The more things change, the more they stay the same, Tony thought to himself as he pulled the boat into its mooring. Having cut the engine when he entered the harbour, the large vessel gently drifted towards the long wooden dock before softly bumping against the red and white buffer. A bird perched on the anchoring post eyed Tony's approach and lazily skimmed two posts down, but not so far away that it would lose out on any potential food source the human might offer. Tony had been gone almost six months, but you wouldn't have known it by the very familiar surroundings of the harbour. He wasn't sure whether that was comforting or disconcerting.
The afternoon breeze cooled his face and he smiled. It was only this morning that he had looked at himself in the mirror and decided to get rid of the beard that had long gone from stubble to something more akin to Lon Chaney Jr.'s "Wolfman". He smiled again at the memory of pulling up the boat in Burnley and having to wander about for several blocks before finding a barber shop, all the while trying to avoid the looks and double-takes of passersby. He walked out thirty minutes later, feeling lighter than he had felt in ages. Considering the events of the last six months, that feeling was just as much figurative as it was literal.
His first instinct was to try and push back the memories; he accepted that it would most likely always be his first instinct. But the sabbatical wasn't just to admire the views and canals of the Pennine Waterways, so when the memory of That Night nipped at his subconscious, he let it come.
That Night. A night of such magnitude that it deserved capitalization. The night Carol left him outside Jacko Vance's bolthole. The night Carol left him. Well, that's not entirely true nor entirely fair, Tony corrected himself. While on one hand it would be hard to conclude anything different from her parting shot as she peeled away into the darkness, on the other, she didn't have much chance to confirm or deny her judgment on their relationship. He didn't give her the time. Somehow, he made the long drive back to Bradfield, in the dead of night and in a manner he didn't remember. Too much had happened to take it all in- the death of Michael and Lucy, the blinding of Chris, the burning of Tony's house, the killing of Jacko Vance. By Tony's mother of all people. Coupled with absolute physical exhaustion, he was sure he'd be excused for having no real recollection of how he got home.
Home. As he put the key in the door That Night, he knew it would never be home again. Something had been broken That Night, not just between him and Carol, but deep within himself. He walked into the flat and for a brief moment, actually wondered if he had stepped into the wrong home. It all seemed foreign and strange to him; he didn't seem to recognize a single thing. Stranger in a strange land. Of course, that could summarize his entire life. And at that realization, he knew it was all over. Turning on the small light of the corner desk, he found a small scrap of paper and scribbled instructions to Carol that doubled as his good-bye. With that final act, he locked the door behind him and never looked back.
He holed up on Steeler as long as it took the insurance company to issue payment on the house Jacko Vance had burned to the ground. To no one's surprise, Tony had to jump through a myriad of legal hoops before the company would loosen its grip on money that was owed. Only when the Worcester police supplied evidence that it was indeed Vance and not Tony who set the house on fire did the insurance agents begrudgingly hand over the cheque. As if Tony would have destroyed the house. Destroying the house destroyed his dreams, which is exactly what Jacko Vance had intended, though if he were alive to say, perhaps the chasm between Tony and Carol would have simply been icing on the devious cake.
The day his bank statement showed the deposit of the generous insurance sum, Tony pushed off. Only Alvin Ambrose, a true and trusted friend, had any idea where Tony was going, and while he argued with Tony's decision, he ultimately respected the man enough to let him go. His only caveat was to make Tony promise to check his mobile once a day, just in case there were any emergencies. In six months, there had been none, which suited Tony just fine. There were other messages in that time span, of course- Paula had sent more text messages than Tony thought humanly possible, Kevin ventured three before giving up, and even Stacey, the least sociable of the lot outside of Tony, sent an inquiry into his health. The name missing from that list of friendly gestures was the same one that sent him on his sabbatical in the first place, so once the first waves of disappointment washed over him, he had to admit he wasn't at all surprised at the absence.
It was always about Carol. At one time, he would have said it was always going to be about Carol. But as he gently eased his boat into the rented spot, he took some measure of pride in knowing that was no longer true. He was right in his earlier assessment- something HAD broken in him That Night, but after the grief and the pity and the blame died away, he woke up to discover that he was still alive, still functioning, still being. And at risk of skirting the edge of hyperbole, what he was going to do with that discovery would determine the rest of his life. He had briefly considered therapy, for if he had no faith in its benefits for himself, how could he recommend the practice on others? However, while he was at long last willing to open his psyche up to the light, he wasn't quite willing to let others do it for him.
If a lawyer has a fool for a client, what do you call a psychologist who analyzes himself? Tony didn't know if there was a punchline, but given the options available, it was his own counsel or nothing. And he was tired of it being the latter. He had gone years carrying an assortment of baggage that would make Samsonite jealous. His father, his mother, his impotency, Carol. In the past, he had had the opportunity to come to a kind of understanding of these things, but he had always come up with excuses to avoid dealing with the soft underbelly of his issues. More often than not, it was his work, either with the university, with his private practice, or with the police. Now, he had none of those things. He had given up the university position in the days when he dreamed of living in Worcester, he hadn't been in private practice for years, and he couldn't imagine being called upon by the police any time soon. Now, he had nothing but time. Six months in a (non-leaky) boat with no company but his own started a chain of theraputic sessions he never would have imagined.
Had anyone found their way onto the boat and overheard the conversations in the main room, they may have been startled to find there was only one man. That's assuming they didn't know that one man was Tony Hill. Talking to himself was as common as fixing tea. How many hours did he spend over the years audibly walking himself through cases? Only this time, he was the case. The head case, he gently chided himself. That was new, too; an ability to poke fun at his shortcomings came with an acceptance of those very flaws. It was all out in the open- or at least, as open as things could be with only one person to appreciate it. No, he wasn't "all better", but he told himself the same things he would tell a patient: it wasn't about getting all better, it was about understanding. Understanding yourself, your issues, your past, and ultimately, your future.
As he tied the thick heavy rope to the docking pole and looked around the Worcester harbour, he knew that future was now.
Carol stared at the whiteboard and not for the first time since she'd taken over the DCI position in Worcester did she long for the days of the Bradfield office. If she had ever expressed that desire aloud, she would have quickly clarified that she missed the more state-of-the-art equipment at Bradfield than anything else. A whiteboard? She hadn't used one of these since the days of working with...
"Guv, we've got another call," Paula called out as she hung up the phone.
Carol spun around to look at her long-time colleague. When the time came for their unit in Bradfield to be disbanded, she had promised Paula she'd do her best to find her a position in Worcester. When Paula got the good news, she thought Carol did it to do her a favour. What Carol didn't tell her was how much she needed a familiar face around new surroundings. That, and Paula was one of the best DIs in the business.
"Another?" Carol repeated. "We've already got two on the board."
Paula shrugged. "No rest for the wicked?"
Carol looked back at the board. Two victims in the span of a month; male caucasians, aged 18 and 20. Brown hair for the former, blonde for the latter. Found completely independent of one another both in time and area. The younger was found six weeks ago, by a newspaper vendor opening up shop for the day; the elder a fortnight ago behind a sweets shop. Now this one, mid-Friday afternoon. What a great way to go into the weekend, Carol thought sourly.
"Does the victim match either of these?" Carol asked as she tilted her head towards the pinned photos.
"Dunno," Paula shrugged again. "The call only said it was for us and that we should get there before the press does."
Nodding, Carol grabbed her coat off the nearby peg, though she was in no hurry. "No doubt they already are."
They pulled the car into a spot alongside the east edge of McGilroy's Park and as predicted, the insidious shadow of Steven Moyer inched into the edges of the crime scene, though his physical body was being held back by the slender form of one of her newest Detective Sergeants, Warren Haynes. His physique was deceptive, Carol knew. In the first week of her job, she had taken Haynes to what she thought was a routine door knock to investigate a possible grow-op. As soon as they identified themselves at the door, it quickly escalated into a full-out foot chase. Or would have, if Haynes hadn't covered the distance well before the suspect made it over the back fence, and what he lacked in size he made up for in technique. Carol came round to find the suspect face down on the ground, with his arm twisted savagely behind his back, Haynes' left knee pressed into deeply into the man's lower spine. The suspect never had a chance.
Haynes saw his two co-workers approach across the grass and past the eerily vacant playground. "Guv," he said by way of greeting.
"DS Haynes," Carol replied as she ducked under the caution tape and avoided the shouts of the journalist. 'Journalist,' she thought to herself. 'Now that's stretching the definition.' He was no Penny Burgess to be sure, but it didn't make him any less of a pain in the ass.
