There it was again, like every time he'd
done this: an icy sliver in the guts between breastbone and belly-button;
stage-fright on his entrance to the scene. He treasured it. If he ever came to
a crime scene and didn't feel his bowels loosening, he'd know it was time to
retire. He got out of the car and walked to where a uniform with a clipboard
stood by blue-and-white tape sealing off an end-of-terrace house.
He signed into the crime scene,
struggling to keep the paper flat on the clipboard as it flapped in the fresh
evening breeze coming off the river. As he finished a scrawl that would never
pass as his signature in court, a figure strode from the house.
DS Waters, the figure said,
not bothering to offer a hand. Ambulance has just left. We've got a PC
riding-with so that we can get a statement when the breathing tube comes
Why did you call
Station told me you were the
on-call DI for Operation Maitland.
Don't try to be funny, sergeant. I
know why the call came through to me. I want to know why you thought this might
be relevant to Maitland.
DS Waters shuffled his lips, had second
thoughts and bit back a smart remark.
My DI thought it matched the MO of
your man: young woman living alone attacked on the doorstep when she got home
It fitted. The fact that the attacks
happened when the victims felt the first comfort of home was one of the small
cruelties of the assaults that Operation Maitland was investigating. There were
a lot of large cruelties to go with those small ones.
Where does she
Fitness instructor at a gym off
Castle Street. Her customers will be young professionals looking for a buff
body rather than your geriatric Zumba crowd.
Another set of clients to cross-check
but he didn't expect anything from it. These attacks started with the house.
Each had some quiet, dark corner outside where an attacker could wait unseen
and be on top of his victim as soon as they turned the key. Once they were
inside and the door shut, the horror began. All the victims lived alone - no
flatmates or boyfriends to come home unexpectedly. The attacker wanted time
with his victims and he used it to horrible effect. No, these women weren't
chosen by clients from work; they were picked because of the way they lived and
where they lived.
This house was perfect. The door was set
back from the road with a low wall enclosing a small, stone-flagged yard.
Before the scene-of-crimes people's harsh, white lights had arrived, the corner
where the bins stood would have been a nice, dark spot for a crouching man. He
stared at every inch of the yard, looking for something, anything.
Unable to delay it any longer, he turned
to DS Waters standing by the front door.
The attacks were schizophrenic
possibly literally. Everything before the front door was careful, precise,
deliberate. The attacks needed a lot of preparation, following the victims to
learn their routine. However, none of the four victims could remember anything
strange in the days before the attacks. The door-to-doors had turned up blank
as well. Even the nosiest of curtain-twitching neighbours had seen nothing.
Before the attacks, this bloke was as stealthy as a deer-hunter but all the
painstaking care stopped at the doorway. As soon as things got physical the
attacker changed completely became a frenzied beast and now the
results of a new attack were waiting on the other side of the door.
The other crime scenes had been
bloodbaths. Stains and spatters on floors and walls gave a blow-by-blow account
of punches and kicks. Once the victim was pummelled into submission she was
dragged into the kitchen for the rest of the assault; for the worst part.
He took a deep breath his last
for a while that wouldn't stink of blood and nodded to DS Waters.
Inside, it was all wrong. Pristine.
You said that the attack happened
on the doorstep?
It did. Victim had just turned the
key when she was shoved inside. She turned to see what was happening and that
was when the punch landed.
The other victims had been hit so many
times, the medical examiners hadn't tried counting the separate wounds.
One was all it took, said DS
Waters, smirking like he was in on a joke that was reaching its punch-line.
You'd better come through. It'll be clearer when you see the victim.
She's through here with my DI.
The victim? But you said she was
in the ambulance.
Ambulance wasn't for the
He followed Waters into a room that ran
through the house. At the far end, by a window into a back garden, two women
sat drinking tea. The figure on the left was the DI: trouser-suit, tied-back
hair, posture sympathetic but professional. The other woman looked like she was
in shock but handling it well. The mug in her hands was cupped like hot cocoa
on a cold night, both hands relishing the warmth or perhaps helping to stop the
Against the wall, a display case
glittered, gold like a pirate's smile. Medals, trophies and shields shone
blinding in the light. Above them, a silver frame surrounded a picture of a
woman the victim raised shoulder high in a boxing ring. Gloved
hands held a thick belt high, arms stretched in a V for victory. Beneath the
picture, a newspaper headline: ABA North-west England Women's Middleweight
Like I said, sir, the attacker
pushed her and she threw the punch as she turned. Right upper-cut. Paramedic
reckons the attacker's jaw's broken in two places. He never saw it