It was a cold, wet, winter's day, barely a week into the New Year. The rain bounced off the windscreen of the car, running down the flawless bodywork of the beautiful, dark red Jaguar Mark II. The dark, cloudy sky mirrored the mood of Chief Inspector Morse, as he drove towards the Thames Valley police station. He had been abruptly summonsed by Chief Superintendent Strange, who had very bluntly told him to get into the office post-haste in the wake of some sort of emergency situation. However, Morse had no idea what was going on, and there were no reports on the radio about anything out of the ordinary that might warrant his urgent attention.
He had therefore worked himself into quite a foul temper at having been called in to work on a late Sunday afternoon in such horrible weather by the time he pulled into the station car park and manoeuvred the Jaguar into his designated parking space. Climbing reluctantly out of the vehicle, he pulled his winter coat tighter around himself, as he hurried into the station.
Morse could not believe the scene that greeted him. The whole place was in uproar; it seemed that every CID officer had been called in, and they were rushing around in a frenzied manner. Morse grabbed a young sergeant who was dashing past him with an armful of files.
"Where's Lewis?" he snapped at him, ignoring the wide-eyed look of surprise at the roughness of the question.
"Don't know, sorry, sir," he replied; shrugged him off, and disappeared into a side-room.
Morse growled under his breath in a bad-tempered manner, storming through the corridors towards the Chief Super's office. Without bothering to knock, he grasped the handle and walked straight in – if Strange had the audacity to drag him into the office on a Sunday afternoon, Morse was not willing to wait around to find out the reason.
"Morse!" Strange almost leapt to his feet, but settled for glaring at him, holding the desk phone clamped to his ear; "get in here and close the door! Yes, hello? Yes, I'll call you back."
Slamming the phone down, Strange scowled at him; "It's about time you got here!"
"I came as soon as I could," Morse protested, "I was a little busy when you called, sir."
He did not point out that this "business" had included taking an additional fifteen minutes to finish a crossword, half an hour to shower and put on a suit, and ten minutes of wondering around the house, swearing to himself because he couldn't find the car keys.
"Yes, well," Strange glowered at him, as if seeing right through the comment, "you may not have noticed, Morse, but we've got a real situation on our hands!"
Morse sighed; "Well, it might help if you told me what the situation is, sir... I'm not psychic."
Strange opened his mouth to reply, when a knock at the door interrupted him, and instead he called; "Come in!"
The door opened quickly and Sergeant Lewis appeared; a harried expression on his face. While Morse was still wrapped up in his warm coat, Lewis had shed his suit jacket. His sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, and his tie was loose. His hair was also sticking up at odd angles, and Morse observed the classic indications of his Sergeant's habit of running his hands through his hair when stressed. And if Lewis was stressed about something, then Morse was suddenly a little more willing to take an interest; he relied on the Sergeant more than he would care to admit to anyone.
"Afternoon, sir," Lewis greeted him, quickly, and then turned to Strange, "Sir, we've had confirmation from the prison; we know who's escaped…"
Ah. That explained the chaos around the station; the last time Morse could recall having seen such panic had been the day that John Barrie, a serial rapist, had escaped from a secure psychiatric prison and returned to haunt the Oxford area.
"Well, who is it? Spit it out, man!" Strange ordered.
Lewis hesitated a moment longer, and then took a deep breath; "Sir… it's Jeremy Jackson."
There was stunned silence for a long moment. Morse's heart sank, and a cold feeling of dread crept over him... not Jackson... it couldn't be him...
"Oh God," Strange sank back into his chair, "not him, Morse. We can't… not again. Not him."
"That bastard," Morse said, through gritted teeth.
"Sir," Lewis cut it, "I'd like… with your permission, that is… Val, and the kids…?"
"I'd like nothing more than to send you home, Lewis," Strange replied, grimly, "in fact, if I had my way, I'd lock all of you who were involved with his arrest in maximum security cells until we catch the bastard… but nobody knows him better than you and Morse. By all means call your wife – we'll put a car outside each of your houses."
"What about Dr. Robson?" Morse asked.
At his trial, Jeremy Jackson had threatened, very publicly, that he would kill all of the people involved in his capture; Morse, Lewis, and the pathologist, Dr Robson, whom he had wanted to make one of his victims.