"Paula," the young man said.
"Warren," she smiled and followed Carol.
"This is three now!" Moyer shouted after them.
"Oh, he can count," Paula muttered under her breath.
She shouldn't have been surprised that Carol had heard her. "It will impress me more when he knows his numbers past his fingers."
"Let's hope this case doesn't get that high, boss."
Carol grunted her agreement as she put on the disposable booties that would protect her feet from the crime scene and the crime scene from her. As she entered the tent that covered the small area from contamination, the friendly face of Grisha Shatalov welcomed her in.
"DCI Jordan, how good to see you again."
"Yes, what's it been, Grisha? A whole two weeks?" The older man nodded jovially. "I thought leaving Bradfield would mean I'd never see you again. And yet here we are."
He placed a hand over his heart. "You wound me, you really do. Besides, it won't be forever; I'm just stretching my area until the higher ups find someone to replace Dr. O'Toole, God rest his soul."
"And how about this soul?" Paula asked, pointing to the body on the ground.
"If he believed in such a thing," the coroner offered. "Oh, you mean other than his place in the hearafter. Well," he placed his hands on his hips, "you know I can't really say specifics until I get him into the office."
"Generalize then, please," Carol prodded, but not unkindly. This was the dance they always played and she knew the Canadian would get to the point, even if it wasn't as quickly as Carol might have liked it.
"Young white male, somewhere between 17 and 20. Dark hair, as you can see." He gestured towards the victim. "Cause of death-unofficially- is most likely blunt force trauma to the head."
Paula leaned forward. "Mutilation of the genitals, like the others?"
"Like the others," he nodded. "And again, unofficially, most likely post-mortem. Not a lot of blood to suggest he bled out from the wound. We'll have to wait for the toxicology report before we can be 100 percent sure, but this looks awfully similiar to the last two that brought us together." He gave the two women a smile that seemed out of place considering the situation, yet his warmth was appreciated.
"Thank you," Carol said, more for his gesture than his information. No one wanted a serial killer on their patch and it certainly looked like that's what she had. In some ways, the job already seemed like old hat.
"Tony!" the big man greeted with great delight as he threw his massive arms around his smaller friend.
"Alvin," Tony squeezed out.
"Sorry," he apologized with a laugh. "It's good to see you, mate."
"You too, Alvin," Tony said, his voice warm and sincere. "Sit. I think it's my turn to pay."
The two men sat down at the small table against the wall of the busy pub. Alvin Ambrose was the first person Tony contacted once the boat was anchored and he'd found his land legs. It had only meant to be a quick check-in to let Ambrose know he'd made it back, but the DS would have none of it and insisted on a quick pint.
"Aren't you working?" Tony asked as the waitress brought the ales to the table.
Ambrose gave a sheepish shrug. "It's almost the end of the day. Besides, you've been gone for six months; I couldn't just let you show back up here without a proper hello." He lifted his glass. "To the return of old friends."
Tony was touched by the sentiment. "To old friends who stuck around." The men tapped their glasses together and took a drink.
After savouring that first taste, Ambrose asked, "So how was the journey?"
"Do you mean that in a literal or figurative sense?"
"Whichever," the cop said, "but if it's figurative and you're going to tell me how you found yourself in Liverpool, try to use small words. You know how I am."
Tony laughed, knowing full well Alvin was smarter than he let on. "Well, in a literal sense, it was beautiful. I've only really ever seen England countryside from the motorway. Seeing it round the back was unexpectedly breathtaking." He took another drink before continuing, "As for figurative, who can say?"
"You look good. Relaxed. Less uptight."
"Thank you, Dr. Ambrose."
"Hey," he chuckled, "we've been friends for a while; I was bound to pick up something being around you, besides the cold you gave me last year." Tony opened his mouth to object but was interrupted by Ambrose's mobile. "Hold that thought," he told Tony. Quickly scanning the text, he pushed a button and stood up. He was about to take one last gulp of his drink until he had second thoughts. "Work," he informed Tony with a frown.
"Must be something if they're calling you back in so close to the end of the day."
"Couple of murders have been keeping the Guv up late. Looks like that 'couple' has become 'three'." He waited for Tony to reply and was surprised when no response was forthcoming. "You're not interested?"
Tony shrugged. "I suspect your 'Guv' wouldn't be interested in my answer either way."
Ambrose paused, wondering how much he could say and how much Tony wanted to hear. They had been friends for several years, but even then, there were just some things that were off limits, some lines that didn't get crossed. He waggled his mobile. "You know, you're going to have to see her sooner or later."
"I know," Tony replied with a nod of his head. Standing up, he shook Ambrose's hand and said, "But let me cross that bridge when I get to it."
"All right," he relented. "Give us a shout when you're sorted and settled. Sarah and the kids would love to have you over for tea."
Tony watched the big man leave and contemplated the idea of life sorted and settled.
"Thank you for joining the party, DS Ambrose," Carol said as he entered the police room.
"Sorry, boss," he said, quickly falling in with the small group gathered around the whiteboard.
From her perch on Paula's desk, Carol caught a faint whiff of alcohol on Ambrose's breath, but thought better of bringing it to his attention. God knew it would be more than a bit hypocritical, considering the small bottles of vodka she had stashed away in her desk. Still, she made a note to mention it to him later, if only to ensure he was more aware in the future. She may not have had a leg to stand on, but it wouldn't do for her superior to pay them a visit and nail her second best officer.
Her best officer waited until she had everyone's attention before beginning. "We got another victim today," Paula said, getting right to the point. "We'll be waiting for the pathology report to come in, but right now, we're fairly certain it's connected to the other two we've been working on. We already know about Jack Wroughton and Graham Parker." She pointed to the two 8x10 photos attached to the magnetic board. "The problem is, beyond the things we know on the surface- gender, age, cause of death and post mortem mutilation of the genitals," she waited for the men to cringe, "we have nothing that connects them to each other. Two brunettes, one blond. Found behind a newpaper stand, a sweets shop and a park."
"And we're sure there's nothing that connects the three victims personally?" Ambrose asked. "Not old school mates? Football, that sort of thing?"
"Not that we've been able to find so far," Paula answered, "but now that there's a third, it's going to open up more possibilities."
Carol tapped her pen to her lips. "Paula, take Warren around with you and see if we can place the other two victims at the other crime scenes."
"See if they were known where the other victim was found you mean," Warren said, nodding his head.
"Wouldn't hurt," Carol commented. "They must have something in common beyond the obvious. Why else would the killer pick them?" The three officers in the room knew it was a rhetorical question, so there was no reply. "Alvin, get a photo from Dr. Shatalov's office and do the usual door knocks. See if anyone recognizes our latest victim."
"What are you going to do, boss?," Paula asked.
Carol pushed herself up from the edge of the desk and stood. "I'm going home." Before the trio could object, she added, "But first, I'm going to talk a walk in the shoes of our killer and see if it ends up being anything more than a shot in the dark."
It didn't. Not that Carol had any high hopes of a revelation falling from the sky. As much as she admired the ability of those who were able to divine clues through abstract means, she was always more black and white, more direct about things. So, while the walk did her legs some good, she was unable to summon the magic connection between the victims; it just wasn't the way she worked. Not like him.
Why was it the harder you tried to forget a song or a word, the more it stuck in your brain? He would know. 'I just did it again,' she chastized herself. The past six months seemed like they had just been yesterday and yet forever. She repeatedly replayed their last moment in her mind, never failing to marvel at how rarely does one expect a last moment to really be the last moment. How many times had she walked away from him in the past, never once thinking it would be for the last time, always assuming there would be a next time? That night in a stranger's drive where he broke the news of Jacko Vance's death had been no different, despite how cruelly she had cut him off and left him to stand alone in the dark.
Despite how cruelly she had ended things.
Did she really think he'd be there, orbiting her life, until she realized the error of her ways and begged forgiveness? He had always done so in the past, whenever she had gone off on him for some injustice or another; had always waited for her to drift back towards him, with a murmur of apology for her heated temper and harsh words. But not this time. This time she had levelled an accusation at him so cutting that he wasn't waiting around for an apology, most likely because he thought it was never coming. If she were honest with herself, there was part of her that still blamed him for the brutal murder of her brother Michael and his girlfriend, Lucy. It was an irrational blame, she knew. Had it been any other case, she would have consoled Tony, who always felt too much pain, responsibility, guilt. She would have told him that the only person responsible for the murders was the murderer.
