The shrill telephone bell broke into her sleep, but it rang three times before she came sufficiently awake to understand what it was.
Blearily, she reached across and lifted the receiver.
"Makepeace? It's Spikings."
At the sound of his voice, she came alert.
"There's been another one. Kings Cross, again. I want you and Dempsey in my office in an hour."
Harry looked at the clock. 5.28 AM. She sighed.
"Got it sir. See you soon."
She hung up and turned on the bedside lamp, swinging her legs over the side of the bed and waiting for the fuzziness in her head to clear. Spikings' words echoed in her mind. Another one.
"Whoever he is, this sick bastard has a helluva sense of timing. Why'd he have to get us out of bed to deal with his activities?"
She'd picked Dempsey up and they were driving through the darkness. It was ten days before Christmas and at this hour the streets were quiet, in the brief lull between night and day.
"I don't think he picks his moments for our convenience," she mused. "The night's his time. He's never killed one yet in daylight hours. If it is him."
"Oh, it's him. Sick bastard," Dempsey repeated.
Harry glanced at him. He was unshaven and his mood seemed blacker than usual. She gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. They hadn't been getting on lately. Not since they'd spent the night together four weeks ago, to be precise, after which she'd told him she cared about him but that they had to work together, and she didn't think a personal relationship was a good idea. He hadn't taken it very well but in true Dempsey fashion, he didn't want to discuss it. He just walked around like a bear with a sore head.
She felt confused and sad about the whole situation. She hadn't been lying when she had told him she cared, and in private moments she often thought about what they had shared that night - the specialness of it, his unbelievable tenderness - but she had worked so hard to get her career to the point it was at and she didn't want to throw that away through an ill-advised affair with her partner. He simply had no concept of how hard it was for a woman doing what most people thought was a man's job. Now his grumpiness was both annoying and distressing to her. She hoped things would improve between them, but so far, they hadn't.
When they arrived at SI10 headquarters, most of the team was already assembled. Dempsey poured himself a cup of instant coffee without offering Harry one, and they took their places around the briefing table. Two large pin boards displayed crime photographs and a map of the body locations. In contrast to these, the few limp Christmas decorations tacked around the drab room seemed garish and incongruous. She steeled herself for the latest revelations.
Spikings surveyed the room gravely.
"At approximately 5 am this morning," he began, "a body was discovered in an alley off York Way, Kings Cross. We don't have an official ID on it yet but initial accounts from the other girls in the vicinity, one of whom stumbled on the body, indicate that it belongs to a woman by the name of Elizabeth Jackson, aged 26. She was a prostitute."
There was silence. Spikings continued:
"Of course at this stage it's not possible for us to say for certain, but the MO points to this being the work of the killer known as the Suitor."
Dempsey and Harry glanced at one another. It was him. She had known it was, really. She just hadn't wanted it to be.
The Suitor was the nickname the police had for a man who was killing prostitutes in the red light districts of London. This was his forth victim, and the third in the Kings Cross area. Only one girl, Alice Smith, had been killed elsewhere, in Old St.
"Was it the usual calling card, Gov?" someone asked. Spikings nodded.
"'Afraid so, yes. She had been stabbed repeatedly and had her throat cut. And there was a ring and a rose, just like the others."
Harry shivered. In each of the cases, the victims had been found with an identical cheap plastic band on the ring finger of their left hand. In addition, there was always at least one red rose left on the body, in some cases two. It was almost as if the killer, in some twisted way, thought he was courting the girls. Hence the nickname.
She cleared her throat. "Any sightings sir?" she asked.
"Not of the man, no. A couple of the girls saw her get into a car though," he paused.
"The reason for this meeting is, as of now, the case is ours. He's killed approximately one girl a week for the past four weeks now and we don't want him to do it any more. The public are getting more agitated by the day."
"Why haven't the police told the girls to stay off the streets, Gov?" A junior officer asked.
Spikings laughed mirthlessly.
"They have, but it's bloody hopeless. It's not a matter of choice for most of them, they have habits to feed. They know it's dangerous but they do it anyway. So the only way to stop it is going to be to catch the bastard."
'There's one more thing," he glanced around the room and then up at the boards with their images of horror behind him.
"He's started taunting the police. Yesterday, Camden Town station received this." He held up a shiny red card.
"What is it Gov?"
"It's a bloody Christmas card,' said Spikings. Harry could see the front of it. 'Season's Greetings' it said, above a holly wreath. He opened it and read aloud:
I just wanted to tell you how much I'm enjoying my work, especially at this wonderful time of the year. The streets are so romantic just now don't you think? It really fills me with passion… I like to send my girls on to the next world pure and respectable. I save them from the shame of their profession by making honest women of them, ha ha.
Till next time. A Merry Christmas to one and all.'
No one spoke. Harry felt cold. Unconsciously, she moved closer to Dempsey. She looked around. She was the only woman in the room, and she had suddenly never felt more alone at SI10.
"Do we know if it's genuine, boss?" Chas spoke.
"It looks that way. The details about the rings and flowers haven't been made public. Although he doesn't mention them outright, it seems clear what the 'honest women' reference implies. "
Spikings looked across at them.
"Dempsey, Makepeace, I want you to get to interview some of the girls. We need to find this character, and find him fast."