"We'll get a message to the hospital where she's teaching," Strange promised, as Lewis excused himself to make his telephone call and to organise a watch over his house, "You've no other active cases at the moment, Morse, do you hear? None. Find this bastard, and find him quickly, before he kills again!"
Morse and Lewis had gone straight over to the prison as soon as Lewis had spoken to his wife, telling her not to let the kids out of her sight and promising that an unmarked car would soon be outside the house to keep an eye on things.
"Prison changed Jackson a great deal… and not necessarily for the better, I'm afraid, gentlemen. Well, with all of the recent cuts in funding for out rehabilitation programmes, what do you expect?"
The speaker was the prison governor, Martins. He was a stocky man with a military bearing, short, white hair, a clipped moustache and a flaccid, ruddy complexion that spoke more of a fondness for strong spirits than outdoor pursuits.
"I expect you to be able to keep murdering psychopaths under lock an key," Morse growled, and then sighed, brining himself back to the subject, "You said prison changed him. Changed him in what way, Mr Martins?"
"Captain Martins," the man corrected him, sternly, "Well, for one thing, the prison psychiatrist commented that Jackson's behaviour became gradually more erratic; normally we would expect to see some improvement in behaviour, but Jackson seemed to be regressing. He bit off an inmate's ear during a canteen fight… he was kept in seclusion most of the time he was here, either for his own safety or the safety of others."
"We're going to need to talk to his psychiatrist," Morse said, bluntly, "in the meantime, how did he escape, Mister Martins?"
Martins bristled, but melted under Morse's glare.
"Well, like I said, he spent most of his time in solitary confinement," Martins replied, "there was only one guard on duty. Just after the guard's shift change, Jackson faked an emergency – he appeared to collapse in his cell. He was taking advantage…"
"Taking advantage of what?" Morse demanded, when Martins trailed off.
"Of a rookie guard," Martins said, studiously not looking at him, "he was a new man – he was on the solitary rotation to ease him in gently. When he went into the cell, Jackson jumped him and stole his keys, uniform and security pass. It was just after the shift change – we think he walked out with all of the other guards, and then hid until nightfall…"
"Until nightfall?" Morse interrupted, angrily, "how long was he gone before you reported it?"
"It was about four hours before we realised he was missing," Martins admitted, quietly, "we found the guard tied up and gagged in the cell – we got the search parties and the dogs out, but he was long gone… it took two hours to search the prison and grounds. After that, we were forced to report it."
Morse tried to keep his anger in check; "Six hours to report a dangerous serial murderer had escaped? You bloody fool! Get his therapist up here, now. And in the meantime, know this; if Jackson kills someone, God forbid, then I'll be holding you to account, Mister Martins."
Martins gave the Chief Inspector a sullen glare, but he was reaching for the phone even as Morse was speaking.
"Hello – Dr Jefferson? Could you come up to my office, please? Immediately, thank you…"
Morse had not known what to expect from the psychiatrist, but Dr Jefferson was not it. He was a tall, muscular man with dark hair, brown eyes and a ready smile. When he shook hand with Morse and Lewis, his grip was firm, and he greeted them cordially. He was dressed casually, in jeans and a cream sweater, and he carried a stack of files under one arm.
"I'm Dr Jefferson," he said, after Morse had introduced himself and Lewis, "I'm the resident psychiatrist. I've been counselling Jeremy since he arrived here seven years ago… I understand that you were the arresting officer, both times he was caught?"
"That's correct," Morse nodded, as they stood in Captain Martins' office, "And now I need to catch him again, quickly, before he kills someone else…"
"That's a definite risk," agreed the psychiatrist, "these files detail the history of my meetings with Jeremy – all one-to-one. I'm afraid he didn't cope well with group sessions… here."
He handed over the files, and Lewis accepted them quickly, glancing down; "There doesn't seem to be much here for seven years' worth of work, doctor…"
Jefferson gave him a tight smile; "Yes, you're right. Jeremy would spend a lot of our sessions simply refusing to talk. He has an extreme disassociative personality disorder… in layman's terms, he completely disengages himself from reality and escapes into a fantasy world inside his head. The history is in the file, but he was raised by an aunt, who sexually abused him. As he got older, he fantasised about killing her. He carried out these fantasies on animals... While the abuse by his aunt was taking place, he would mentally detach himself from what was going on, instead going into a world in his head where he was the dominant one – a classic escape strategy when reality becomes too painful to bear. He described to me in great detail his fantasy of killing the woman he hated. It was this fantasy that he enacted on each of his victims, over and over. Unfortunately, his encounters with the police have embittered him to your profession, Inspector; he hates you all, but he told me, on occasion, just how much he wanted you - and your Sergeant - dead."