But it wasn't any other case- it was Jacko Vance and he had targeted those closest to Carol and Tony. It was only due to a sick oversight by Vance's outside help that the killer had no idea Tony didn't give a shit about his mother. So the only one to lose someone they loved was Carol. Was that really why she blamed Tony, because he hadn't lost anyone he loved? Did she really have that depth of selfishness within her? And in some way, didn't he lose someone he loved?
They hadn't seen each other in six months. He had gone off somewhere in that goddamn boat of his with nothing more than a note left on the table. "Give the key to Alvin Ambrose when you leave. -T". She had been left to pick up the pieces of an emotional disaster of her own making. Not only did she have to deal with the death of her only sibling, but she had also made a commitment to take over the DCI position with the Worcester police force. That entailed not just picking up all her things in Bradfield and moving them north, but now, with the chasm between her and Tony, she had to find a place to move everything to. Not that the rift between them created the only problem with housing- even if they had still been friends, Jacko Vance had burned Tony's Worcester house to the ground.
It wasn't as if she hadn't done this sort of thing before- moving house, moving jobs. She was a big girl and could handle responsibility and change. She had just grown accustomed to having Tony around for the last decade to be the sounding board for her fears, the cheerleader for her achievements. These days it was her mirror subjected to complaints about work, and the little fanfare given by the new position. It wasn't that she didn't like the job; she considered herself fortunate to have been able to bring Paula with her. Despite the inequality in their professional lives, Carol had come to respect and admire the younger woman outside of work. By bringing Paula with her to the Worcester force, she was able to not just go through the growing pains of a new job with a good colleague, but with a good friend as well.
It had been odd those first few weeks. While Paula was there, gone were the rest of her old squad, scattered to the winds of employment elsewhere. The Home Office didn't deem the collective talents of the team worth the bill every month, so away they went- Sam Evans finally fulfilling his ambitious dream by getting promoted to the Met, and Stacey Chen conveniently finding a position with the City of London police force. Carol suspected the computer expert only agreed to a lower paying job on a much smaller force so she could keep her police exceptions when it came to snooping into other people's virtual lives. Well, that and to stay close to Sam, who was oblivious to her feelings towards him. The only one who stayed in Bradfield was Kevin Jefferies, her longest serving colleague along with Paula. He had at long last been promoted to DCI, albeit overseeing a much smaller force than Carol ever had.
Yet none loomed larger in their absence than Anthony Valentine Hill.
She sighed and decided to stop at the curry shop on the corner. It wasn't as if she was in a hurry to get home these days.
"Well, that was a bust," Haynes commented as he put the photos of the victims in his breast pocket.
Paula wasn't inclined to say too much out of turn when it came to Carol, particularly when the relationships with her new co-workers had yet to be firmly established, so she replied with a simple shrug, despite secretly agreeing with the younger man. While Carol's theory had been a good one, in practice, it yielded next to nothing. "Gives us a chance to try that new coffee shop down the street," she suggested. "I've only had three today."
Haynes smiled. "I'll buy you a decaf."
The two officers walked the short distance in silence until he nudged Paula with his elbow. "Look. It's the Guv." Sure enough, ahead of them by a fairly large margin was Carol, with the handles of a white plastic bag wrapped around her wrist, and a brown paper bag clutched in her hand. "Curry and wine for the boss tonight," he surmised. "Should we call her over?"
Paula shook her head. "Let her be. By the looks of it, she didn't have any more success than we did."
They entered the small shop, ordered their drinks and sat down at a window bar. Though they sat side by side, Warren turned so that he was facing her. He took a sip of his coffee and quickly put it back down. "Shit!" he exclaimed and touched his upper lip. "That's bloody hot!" Taking the lid off the offending beverage, he let it sit while he nursed his wound. "So what's your take on all this?"
"I think you're doing the right thing by letting it cool," she replied with a straight-face. When she saw his expression, she smiled. "You mean these cases?"
"Yeah. You think they're connected? Or do we have three separate weirdos on the loose?"
"Officially? I don't think the boss would want us to say for certain one way or another. But between you and me and the bedpost, I can't imagine it's not one person. The locations may be different, but the method of killing is the same, and they all have the genital mutilation." She tried not to smirk when Haynes squirmed. "That last bit hasn't been revealed to the press, so that rules out copycat killers."
"I'll be honest with you, Paula. I don't get it." He made another attempt on his coffee only to be rebuffed by its heat again.
"What don't you get?"
He shrugged. "Maybe I haven't been on the force long enough to have these kind of cases. Maybe I never expected it much in little Worcester."
"You don't get how someone can do these things?" she ventured.
Now it was her turn to shrug. "It can be any number of things. Does the killer recognize something in the victims that he hates about himself? Do the victims remind him of wrongs he suffered in the past? Was he bullied and maybe these guys remind him of those bullies? Does he have an older brother who abused him or got a pass while a family member abused him? That's why, if there's a connection between these three victims, it's important for us to find it. That connection will put us at the start of the killings and help us figure out why they happen."
Haynes blinked at his partner's speech. "I don't think I've heard you say so many words in one sitting," he teased.
"I'm more of the strong and silent type," she countered.
He nodded his appreciation. "Actually, you know what you sound like? All that talk about getting into the killer's past and motivations? A head doctor."
Paula mentally gave herself a slap on the forehead. "You know what you sound like, Haynes?" The younger man braced himself for a verbal retort and was surprised when she said, "A genius."
The morning meeting was just as dour as the one that had ended their day, with the added bonus of having nothing new to add to the investigation.
"Lots of 'maybes' and 'I dunnos' and 'could 'aves'," Paula informed the group.
Her partner piped up. "Apparently, they see a lot of 18-20 year olds in that area," Haynes said.
"I had the opposite problem," Ambrose revealed. "No one in my travels could recall seeing our victim. Would a lad his age stick out around a children's park? I don't know."
With arms crossed and a glare towards the whiteboard, Carol was the last to speak. "Well, I suppose it will come as no surprise to hear I also found nothing. Hopefully, we'll have more luck when we finally get a name."
The phone rang on Paula's desk and the younger woman reached over to answer it. The trio watched as Paula nodded and scribbled something on a nearby pad of paper. "Okay, thanks," she said and returned the receiver to its cradle. Turning to the group, she quipped, "Speak of the devil- that was forensics. They were able to track down the victim's name through his mobile records." She walked up to the whiteboard and wrote under the third photo. "David Oglivy. Age 20. From Welland Heights."
"Welland Heights?" Haynes repeated. "That's a council estate on the other side of Worcester."
Carol stood and looked at the photo, as if having a name now gave the picture meaning. "Okay, Paula. See if Ingrid's busy and visit the parents." She saw Paula's grimace and nodded. "I know, I know. No one wants to do it. But you're the best one at it."
"You mean Ingrid's the best one at it," Paula replied. Ingrid Stewart was a portly woman who spent most of her days filing what appeared to be a never-ending pile of reports and case work, but her real strength was the Dead Call, the dreaded house visit bearing the very worst of news. Paula had practice, but Ingrid had experience, and more importantly, she had that inexplicable something that softened even the hardest words.
"Alvin, while Paula's gone, I want you to draw up the profile on David Oglivy. Date of birth, where he was born, where he went to school, you know the drill. When you're done, cross-reference everything with Jack Wroughton. Warren, I want you to do the same with our second victim."
"How about you, boss?" Ambrose asked.
Sighing, Carol said, "As unfeeling as it may sound, the world doesn't stop simply because someone was murdered." She of all people knew it only too well. "And my inbox is never empty."
As she began to make her way towards her office, Paula asked, "Have you thought about Tony Hill?"
Carol froze. She would have laughed if the words didn't sting so much. Had she thought about Tony Hill? She had done nothing else for the last twenty four weeks. One hundred and eighty three days. But she knew that wasn't what Paula had meant, so, with her steely facade back in place, she turned to her long-time colleague.
"We don't have that kind of budget here, Paula." Carol heard the words and was pleased at how even they sounded.
"Surely we could get some kind of exemption," Paula suggested.
Carol shook her head. "I don't think so."
"Just a consultation then? Tony would do it for free."
"I don't think so," Carol repeated, harsher than the last. She drew in a long breath through her nose before speaking again. "Besides," she continued in a more neutral tone, "I don't even know where he is."
"Ambrose does," Paula helpfully supplied.
The big man nearly spat out his coffee. "Sorry?"
"You know where Tony Hill is, don't you? I mean, I just assumed since you were mates..."
