on one of the cars understood how to circumvent systems. When he’d been here before, he’d made allies of the security team, aware that there would probably be a time when he’d want to come back without the necessary authority.
‘That time was tonight. He’d been waiting for the best part of an hour, resting against the bonnet of the silver saloon, reading steadily through the papers he’d stuffed into his briefcase, his peripheral vision alert to anyone leaving the tall building in front of the car park. But the light was fading fast and the air held the crisp promise of winter. Waiting was becoming less attractive. He glanced at his watch. Just after six. He’d give it half an hour, then he’d slip away into the night. He didn’t want to lurk in the darkness, for a variety of reasons.
A few minutes later, he saw what he’d been waiting for. A gleam of blonde hair caught in the security lights by the back door, and he was on the move. He shoved the file back into his briefcase and stood upright, moving towards the back of the car to cut off his target before she could reach the driver’s door.
She looked over her shoulder, calling out a farewell to a colleague. When she turned back, he was only a few feet from her. Shock and astonishment shot across her face and she stopped dead. Her mouth formed an exclamation, but no sound emerged.
‘Hi, Carol,’ Tony said. ‘Fancy a curry?’
‘Jesus,’ she exhaled, her shoulders dropping. ‘You nearly gave me a heart attack. What the hell are you doing here?’
He spread his arms wide, a parody of innocence. ‘Like I said, inviting you out for a curry.’
‘Freaking me out, more like. What are you doing in Bradfield? You’re supposed to be in St Andrews.’
He raised one finger in admonishment. ‘Later. Now, are you going to unlock the car? I’m freezing.’
With an air of bemusement, Carol obediently popped the locks and watched him walk round to the passenger seat. She couldn’t help smiling. There was, she thought, nobody quite like Tony Hill.
Twenty minutes later, they’d found a relatively quiet corner table in a cheap and cheerful Bangladeshi café on the fringes of Temple Fields, the area of the city centre where the gay village sat uneasily alongside the red-light district. Their fellow customers were a mixture of students and individuals poised to go looking for love in all the wrong places. Carol and Tony had discovered the café when they’d first worked together on a case centred on Temple Fields, and it seemed the obvious place for this reunion.
‘I can’t believe you’re here,’ Carol said as the waiter departed to bring them a couple of bottles of Kingfisher.
He held out his arm. ‘Go on, pinch me. I’m real.’
She leaned forward and gave his shoulder a gentle punch. ‘Okay, you’re real. But why are you here?’
‘I jacked the job in. I was a fish out of water there, Carol. I needed to get back to the work I know I’m good at. I’d already got an offer of consultancy work over in Europe. And when John Brandon told me you were coming back to Bradfield, I got on to Bradfield Moor and asked for part-time clinical work.’ He grinned. ‘So here I am.’
‘You came back to Bradfield because of me?’ Carol’s expression was guarded. ‘I don’t want your pity, Tony.’
‘It’s nothing to do with pity. You’re the best friend I’ve got. I have some idea of how hard this is for you, Carol. And I want to be around if you need me.’
Carol waited for the waiter to deposit their beers, then said, ‘I can manage, you know. I’ve been a cop for a long time. I’m capable of catching villains without your help.’
Tony took a long drink from the bottle of Indian lager while he considered how to deal with her wilful misunderstanding. ‘I’m not here to help you do your job. I’m here because that’s what friends do.’ He gave a crooked smile. ‘And besides, it suits me to be here. You should see the nutters they’ve got locked up in Bradfield Moor. It’s a dream come true for a weirdo like me.’
Carol snorted, spraying the paper tablecloth with beer. ‘Bastard! You waited till I had a mouthful of beer to make me laugh.’
‘What do you expect? I’m trained to provoke reactions. So, where are you living?’
‘I’m camping in Michael’s spare room while I look for somewhere to rent.’ Carol studied the menu.
Tony pretended to do the same, though he already knew he’d choose the fish pakora followed by the chicken biryani. The lack of commitment implied by Carol’s decision to rent rather than to sell up in London and buy in Bradfield was understandable. She wanted to leave herself an escape route. But it troubled him nevertheless. ‘That must feel strange,’ he said. ‘It having been your flat in the first place.’
‘It’s not ideal. I don’t think Lucy’s crazy about having me there. She’s a barrister, remember? She does a lot of criminal defence work, so she has a tendency to regard me in the same light as a chicken farmer regards a fox.’ The waiter returned and they ordered their meals. As he departed, Carol met Tony’s eyes. ‘What about you? Where are you living?’
‘I was lucky. I sold my cottage in Cellardyke practically overnight. I’ve just bought a place here. Near where I used to live. A Victorian semi. Three bedrooms, two receptions. Nice big rooms, very light.’
The waiter plonked a plate of poppadums and a tray of relishes in front of them. Tony took the opportunity to busy himself with something other than Carol. ‘Thing is, it’s got a cellar. Pretty much self-contained. Two big rooms, natural light. Toilet and shower. And a little boxroom you could easily turn into a kitchen.’ He looked up, the question in his eyes.
Carol stared at him, clearly unsure if he was saying what she thought. She gave an uncertain laugh. ‘What would I do with a kitchen?’
‘Good point. But it does give you somewhere to put the washing machine.’
‘Are you seriously offering me your cellar?’
‘Why not? It’d solve your accommodation problem. And having a copper on the premises would give me a sense of security.’ He grinned. ‘More importantly, Nelson would keep the mice away.’
Carol fiddled with the lime pickle. ‘I don’t know. Does it have a separate entrance?’<
‘Well, of course. I wouldn’t want to compromise your reputation. There’s a door that leads to a flight of steps up to the back garden. And an internal door down from the house, obviously. But it would be a simple enough thing to fit a lock to that.’ He smiled. ‘You could have bolts too, if you wanted.’
‘You’ve been thinking about this, haven’t you?’
Tony shrugged. ‘When I viewed the house, it seemed like a good way of making it work for a living. I didn’t know what your plans were. But the builders started work on it yesterday. And I’d rather have you living there than a stranger. Look, don’t make a decision now. Think about it. Sleep on it. There’s no hurry.’ There was an uncomfortable silence while they both tried to figure out where to take the conversation next. ‘So how was your first day back in harness? What are you working on?’ Tony asked, moving the conversation away from treacherous shoals.
‘Until we get a new major case, we’re taking a look at a bunch of unsolveds.’ Carol looked up as the waiter brought their starters.
‘That must be pretty soul-destroying.’
‘Normally it would be.’ She reached for her aloo chat. ‘But amazingly enough, we actually scored a break this afternoon. Purely by chance, a detective from another squad stumbled across a new lead. I can’t help seeing it as a positive omen.’
‘That’s a great start.’
Carol’s expression was rueful. ‘Yes and no. You remember Don Merrick? He’s the DI on my team. And the trouble is that the break came on one of his cold cases. Which makes him feel pretty sick.’
‘Not Tim Golding?’
Carol tipped her head in acknowledgement. ‘The one he called you in on. Thanks for telling me, Tony,’ she added ironically.
He looked embarrassed. ‘To tell you the truth, I was afraid of muddying the waters while you were considering coming back to Bradfield. I didn’t want to influence your decision one way or the other.’
Carol smiled. ‘Oh, you think your presence in Bradfield would have been such a draw?’
He put down the pakora that was halfway to his lips. ‘The truth, Carol? I was afraid if you knew I was here, it would be the last place on earth you’d want to be.’