Jefferson softened his last word with an apologetic grimace.
"You said that it was a 'definite risk' that he would kill again," Morse noted, ignoring the last comment, holding a hand up for emphasis, "tell me, doctor – exactly how likely is it?"
"Jeremy would tell me that often his fantasises sustained him," Jefferson replied, after a long moment's thought, "at first, he was fine with animals, and then he progressed to those poor young women. He killed once per year to satisfy the urge – he said one a year was enough, as he could replay the moment over and over in his mind. He is exceptionally clever, in a rather base kind of way, and I believe that he has a photographic memory for faces and events – he can literally re-live things inside his mind; not just remember them, but actually re-experience them, in a way. He wanted to kill one woman per year for the rest of his life – and with seven years in jail, he has a lot of catching up to do."
"So do we," Morse muttered, eyeing the files that Lewis held, "do you have a recent photograph of Jackson?"
"Prison records are updated once per year," Martins cut in, handing up an A4 sized glossy colour print, "this was taken six months ago."
Morse took the photo and stared at it. Prison had not been kind to Jackson; his once youthful features had aged prematurely, and his blonde hair was long, lank and greasy in the picture. However, the cold blue eyed stared back with the same malevolent hatred that Morse recalled, and his face was still heavily scarred from the car accident that had brought an end to his previous killing spree. Morse suppressed an involuntary shudder at the memory, and showed the photo to Lewis.
The Sergeant grimaced, swallowed hard, and commented; "Aye, I wouldn't forget that face in a hurry…"
Taking the print, Lewis slipped it inside one of the folders that he held, as Morse turned on Jefferson and Martins.
"Is there anything else that either of you can tell me which might help us to catch him?" he demanded.
The two men exchanged a glance.
"I doubt it will help you to catch him, Chief Inspector," Jefferson said, at last, "but you should know… Jackson's disorder is extremely destructive. Prison has only made him worse, and he hasn't responded at all to any of the usual treatments. He will have no regard for his own safety, and that will make him doubly dangerous. I believe that he would rather die than have to come back here… and if that were the case, he might try to take other people along with him."
"Wonderful," Morse growled, "thank you. We'll be in touch."
"Good luck, Chief Inspector!" Martins called, as Morse turned to leave.
Morse paused to direct a glare over his shoulder; "Thanks to you, we're going to need it!"
In the darkness of night, in an un-named lay-by on the outskirts of Oxford, Jeremy Andrew Jackson was crouched in the undergrowth. The rain was still falling, a cold, sleeting precipitation that had long since soaked him to the skin, but he could not feel it. His mind was aflame and his thoughts of revenge powered him in a way that no other stimulant could have done. In his hand, he clutched a sharp hunting knife; the first thing he had done once he had achieved a safe distance from the prison had been to steal a lift in the back of an unsuspecting pick-up truck, which took him much closer to Oxford. The second thing he had done was to break into a few houses and garages, where he had found food, clothes, supplies, and, most importantly, the knife.
He stroked the blade with one finger, and then ran the same finger down the scar on his face. His looks had decayed all too quickly, making it impossible to attract the whores the way he had done previously. Around his neck, on a chain, hung a gold ring, set with diamonds and sapphires, a trinket from the last one… he had kept this one for far too long; it was time to find another.
With the change in his appearance, he could no longer find the bitches the way he used to, in clubs, oozing charm and stolen cash, but there were other ways. He waited, patiently. The weather did not help, but he knew this lay-by well. Eventually, he was rewarded when a large Mercedes pulled in. The driver was a corpulent corporate type, and his passenger… well, she would do just fine...
Jackson watched as cash exchanged hands and seats were reclined. His hand tightened around the knife handle. Beside him, on the ground, were a handful of cable-ties and a roll of black dustbin liners, provided by a kitchen and a garage he had broken into with ease.