"Oh. Well, I..." He had no idea what to say. Sure, he knew Tony, but he would never assume that he really knew him. And if he knew Tony Hill only half as much as a friend should, he knew Carol Jordan even less. Certainly not enough to get in the middle of whatever it was that was going on between them. Realizing the eyes of the group were on him, he felt compelled to say something. "He came back yesterday as far as I know."
Paula's eyes widened in excitement. "There you go," she said to Carol. "Alvin can call him in."
"No." The sharp, loud word startled the other three, but this time, Carol wasn't interested in blunting the edges. "We are police officers and we get paid to do our job. If all we're going to do is call in a bloody psychologist every time we can't solve a crime, why are we even here? Let's just call in the miracle worker at the start of the case- would save us a hell of a lot of time, wouldn't it?" She looked at the group who looked back at her with eyes wide and mouths agape. "Do your jobs." She waited for the words to sink in. "All of you, do your jobs."
Haynes had the good sense to wait until the Carol's office door slammed behind her before saying, "Why do I get the feeling I'm missing a hell of a lot here?"
Ambrose took a sip of his coffee, but the warmth had gone out of it. "You have no idea, mate," he told the young man and ventured off to find a fresh pot.
Paula's knock was low but persistant, just like Carol knew it would be. That was the thing about working with someone for over a decade- there was little mystery. Carol wondered how she was doing when it came to hiding her thoughts and feelings from her best detective.
"Come in," Carol offered.
Paula complied and stepped inside the office, slowing closing the door behind her. She had taken the extra time in the hopes of finding the words that had alluded her on the other side. Knowing she was treading a fine line between the professional and the personal, she ventured with, "Permission to speak frankly, boss."
Carol looked up from her paperwork and sighed. "We're not the bloody military, Paula." When the other woman didn't reply, Carol said, "Permission granted."
Paula stepped forward and despite the freedom to say what was on her mind, she still measured her words carefully. "I don't know what's going on with you and Tony." That pretty much summed up the last decade, Paula thought. "I know you blame him for the death of your brother."
"Careful," Carol warned. She may have given Paula permission to speak her mind, but there were still boundaries to consider.
"It's no secret," Paula informed her. "Half the West Yorkshire police were at the scene and heard you tear a strip off Dr. Hill. The other half heard about it by the end of the day." She shook her head. "Anyway, that's not the point. The point is where we are now- we've got three dead kids and not much to go on."
"He's not going to be around forever," Carol pointed out. "Maybe it's best we start to wean ourselves off our dependency to Tony Hill."
"While more people die?"
The office was silent for several moments. Paula was right, of course. Objectively, Tony was just another means of investigating a crime, just as much as knocking on doors and following up on leads. The problem was, could she look at him objectively? Hadn't that been the problem since the first day she met him? And then there was another problem: "Paula, after everything that's happened, I don't even know if he wants to come back."
Paula gave her boss and friend a supportive nod. She knew what it meant for Carol to reveal even that much about her personal life and Tony Hill. "I understand. So why don't you leave it up to me to go find out? If he says yes, he says yes. If not... we'll get someone from the Home Office."
The last comment got the soft groan it had intended, and Paula smiled. They had had their fair share of experience working with "experts" sent in by the Home Office. To say they were about as much use as a one-legged man at an arse kicking contest would be an insult to one-legged men.
"Go visit the parents," Carol instructed. "And if you find time later in the day to leave the office for whatever purpose, I'll pretend I don't notice."
"Thanks, boss," Paula replied and turned for the door. As her hand touched the knob, she hesitated, again uncertain how far over the line she should step. Hoping it wasn't too far, she looked back at Carol and said, "Things will work themselves out. They always do."
Carol nodded her reply, though it lacked the belief. She hoped Paula was right, but found it hard to find the same confidence.
Paula flopped into a chair beside Ambrose's desk and groaned. "I hate that part of the job," she told him.
He didn't bother looking up from his paperwork to reply, "It's the part they never tell you about in the Academy." He tapped his pencil to his lips several times, as if it would light a fire in his brain and illuminate the breakthrough this case needed. He tossed the pencil on his desk and sat back. "How did it go? Besides the obvious, I mean."
She shrugged. "Hard to get any answers out of a hysterical parent." He murmured his understanding. "I left Ingrid there to try and get some information once the mother has calmed down."
"No. From the little bit I got, he's been out of the picture for ages." She pointed her chin at his papers. "What are you doing?"
"Cross-referencing any possible connection between David Oglivy and Jack Wroughton."
"Beyond the surface similarities? No. Though there is one thing- they've all just come into the area within the last 12 months, and they've all been in trouble with the law at various points in their lives. We found that out when we did the comparison between the first two victims, but didn't think much of it. I'm finding the same thing between Oglivy and Wroughton. Don't know if it means anything."
"Once is chance, twice is coincidence, third time is a pattern."
He smiled. "You sound like-" He stopped abruptly. He had felt awkward enough when Tony Hill's name had been mentioned earlier; he didn't want to go down that road again.
Of course, it was too late. "Speaking of," Paula said, "I need you to come on a little mission with me."
Waving a hand towards his desk, he weakly replied, "I've got work."
"Nothing Warren can't handle." She slapped him on the shoulder and stood up. "Come on."
"What's the boss going to say?"
"I've got clearance to do a little reconnaissance mission," she winked at him.
"So we get to clear a path through the minefield?" he asked. "Fantastic."
The bell clanged and he looked at the grainy images on the small security monitor. Ambrose and... Paula? His mind immediately went to the worst option, but reasoning assured him if anything had happened, surely they would have had the good grace to contact him on his mobile first. He yelled up from the lower cabin, "Come in!"
Footsteps echoed down the stairs until they entered the room, Paula first, followed by Ambrose's large frame. "So you finally got a bell, and I'm glad to see you got some kind of security," Alvin commented. "But you have to leave the door unlocked because you don't have some kind of automatic unlocking system?"
"I've been meaning to get it," Tony said in mild defense.
Alvin couldn't help but rib his friend some more. "Right after you get an intercom so you don't have to yell up the stairs, yeah?"
"This is really nice, Tony," Paula complimented as she looked around. "I'm not much for boats, but this is a bit of all right."
"Thanks, Paula," he said and embraced the woman he had known for over a decade. "It's good to see you."
"Oh!" she said, surprised by his show of affection. She could count on one hand the amount of times he had hugged her, and even then, with a finger or two to spare. When he pulled back, she looked him and raised an eyebrow. "What have you done with Tony Hill?"
"Threw him over the side," he dryly answered. Gesturing to the nearby table, he invited them to sit down. "Can I get you two a drink? Unfortunately, I haven't found the time to get to Tesco's, so it's tea, water or Coke."
The two officers replied in unison, "Coke."
"Working well together, I see," Tony smiled. Reaching under the counter, he opened the small ice box and pulled out three cans. He sat down, pulled back the tab and waited for the fizz to die down before asking, "So to what do I owe the pleasure?"
Ambrose looked at Paula over the rim of his can. "It's your mission, you tell him," he teased.
"Well...," she faltered. Why was she so hesitant to present her case? She knew Tony just as long as Carol did, with none of the emotional baggage. Should be easy as piss, she told herself. "We're working on a case-"
Tony held his hands up. "Not interested."
"But you haven't even heard-"
"I'm flattered, Paula, I really am. But I'm not interested."
She looked over to Ambrose who, with a shrug of his shoulders, offered no help. She decided to try a different tactic. "Not interested or not ready?" When the only reply from Tony was a tilt of his head, she continued, "I know the Jacko Vance case really took it out of you, and I'd understand if you felt you didn't have it in you anymore. No one would blame you."
He took a drink of his Coke before setting it down and sitting back on his stool. With arms crossed, he queried, "Are you trying to use reverse psychology on me, Paula?"
Not surprised that he would suss her out so quickly, she replied, "Can you blame me?" He didn't respond and she took this as her opening. "We've got three dead kids and no leads. We're desperate." She saw the twitch in the corner of his mouth and quickly clarified, "Not that we'd only come to you as a last resort. You know what I mean."
"I do, Paula," his gentle tone forgave her. "But you're right in a way; I don't know if I'm ready to come back. Besides, there's more to it than what I want, even if I were ready."
"You mean Carol?"
Tony turned to Ambrose. "Are you going to let her do all the heavy lifting?"
"Oh, I'm just here for the moral support," Alvin replied with a grin.
"Work harder," Paula glowered.
