A/N: This story is a sequel to my previous Morse fic, "Illusion of Peace" - if you haven't read it, you may find it helpful to do so, though I suppose this could stand on its own.
I am dedicating this story to CrazyMaryT, whose kind reviews have been very much appreciated. Thank you - if not for you, I would probably not have written this. I hope you enjoy it.
In Winter's Shadow
The hazy winter sun hung low in the sky, shrouded by misty clouds as it struggled to break dawn over the spires of Oxford. A ground frost clung to every surface, lending an ethereal silver sparkle to the paved streets and grassy college quadrangles. It was so cold that a thin crust of ice had formed on parts of the canal, and the puddles of groundwater along the towpaths were frozen.
It was still early, but already there were a couple of dedicated joggers out, loping along the path, keeping pace with each other, their breath clouding in front of them as they ran. From the opposite direction, a blonde-haired man stepped politely out of their way, allowing them to pass, before he continued on his way down the canal path, climbed a sty, and headed out across a field.
The two joggers barely paid him any attention as they carried on their way. Then, as one, they both slowed down and came to a virtual halt.
"Bloody boaters," the man curled his lip in distaste, staring at the black bin bag dumped by the towpath, half-concealed in the weeds, "I wish they'd take their flaming rubbish with them."
"Gary," the woman beside him grabbed his arm, her eyes widening slightly, "I don't think that's normal rubbish…"
The male jogger, Gary, frowned and took a few steps forward, peering at the bag through the ground-hugging morning mist.
"I think you're right there, Julie," he murmured, "you got your phone…?"
Julie was already pulling the bulky mobile telephone, a brand new piece of technology, from the backpack she was wearing. Gary approached the bag, cautiously. It looked like the contents were wrapped in several other bin-bags, and then tied up with a cable tie. Tears in the outer bag gave little clue as to the contents, but Gary swallowed hard as he approached. There was something all too…human… about the shape…
Summoning his resolve, he leaned forward, and tore open the bag. That was when Julie started screaming.
"Caucasian female, approximately five feet three inches, long blonde hair, blue eyes, in her early twenties I'd say," Dr Russell said, as Morse listened attentively and Lewis took notes, "cause of death was strangulation, and she was mutilated post-mortem with a small, sharp knife."
"It's him, isn't it?" Lewis murmured, from behind Morse, as he wrote.
Neither Russell nor Morse had to ask who 'he' was – they both remembered a similar case from four years previously, a serial killer who had charted up five victims so far and seemed to have added a sixth to his morbid tally.
"I'd say so," Dr Russell nodded, quietly, "the number six has been carved into her back."
"Bastard," Morse said, through gritted teeth, "Lewis, find out if he's been released, and if so, when – and find out why I wasn't told about it!"
"Aye, sir," Lewis said, still not looking up, "the two joggers who found the body, sir – Gary and Julie Fisher – they're outside if you want a word with them."
"In a moment," Morse grunted, "Doctor… when was she killed?"
"About twenty hours ago, I'd say," Russell replied, covering the woman's face with a sheet, "as usual, I'll know more after the autopsy."
"And did you find…?"
"Yes," Russell cut in, "here."
She held up an evidence bag. Inside, there was a small silver ring, set with stones. Morse scowled, and handed it back wordlessly.
"Thank you, doctor," he said, at last, "your report, as soon as you can, please."
"Of course," Russell nodded, as Morse ducked out of the white crime scene tent.
Back out in the cold, hazy sunshine, Morse took a deep breath to clear his head of the stink of death. He shivered in the cold air, and crossed over to where the two joggers were waiting. Both of them were wrapped in thick red blankets provided by a paramedic, shivering in their thin sports wear.
"I won't keep you long," Morse assured them, "can you tell us what happened, please?"
"We…we were just coming along the towpath here," Gary replied, pointing behind him, "when we saw the bag I thought it was rubbish, but it…it was kind of… body shaped…"
He trailed off and swallowed hard – Morse sympathised, but pressed on.
"Did you see anyone else around – any boaters, or the like?"
"No," Gary shook his head, "oh, hang on – there was a bloke walking from the other way, but I don't know where he went."
"A bloke?" Morse repeated, "what did he look like?"
"Dunno," Gary shrugged, "he was wrapped up in a coat and scarf – can't say I blame him in this weather. I think he had blonde hair – that's all I can remember."
"Yes, well," Morse grunted, "see one of the constables about coming to the station to make a full statement."
He set off at a slow walk down the canal, and Lewis fell in step beside him. They climbed over a sty into a field, and headed back towards the car parked on the road. Morse paused, and glanced back.
"How tall was our victim, Lewis?" he asked, curiously.
"Five-three, sir," the sergeant replied, promptly, "very slim built, too."
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Lewis?"
"That he could have driven here in a car and carried her across the field, dumping her a short way down the towpath," Lewis said, grimly, "quite easily, I'd imagine."
"Agreed," Morse nodded, "a change from usual – he doesn't seem to have used a boat."
Morse led the way back to his car, climbed in, and scowled at the road ahead. Lewis got in next to him, uncharacteristically silent.
"He's back, Lewis," Morse growled at last, turning the key in the ignition and bringing the car to life, "Jeremy Jackson – they've let him out."
Morse drove them back to the station where they went to their office, both equipped with mugs of hot tea. The heating in the station had broken down, as it traditionally did at the start of every winter. Morse kept his coat on as he sat behind his desk. Lewis hung his on the stand by the door, taking a seat behind his desk and picking up the 'phone in one easy motion.
"Hello? Aye, Lewis – listen, can you get me national missing persons' files from the past couple of days – young women, blonde, about five-three. I also want all the files on Jeremy Andrew Jackson – probably recently released from Farnleigh. Thanks."
He put the phone down, looked down at his desk, across at Morse, at the phone, and eventually settled for staring into his mug of tea. There was a long period of silence. Both of them recalled their previous work on the Jackson case – everyone involved had been outraged at the 'not guilty' verdict returned by the jury, but that was simply because there was no firm forensic evidence to tie the killer to the murders.
"We never did find out where he lived, did we?" Morse mused, "He must have had a home somewhere."
"He seemed to be of no fixed abode," Lewis commented, "hire boats, various hostels and hotels – we never did find out where he got his money from, either."
"We only caught him when he came to us," Morse continued, as if he hadn't heard Lewis, "despite all that work, we didn't really know anything… and we were rushed to go to trial…"
He tapped his fingers on the desk thoughtfully.
"This time, we do it properly," he said, firmly, "start digging, Lewis – our first priority is to identify the victim. Then we need to find Jackson, get him off the streets, and put him away for good."