He had everything he needed.
He made his move.
The dark lay-by was lit with red and blue police lights in the dead of night, surrounded by police tape and cordoned off from the road. A large screen had been erected, shielding the Mercedes from the view of passing traffic. Morse's Jaguar pulled up slowly, parking on the grass verge behind the silver car. He could see Lewis's car already parked on the opposite side of the road.
Climbing out of the car, huddling against the freezing temperature, he was relieved that at least the rain had stopped. It was a small comfort, as Lewis approached him, a grim expression on his face.
"It's him, isn't it?" Morse asked, bitterly, "It's bloody Jackson, isn't it?"
"Aye, sir," Lewis inclined his head, "there's one body in the car, sir – a businessman, one Carl Lombard… the other body was found in the long grass over yonder…"
Lewis gestured to a coroner's white tent, erected a little way back from the road, within the tree line. Morse took a deep, steadying breath.
"Let's see the car first."
Lewis led him around the side of the Mercedes. Dr Hobson, their new pathologist, was crouched beside the door, and stood up when she saw them approach.
"Good evening, gentlemen," she greeted them, "one Caucasian male, died about two or three hours ago. His throat was slit from behind…"
She stepped out of the way, and Morse glanced away quickly at the sight of copious amounts of blood decorating the interior and windscreen of the car. Hobson stepped forward again, blocking the view slightly.
"My guess is that the killer climbed into the back seat and simply slit his throat," Hobson gestured to the open back door, where a Scene of Crimes Officer was shining a torch meticulously over the back of the car, "the girl, unfortunately, wasn't quite so lucky…"
She gestured for them to follow her, as she strode through the long grass by the verge.
"Who called it in?" Morse asked, as they walked.
"A passing driver," Lewis reported, "he didn't stop, but he saw the car parked with no lights on – thought it had been nicked and dumped. Uniform sent a car around, and found the bodies… there have been a number of break-ins in the area as well, sir. Food, clothes, and household items stolen, mainly… one gentleman reported the theft of a hunting knife."
"So the bastard's armed already," Morse growled, as they approached the tent, "wonderful…"
Lewis held open the flap of the tent, allowing Hobson and Morse to step inside. Morse groaned audibly and averted his gaze. On the ground, a young woman's body lay inside several bin liners, which had been sliced open. Her wrists had been bound with cable ties, and there was altogether too much blood. Morse quickly stepped outside the tent, taking in a sharp lungful of the cold night air.
"Sorry," Hobson apologised, following him out of the tent, "I forgot… I should have warned you."
"Just tell me, doctor – is it definitely his work?"
"I am not familiar with the work of Jeremy Jackson," Hobson replied, "not personally, I mean. But I have seen the files Dr Russell left behind, and this killing bears all of the hallmarks. There's a mark on her neck where a necklace has been pulled from her neck with some force, numerous stab wounds, and the number nine has been carved into her back."
"It bloody is him," Morse sighed, balling his hands into fists inside his coat pockets and raising his eyes towards the skies, "Anything else that you can tell me, doctor?"
"Not until after the autopsy… but we did find this in her mouth…" Hobson held out an evidence bag towards him.
Morse took it and held it up, as Lewis obligingly shone his torch on it. Inside, there was a gold ring, set with a dark sapphire and surrounded by diamonds. Lewis nodded.
"That looks like the engagement ring Jackson took from his last victim," he said, taking the bag, glancing across at Hobson; "it's his little trademark… he must have stashed it somewhere before he was arrested… or he was allowed to keep it with him in prison…"
"Idiots," Morse breathed, turning his back on the scene, "time of death two or three hours ago… he could be anywhere by now."
"We've called in as many people as we can and the dog squad are combing the area," Lewis told him, but there was no confidence in his tone when he added; "if he's nearby, we'll find him."
"Yes, but he won't be nearby, will he, Lewis?" Morse retorted, "He'll have fled to somewhere else, where he'll lie low until he's ready to kill again. And let's not forget who are top of his hit list!"
"Aye sir. It's hard not to…"
A/N: Apologies if you get the alert for this twice - my thanks to WhyAye for pointing out the bloody obvious typo in the former pathologist's name... I have no idea how I made that mistake, but thank you for drawing it to my attention!