He held up his hands. "All right, all right." Looking across the table at Tony, he contemplated what he should say. Did he have the right to delve into the private aspects of Tony's hesitation? And was it professional suicide, considering the root of the problem involved Carol, a woman who had been his boss for less than a year. He wondered if there was another way to go about it. "Here's what it amounts to," he finally said. "This guy's not going to stop at three victims. We've all handled enough of these cases to know the murders will only stop if we can make them stop."
"And you think I can help you?" Tony asked. "I appreciate the confidence, but you're barking up the wrong tree."
Ambrose knew the Jacko Vance case had taken its toll on Tony, both personally and professionally. He didn't have to be a psychologist to recognize that Tony felt responsible for much of what happened. Maybe getting back on the horse was what his friend really needed. "With what we have to go on, I don't have much confidence that we'll catch him before he kills someone else." He glanced at Paula. "No offence."
"So you can either watch us flounder and wait for the next victim, or you can help us out and maybe save someone's life."
Tony shook his head. "I hope you're taking notes, Paula. Why bother with reverse psychology when you can wrap up guilt in an ultimatum?"
"It's only worth knowing if it'll work." She leaned forward, hopeful and expectant. "Will you give it a shot?"
He rested his elbows on the table and rubbed his temples with his fingertips. 'This is a mistake!' his emotional alarm bleated. I know, he whispered to himself. But he also knew this was exactly what the last six months had been about- facing demons instead of turning away, bringing things into the open rather than hiding them in the shadows. He gave one last, half-hearted attempt to refuse the offer.
"Have you run this idea past your boss?" Note to self, he thought, practice saying 'Carol' out loud.
"It's been mentioned," Paula hedged. "We can work out the details later."
He sighed heavily. "That's it, then."
No one spoke for several seconds, until the realization hit Paula and she beamed. "That's fantastic, Tony! Should I send you the files?"
Pushing his seat back, Tony stood and shook his head. "No, I'll come round to the office later today." He saw Ambrose raise his eyebrows and Tony shrugged in response. "In for a penny and all that."
She had just raised her head from the never-ending pile of paper work when she saw him walk by her office. The slated blinds gave her a measure of cover to watch him without being observed. She had to admit, he looked well, as if finally, after almost fifteen years, he had gotten some much needed sleep. He had already given Paula three genuine smiles, which by Carol's count was probably two more than she could ever recall. A bubble of bitterness rose in her throat. He looked content, for God's sake, like his world hadn't been turned upside down.
He was gesturing at the white board and Paula nodded whatever answer he needed. She pulled a chair over for him, said a few more words, then returned to her desk. Tony picked up a marker, adjusted his chair and sat in front of the board. Carol watched him as he sat stock still for a good ten minutes, nothing moving but his eyes to and fro. What was he thinking, she wondered. As in tune they had become with each other over the years, she would be the first to admit she often didn't know how his mind worked. He often told her that was a good thing, for her sake.
Finally moving, he stood, and with some difficulty, he turned the board around so that he could work with a fresh, blank side. Carol watched intently, wondering what his mind had spit out after such deliberation, but was disappointed to find he had only scrawled exactly the same information that was on the other side of the board before sitting back down again. What the hell was he playing at? She tossed her pen on the desk, stood up and was half-way to the door before she realized what she proposed to do- walk into the general office and talk to a man she hadn't spoken to in half a year, for reasons that had changed both their lives completely. Was it also irrevocably? She shook her head and closed her eyes. 'Get a grip,' she chastized herself. She had always been successful at keeping her personal and professional lives separate, and this would simply have to be no exception.
He had had that feeling of being watched from the moment he walked into the room; no doubt the source of this observation came from the slightly shuttered separate office in the corner. 'You expected this,' he reminded himself. He knew this was just the first of many hurdles he was going to have to face. In fact, it was one of the reasons he agreed to Paula's request; in an odd sort of detached way, considering how it had ended, he was curious to see how he would react once he was back in the environment of the police services.
The chair creaked as he dropped into it, but thereafter made no other sound as he sat stock-still, eyes and mind focussed on the board. He capped and uncapped the marker until it became a punctuation at the end of his thoughts.
Jack Wroughton, 18, brown hair. click
Graham Parker, 20, blond hair. unclick
David Oglivy, 18, brown hair. click
Newspaper stand, sweets shop, children's park. unclick
Nothing. He was getting nothing from looking at the board. It was if he had some psychologist's equivalent of a Samson haircut. The words on the board meant nothing to him; sparked nothing in his cerebral cortex. Maybe Carol had been right all along- maybe he had lost it. 'No,' he ordered himself out of the chair. 'We just need a different approach.' Buoyed somewhat by his command, he stood and turned the board around. As he had hoped, the other side was blank, and while the details were still fresh in his mind, he hastily began copying every scrap of information he could remember. Names, ages, places, cause of death, addresses, birthdays. Everything that had been written down on one side of the board, Tony had written on his.
But that was all. No theory had appeared from the end of Tony's marker. No motive had wormed its way from his slanted cursive. It was the exact same information he had studied on the opposite side, point for point. He flopped back down onto the chair, defeated. There was something there, he knew it.
The light squeak of the corner office door threatened to pull his attention away, but he fought the temptation. Besides, it wasn't as if he had to look to know who had just entered the room. He had felt that presence enter his life more times than he could count; it was almost as if he intuitively reacted to her particular dispersment of molecules in the air. When her form brushed the edges of his peripheral vision, he willed his eyes forward.
They were both silent for a moment. It was as if despite having so much to say, they didn't know the words. Carol was the first to speak.
"That's all you've got?"
The small office seemed to stop as one. Paula looked up from her notes, her eyes darting between Carol and Tony and back again. Ambrose had to get the person on the other end of the phone to repeat the last two sentences, because he had only heard Carol's accusation. And Haynes watched it all over the lid of his coffee cup, wondering what exactly he was missing.
Tony sat back in his chair and took a deep breath through his nose. Whether or not she had meant the edge that came with her words, he wasn't going to bite. Much. Shrugging, he pointed to the board. "Nothing less than what's on the other side, though I know you expect more."
Carol cocked an eyebrow. His rebuttal had an air of apathy that was new for him. "Well, that's why we brought you in," she countered.
"I'm here because a friend asked a favour, and since I'm on a free, I assume it's a case of no harm, no foul," he calmly replied, finally turning his head to look at her. He drew in another long breath, this time more in sympathy than anger. He wasn't one to remark on the appearance of another; those who live in glass houses and all that, he'd always thought. But considering how much Carol prided herself on her outward projection, he'd have had to have been blind not to be startled by what he saw. It wasn't anything particularly obvious, though her hair needed a cut and her suit called out for a good pressing. It was the pallor of her face, the gauntness that comes with losing too much weight, and her eyes. Those eyes that had looked into his so many times he wondered if she could see into his soul. There was nothing so probing in them now. A light had been dimmed and it shocked him.
"I don't want your sympathy," she said, startling them both. She hadn't expected to say it out loud, and he hadn't thought she could still read his thoughts so well. Trying to segue her slip back to the topic at hand, she clarified, "I want results."
He rested his elbow on his knee and pressed his forehead against his fist, as if divining an answer through sheer force of will. Carol gave a dismissive scoff which Tony ignored. "Eighteen and twenty," he said at last.
"Yes," she said, "I believe that's what the board said before you came along."
"Eighteen and twenty," he repeated, stressing the joiner. "And. Not between. Two very specific ages."
Carol raised her eyes from Tony to the board. Narrowing her gaze, she flitted from victim profile to victim profile to victim profile. He was right. Eighteen AND twenty. Why hadn't they noticed that themselves?
Rather than voicing that question aloud, she instead asked, "Why those two ages?"
Tony stood up, uncapped his marker and added the information to the top of his notes. He tapped the board with the end of the marker. "They must be connected by someone who knows all three on a level personal enough to know their birthdays."
"We followed up on that, Tony," Paula called out from her desk.
Haynes backed up his partner. "No friends or family in common. They're all fairly new to the area, so they didn't overlap in employment or school."
Carol spun around, as if she had forgotten they weren't alone in the room. "Go back and do it again, Paula. Split it up with Warren and go over it with a fine tooth comb."
Tony crossed his arms and looked at the board once more. There was still something nagging at the edge of his brain. "Why these kids? I mean," he stood up and pointed to each victim, "why these particular eighteen and twenty year olds?" He looked at Paula and Ambrose. "The people you've cross-referenced- their social workers, their physicians, their government workers- they'd have their pick of victims that fit the criteria, wouldn't they?"
"So it's not just their age," Paula hypothesized. "They're connected directly to their killer somehow."
"It's likely someone the victims know only peripherally; someone who might be a passing acquaintance, but not someone who would show up in your investigation," Tony suggested.
"But someone who would have access to the victims' information," Carol added.
Tony tapped his chin with the marker. "Or could have access." When no one responded, he looked up from the cap of the pen. "Not all information is gathered legally, is it? And despite the fact some of us are comfortably embracing the 21st century, when's the last time you've been to the local dole office?"
Paula groaned and held up a piece of paper. "They had to write out the list of names I was looking for."
"The Social Cares Service was no better," Ambrose said, alluding to his own handwritten information.
"But it's not as if someone can just walk in off the street and open a filing cabinet," Haynes objected.
"Perhaps they're already there," Tony replied. "The person who delivers lunch every day. Do they have mail brought in? Who cleans the offices when no one's around?"
Paula was scribbling furiously and grabbed her phone. "I'm on it, boss," she told Carol.
Tony turned around and looked at the board one more time. When nothing further came to him, he shrugged again. With a final look at Carol, he said,"Let me know when you've added anything and I'll come back." If there was an air of satisfaction in his voice, he hoped others would forgive him. He was halfway to his car before he realized he still had the marker in his hand.
Had she been able to look at things from the outside, she might have found it quite interesting that the biggest thing she had missed over the last six months was the aural stimuli Tony Hill brought into her life. Interesting, because she was more of an observer, more of a quiet recorder of events. The complete opposite of Tony, who never seemed to be quiet. She often wondered if he talked in his sleep.
So returning to her office only to face the wall of silence was rather jarring. They so often ended a team information session with a private meeting in her office that she more than half-expected to see him turn around in the hallway and come back. More than half-wanted, if she were honest. He was a soothing balm during these moments of a case, when things weren't quite clicking but victims were still demanding justice. 'Justice,' she snorted. After everything that happened with Jacko Vance, she wasn't sure she knew what that word meant anymore. Not a good position for an officer of the law to take, she admitted to herself. It was always a concern in law enforcement; something shared by teachers in the very first day of the academy. Moral burn-out is what they called it. Having to learn to see things in black and white because that's what the laws required, and then having to learn to live with things when they fell into the grey areas. Her role was a very simple one, but all too often, the circumstances around it were anything but simple. Though she was thinking of work, she immediately thought of Tony. She looked around the silent office and made a mental note to bring in a radio.
Warren Haynes made sure to do an extra check over his shoulder before asking, "What was that all about?"
Ambrose got up and walked towards the coffee maker. With a tilt of his head in Paula's direction, he said, "Ask her; I'm the rookie when it comes to Tony Hill and our esteemed DI."
Paula moved the receiver away from her mouth and glowered at the bemused man. Turning to Haynes, she replied, "When I was working out of the Bradfield office, we once debated the idea of paying someone to write a research book on those two. Then decided we couldn't afford the amount of hours it would take to figure them out. Hell, after a decade, I'm not sure I know much more now than I did then." A voice on the other end of the line drew her attention back to the phone. "Yes," she sighed and sat back in her chair, "I'll wait while you find the list."
He would have been surprised if someone had told him ten years ago that he would love the water so much. He had always had a hidden fear of what could lie waiting for him in the murky depths of anything deeper than a bath. But somewhere in the last year, he had discovered comfort in the lulling roll of the boat as small waves bashed against it.
"That didn't go too badly," he said aloud, assessing his earlier visit to the police station. A soup simmered quietly on the stove as he prepared a sandwich. "You didn't follow her into the office; that was key," he praised, in the same way he would if he were talking to a client. "It broke the old routine and let her know things would not be the way they had always been." He looked up from the cutting board for a moment. "Then why do I feel like I've failed somehow? Shit!" He dropped the knife and grabbed his finger. The blood beaded along the line of the small cut. "Death by a thousand tiny cuts," he lamented to the offending wound.
"Here's another thing I don't understand," Haynes said to no one in particular.
"If this is more questions about Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, I'm done," Paula warned the younger man.
"No, no," he shook his head. Pointing to the white board, he explained, "Why were the victims all found in different places? They had no personal connection to the places they were killed, so how did they get there?"
Ambrose glanced up from his notes. "If the victims had no personal connection, perhaps it was the killer."
"That's what I'm thinking," Haynes agreed. "But even then, there has to be a connection between victim and place, yeah? I mean, just because I like the local pub doesn't mean I'm going to bring someone down there to off them."
"I'll make the note," Paula winked.
Haynes threw her a look. "You know what I mean. Three victims but three very different crime scenes. Why?"
"Convenience?" Ambrose offered.
"That's only if the places and victims weren't connected," Haynes said.
"You're sure they are?" Paula asked.
"Yeah," he replied. "Well, fairly sure." He looked at his two co-workers. "Hell, I don't know."
Ambrose snorted. "So we're back to the start again."
Paula twirled the pen between her fingers and tapped it on her desk. "No, let's walk through this. The places are directly connected to the killer, indirectly connected to the victims. Which means they're important to him and he thinks they're important to the victims."
"And why does he think that?" Ambrose continued the train of thought.
No one had an answer. Finally Haynes piped up. "Maybe the victims are important to the places, not the other way round."
"The killer brought them there because he connected the victim to the place?" Paula ventured.
"Okay," Ambrose said, warming up to the idea, "so how are two eighteen year olds connected to a sweets shop and a newspaper agent? And what does a 20 year old have in common with a children's park?"
"Maybe they robbed the two shops?" Haynes suggested.
"So the killer's a vigilante?" Paula asked.
Haynes shrugged. "Could be."
Ambrose shook his head. "Doesn't explain the park though, does it?" The door to Carol's office opened and he gave a small tilt of his head in that direction. "Look busy, the boss is coming over."
"What's going on?" Carol asked. "I see a lot of talking but not much doing."
"Just throwing some theories around, guv," Haynes answered.
She sat on the corner of his desk and folded her arms. "Let's hear them."
Paula glanced at her partners and realized they silently voted her their spokesperson. "Well," she began, "the one we seem to be going with is, the killer connected the victims to the places he killed them. Whether or not the places actually meant anything to the victims seems to be our tripping point."
"We're wondering if there's some sort of vigilantism going on," Ambrose added.
"At a childrens' park?" Carol queried, echoing Ambrose's own earlier doubts. "And if he specifically sought out the victims based on their ages, he would have had to bring them to the crime scenes, yeah? Knowing their ages means prior knowledge of the victims. Which means a premeditation beyond simple vigilantism."
"Unless the ages aren't as important as Mr. Hill seems to think they are," Haynes said.
The group fell silent and no one pondered the idea of Tony Hill being wrong more than Carol. Rather than go down that path, she instead said, "Let's forget all that for the moment. Where are we in following up any possible connection between the victims?"
"If tracking down their doctors was the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack," Ambrose answered, "trying to track down a list of all the white vans that go through the offices every day was harder than getting me to do karaoke at my local."
Paula cocked an eyebrow at the image of Alvin singing. "Well, I might have something." She picked up her paper and continued, "I called Social Cares Services and found that the victims may have had different case workers, but they all worked in the same building. And after pulling teeth for a list of non-employees that go in and out of the building, I got three names." She walked up to the white board and looked around for a marker. "Tony..." she muttered. Ambrose saw her dilemma and tossed her one from his desk drawer. "Thanks." Uncapping the marker, she began to write down the names. "Elisabeth Marks. She delivers lunch from the sandwich shop three buildings down. Rodney Sutton, computer technician. According to the secretary, he's in and out of the offices at least once a week. And Victor Reid. Office cleaner who comes in every Monday, Wednesday and Friday."
"It's got to be the computer technician, doesn't it?" Haynes predicted. "Who's going to have more access to the information of the victims?"
Carol nodded but remained cautious. "Out of the three, I'd say Elisabeth Marks is the least likely." While it was never safe to make assumptions, they all nodded in agreement. Based on what they knew of the victims and cause of death, a woman was unlikely to be the killer. "We'll follow up with her last, if these other two don't give us anything. Do you have contact information for any of these people, Paula?"
"I've got addresses for all of them, boss."
"Great job, Paula. I want you to take Warren and track down Rodney Sutton. Alvin, you and I will have a chat with Victor Reid." As everyone started to collect their things to leave, Carol amended her compliment. "Great job, everyone."
One of the tasks in tracking down a serial killer was trying to anticipate the next victim. More often than not, a killer was caught in the process of, or shortly before their last act of violence. "So where will you be next?" Tony wondered. He stepped back and took a look at the white sheet he had pinned to his small kitchen wall. For anyone who craved space, It was the one drawback of a houseboat. Even the largest room on the vessel- the "living room"- had difficulty housing anything more than a small couch, a matching chair and a television. The cabin held a comfortable double bed and not much more. Only the kitchen offered a wall clear enough to double as a drawing board. Tony made a note to buy the real thing. He only had so many sheets to ruin.
"Why those three sites?" he asked as he reviewed all the information he had copied from the white board at the police station. "They didn't work there and by all accounts, no one recognized the victims. So you must have lured them there. How? More importantly, why?" He crossed his arms and tapped his lips with the end of the marker. "Have I got it wrong? Are the ages simply academic to the intent? And if it's not the ages that draw you to the victims, how will we catch you?" He looked at the information under each victim's name again, his eyes going from one, to the other, to the last. Newspaper stand. Sweets shop. Children's park. His mouth opened slightly as it tried to catch up with his brain. "What if we don't connect the victims to the crime scenes? What if we connect the crime scenes to each other?"
He turned around to his laptop. It was the one land luxury he refused to give up. The TV in the next room had been turned on a handful of times in the months he had lived on the boat, but the computer had remained a mainstay and he gladly paid the wireless internet charges. With a quick brush over the touchpad, the screen came to life and he typed in the Google address. After pondering the best way to start the search, he went with the obvious.
Newspaper stand. Sweet shop. Children's park. Worcester.
For once, the search engine gods were on his side. His answers were in the very first hit. Without taking his eyes off the screen, he reached out for his mobile and pressed the call button. It was only when his thumb was two steps into the very familiar pattern that he realized it might all be for naught. Sure enough, completing the pattern only rewarded him with an outdated recording informing him the number he had reached was out of service. Just as he had made changes to his life, Carol had done the same with hers. Fortunately, his second option picked up on the first ring.
"DS Ambrose," was the greeting.
"Alvin, it's me, Tony." There was a slight pause and its reason was clear. "Carol nearby?"
"Yes. Can't really talk right now."
"It's okay, Alvin. Just tell her I know who it is."
"Bring in Victor Reid and I'll meet you at the station. I'll fill you in on the rest later."
"Tony, we're two blocks from his house now."
Now it was Tony's turn to be perplexed. "Sorry?"
"We did a deeper check like you said, and Paula found three connections through the SCS. She's stuck with Haynes doing a check on one now. Carol and I are doing the follow up on the janitor."
"Yeah. So you're just a bit late to the party." He seemed to just realize the magnitude of what Tony said. "Wait. How did you know? We just dug up the information ourselves."
Tony shook his head even though Ambrose couldn't see him. "The crime scenes are connected to the victims. Victor Reid is the father of Jordan Reid." Tony heard Ambrose's sharp intake of breath. Though it took place over three jurisdictions away, every cop in the Midlands knew the name of Jordan Reid, the three year old toddler who had been abducted and murdered over ten years ago. A community came together to find his killer, and when it was discovered it was two boys no older than ten, justice and ostracization were quick.
"They got out of detention last year," Ambrose remembered.
"Ten years after the murder," Tony added. "How old would they be now?"
The question was asked even though they both knew the answer. "Eighteen and twenty," Alvin replied.
"And rumoured to have been re-located to this area, albeit under different identities." Because of the nature of their crime, coupled with their ages, it was decided that Michael Samuels and Timothy Fitzpatrick would be given new names and new lives, in order to protect them from vigilantes.
"Those identities were meant to be kept secret," Ambrose said.
"And they probably are," Tony assured him. "After all, if Victor Reid really knew their new identities, he wouldn't have had to kill three, would he?"
Alvin let this bit of logic sink in. "So he had access to the files of these victims, but didn't realize they weren't the ones he was looking for?"
Again, Tony shrugged. "He saw the birthdays, saw that they had just moved to Worcester in the last year. To Victor Reid, maybe that's all he needed to know."
Alvin snorted. "Maybe he'd want to know more about the people he chose to kill."
"The way Michael Samuels and Timothy Fitzpatrick did?" Tony asked. One of the largest uproars over the death of Jordan Reid was the fact that he was snatched away under the watch of his mother, simply because the boys wanted to see if they could do it. Perhaps they got to know the toddler as they took him to the local sweet shop for a candy, during their visit to the newspaper shop where they bought a Coke, or the children's park that ended up being the last place Jordan saw before being brutally murdered along the train tracks behind the park. They may have gotten to know Jordan Reid, but based on their lack of remorse at the trial, even if they did, it engendered no sense of empathy towards the three year old. "There was a disconnect between the killers and Jordan Reid," Tony continued. "Why would it be surprising to find out his avenging father felt the same towards his son's killers?"
"But we don't even know if these victims were Samuels or Fitzpatrick," Ambrose protested.
"Would it really matter to Victor Reid?" he asked rhetorically.
A silence rolled down the line until Ambrose finally said, "We've been parked three houses down for the last five minutes and my boss is giving me a look. How do we approach this, Tony?"
"You knock on the door."
"Yes, but what are we looking for? We need something more than theories to bring him in for questioning."
Shaking his head, Tony replied, "He'll tell you himself, Alvin." He knew the big man wouldn't believe him, so he explained, "While a large part of him feels vindicated at what he's done, there's also a part of him that is full of shame. He's killed three people, when the intent was to kill two. He knows he's made a horrible mistake; but now that he's started on this path of vengeance, he just doesn't know how to stop."
"So we tell him we're there to help him not kill more people?"
Tony could hear the sarcasm in Alvin's voice, but he pressed on. "In fact, yes."
Alvin sighed. "Okay, Tony, I've got to go. Apparently there's a man we think killed three people who is going to confess his crimes to us even though we haven't shred of evidence to threaten him with."
Tony chose to ignore the hyperbole. "Let me know how it goes." He hung up before Ambrose could get in another barb.
The clanging bell woke him from an odd dream involving janitors and sweets. With a yawn and a quick rub of his face, Tony stood up and winced in discomfort. Not for the first time did he promise himself to stop falling asleep in that unforgiving chair. The bell sounded again and he muttered, "Yes, yes," before taking a gander at the grainy security monitor. He took a long deep breath through his nose and screwed up enough courage to yell, "It's open!" up the short flight of stairs to the door.
He walked over to the small kitchen and made a pretense of putting on the kettle. Anything to keep his hands busy and his mind on something other than the sound of Carol's soft footsteps on the stairs. Eight steps, then silence. He was fussing with the water and the tea bags, as if his mind and heart weren't racing a mile a minute. His hands betrayed him and he dropped the mug onto the floor.
"Shit!" he cursed. Bending over to pick up the larger pieces, he didn't fail to notice she hadn't stepped forward to help. He carefully put the pieces in the palm of his hand and stood up. She still hadn't moved. As he turned his back to deposit the broken ceramic into the garbage, she finally spoke.
"How did you know?" she asked, echoing Alvin's earlier question.
He reached up to grab another mug. Without turning around, he answered with his own question. "Did he confess?"
"Yep," she replied, though there was little joy in the answer. "Ambrose presented our theory as if it were fact and Victor Reid did the rest. Just like you said he would."
Tony put down the mug a bit harder than he would have liked. He attempted to cover his slip by pretending to look for a spoon, but was tripped up by his own ruse when he couldn't remember where he had put the damn things. Giving up the pretense, he turned and gripped the edge of the counter for support. Daring to look at her, he said, "I can't work miracles, Carol." It was no accident that these were the exact words he said to her the last time she had been on his boat.
She knew it too, because she replied with some sadness, "I always thought you could. I suppose that was my mistake."
He shook his head. "No, I can take some of the blame." He gave up the idea of trying to make tea and pushed the mug aside. How many times did he practice this conversation in his head in the last six months? Hours of role-playing where he would say what he had to say and he would imagine her replies. He realized only now that half of him hoped it would never happen. He certainly didn't think it would be this soon.
With a long, deep breath, he plowed ahead. "Do you remember when we first met, Carol?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago; a different life. Fifteen years will do that, no doubt." He sat down and examined his hands, as if hoping to find the right words to say. Despite the months of practice, they seemed to elude him now. "In those early days, I'll admit there was a certain amount of professional vanity involved; I wanted to give worth and legitimacy to my field beyond academia and therapy sessions. And then it became a personal vanity. I wanted to impress you, because it gave me worth and legitimacy. I wanted to please you with my mind in a way I never could with my body." He felt the hot flush warm his face, but he also felt a growing sense of relief to finally say so many things that were long held inside.
"I wanted to be your white knight or whatever vanity you want to call it. I wanted to be your saviour in the same way you were mine." He dared not glance up. "So yes, I'll shoulder as much of the blame for that as you want to put on me. In fact, I will gladly take the blame for a lot of things; God knows I have enough shortcomings. My impotence, my failure at relationships, the lack of advancement in my field. Whatever this has been for the better part of a decade," he looked up and waved a hand between them. "But the blame for Mickey Vance's barn, my house, Chris Devine-" he stopped for a moment, thinking about the horrific acid trap that caused the woman permanent facial damage and blindness. "Michael and Lucy? That's not on me, Carol. None of it is. Jacko Vance plotted the details and he carried them out. Him, not me.
"Could I have done more? I don't know. I've bandied about a thousand scenarios since that night you left me in the driveway. I know I wish I had done more. But it doesn't change the fact that the blame falls at the feet of Jacko Vance. It took me a long time to come to that realization and to let go of that guilt. Six months on a boat on your own gives you time to come to a lot of realizations. It won't surprise you to know I pushed some back in their dark closets. Forty years trumps a hundred and eighty days." He allowed himself a small smile. "But I brought a few things out and sent them on their way. One of them is Jacko Vance. I have forgiven myself for what happened to Michael and Lucy, even if you never will."
The silence stretched for such a length that Tony decided to try the tea again. He put the kettle on and put out the milk and sugar. The fact that she hadn't left after his self-absolution gave him enough confidence that he dropped a tea bag into a second mug and placed it beside his own. The whistle blew and he poured the steaming water into both cups. At long last finding the spoons, he sat down and watched as she did the same. The tea steeped as the silence lingered. He didn't mind. Though he hadn't intended on admitting so much in such a short time, he wasn't in a hurry to expediate her departure. She had hurt him deeply, that night in the driveway. But he still found a sort of comfort just being in her presence, a comfort in fixing her tea the way he knew she liked, the way she took it from him as if nothing bad had ever happened between them. He was almost willing to allow himself the fantasy when she spoke.
"What else did you send on their way?" she asked. Seeing the questioning tilt of his head, she added, "From your closet."
"Ah," he replied. "Well, I've come to terms with the fact that Freud was a hack." Now it was her turn to tilt her head. "Oedipus Complex my arse. Unless he had another term for wanting to kill one's mother besides the very dull 'matricide'..."
"Oh," she said with some measure of surprise in her voice.
"Perhaps I shouldn't be admitting that in front of a police woman."
"I've met your mother, Tony." The sourness in her voice gave little doubt to her own thoughts about the woman.
In for a penny, he thought to himself. "I've also dealt with the fact I should have told you I loved you well before I did."
He held up a hand. "Part of our problem has been our avoidance of the tough subjects, and nothing has been tougher for us than this, has it? So let me finally say something." He looked off to the side for a moment and gave a small one-note laugh. "Twenty years in psychology and I'm not sure I can even define 'this'. Validation? Avoidance? Co-Dependant? When I finally dropped the 'L' bomb on you, in the manner that I did, should I have been surprised at how vehemently you rebuffed me?" He still remembered the mocking edge in her reply. "Something else I willingly take the blame for. Well, my timing, not your venom."
"Martyrdom doesn't suit you, Tony." That same edge found its way into her voice.
"Is that what you think this is, Carol? A chance for me to climb the cross, play the 'woe is me' card? Do you think I've been spending the last six months wallowing? Is that what you've been doing?"
She stood up so abruptly that the chair nearly toppled over. "I've been mourning the brutal murder of my only sibling and his girlfriend. You lost a house. You can't possibly know how I've been spending the last six months." As she turned her back to leave, his response stopped her in her tracks.
"I lost you."
She replied but didn't turn around. "It's not the same thing."
"No," he admitted, "it's not. In a way, it's worse." She spun around, speechless. Her expression didn't deter him. "You'll always be able to remember them as they were; young, hopeful, in love. So much to live for, so many dreams and plans. Untapped potential. That's often the real tragedy of a young death. A picture of youth and perfection, never to age or tarnish. But I will always be able to look at you and will have to live with what could have been. And what might never be."
"How you can compare my brother's life to our relationship is beyond me," she spat.
"Because it IS my life!" The small space only magnified his volume and it startled both of them.
As the moment slowly settled between them, Carol said, "I didn't come here to talk about this."
Tony shrugged and his whole body seemed to fold in on itself. His shoulders rolled forward and his head dipped. "Then go." His voice mirrored his emotional collapse, and yet there was a very definitive line drawn with those two words.
She answered with the same one-note laugh, except hers was laced with defiance. "Is that some kind of ultimatum?" When his only response was to cover his face in exhaustion, she folded her arms and stated flatly, "I don't know what you want from me, Tony."
He dropped his hands to the table. Eyes rimmed red, he answered simply, "You, Carol. All I ever wanted from you is you."
The break in his voice was almost her undoing, but she steeled herself. "After all this, you think we can just go back to the way things were?"
"No," he answered, "but perhaps that's for the best. The way things were got us to where we are now."
She was suspicious of his logic, regardless of how much it made sense. "So what's the plan? We pretend like nothing ever happened and start new? Just like that?" It was a facetious question- she knew just as well as he did that it wouldn't be that easy.
"No, of course we can't forget it," he replied. "But we can make room for it and move forward instead of always looking backward."
"You are a psychologist, aren't you?" Her laugh was a mirthless one. "Is that what you're doing, Tony? Moving forward?"
There was a hint of accusation there, but he was too far gone to be anything other than honest now. "Yes, Carol, I am. Or at least, I'm trying." Where her question looked to lay blame, his offered an understanding of the difficulty in the path he was taking.
She dropped into her vacant chair, rested her forehead in her hand and didn't speak for a long time. He watched her, unguarded and open. He couldn't see her eyes, but could count the frown lines around her mouth and wondered how many were caused by the job and how many were personal. He wondered if she made a distinction between the two. The death of Don Merrick. Paula's kidnapping. Her own horror in Berlin. Michael & Lucy. It seemed enough for two lives and maybe it was too much to ask of one person.
Her hands fell to the table top and she focused on the intricate designs on the tips of her fingers. "I don't know, Tony," she said at last. "I worry it's a battle I don't have the strength for anymore."
"I can help you, but I can't make those choices for you."
She lifted her eyes and shook her head in disbelief. "You'd help me. After everything."
"That's never going to go away, Carol. The only question has ever been, do you want me to help you?"
Her chin began to tremble and she covered her mouth with her hand. The small room went quiet except for her soft sobs. Unsure if she welcomed his attention, Tony sat stock still, having rarely seen this side of Carol even at her lowest. Quiet sobs became audible heaves of despair as she lowered her head into the cradle of her arms, yet Tony remained silent. While he wanted nothing more than to reach for her, he knew there was something cathartic in letting herself open the dam of emotions. She seemed to realize this too, because there was no stopping once she started. Or maybe she simply didn't have the energy to fight it.
As the spaces between the sobs grew farther and farther apart, he carefully stretched back in his chair and grabbed a tea towel. Tentatively, he pushed it across the table towards her until it brushed against her forearm. With a slow raise of her head, she reached for his offering and brought it to her face.
"I'm sorry I don't have more to give you," he said, apologizing for his poor tissue substitute.
She couldn't help but give a short laugh at his choice of words. "That might just be the most inaccurate thing you've ever said to me, Tony."
He cocked his head, unable to decipher her meaning. The wheels clicked into place as he replayed his words. "Ah," he replied. "I meant about the towel."
"I knew what you meant." She wiped her eyes and sniffed. Her hand stifled a yawn. "I'm so tired."
Whether that was a comment about the moment or her well-being in general, he couldn't say. What he did say was, "The cabin's free. Why don't you use it?"
She bought some time by carefully folding the towel. He had made the offer, but left the decision up to her. She realized he had decided to do this with their relationship as well. He had come to terms with it in his own way and left the rest to her. In the past, she would have been more than willing to take the lead, but his words and accusations suddenly gave her pause. It wasn't the same old Tony who would forever return to her side. It was something she had never considered. "I don't know what to do, Tony."
He stood up and extended his hand. "There's always tomorrow, Carol."
Amid the fear and the uncertainty of what that could mean, she found one last shred of strength and reached for his hand.