Bob Menzies took a long draw on his cigarette, inhaled deeply, then wheezed like a wounded horse. The coughing bouts were getting progressively worse and as a man who had spent a lifetime reliant on common sense and logic he was better placed than most to recognize the activity would eventually kill him. His life's work had also taught him the value of reflection as a means of determining the next step or as he would put it himself, 'weighing the odds'. That attribute was not in evidence when it came to the subject of cigarette smoking.
His mood was sombre but detached, disgusted yet objective. It was necessarily so. As the superintendent and senior investigating officer at the scene of the gruesome killing of a young girl his burning desire to hunt down the creature responsible and beat the living shit out of him had to be suppressed. Such instincts must remain with the lower ranks, the home of the 'canteen culture'. This was to be a murder investigation and he had to be above that. He certainly looked the part. Although no more than average height, he was broad shouldered and barrel chested, the type of copper you would wish for when a show of strength was needed. His hair was greying and receding and his waistline had expanded a little in recent years, but at fifty five, he still cut an impressive figure, though on this occasion his size nine ‘wellies' did not go well with the smart suit and coat.
The crime scene was a grassed area adjoining an unmade footpath, little more than a narrow track, which served as a short cut from the busy Pittstown Rd., to the sprawling Fairfield Estate. High intensity lighting, aided by a number of noisy portable generators, had been set up and the sprawling grassed area now had sufficient illumination to stage a late night football match. It was fine but there was a heavy dew and it was cold and damp. A small cluster of elderberry bushes caught Menzies eye as a likely spot for concealment.
He looked down at the pathetic, mutilated body of the victim, a girl no more than sixteen. Even a seasoned senior detective like Menzies was not immune to the intrusion of personal feelings in such trying circumstances and he muttered out loud, “My god, what a waste!”
“Sorry boss?” said Harry Grice, his trusted aide de camp and deputy, not realizing his colleague was just thinking out loud.
Detective Inspector Grice had attended many such scenes with Menzies, where gut instinct and attention to minute detail were the tools of their trade.
Just two hours earlier Menzies had been sat at home watching a video of an old war film, he was not comfortable with the technology of DVD players, but was ok with a video recorder. The phone had rung at twelve-thirty am on a cold and damp November night, and Grice had been brevity itself.
“Sorry to mither you boss, body of a young girl on the Fairfield estate, head smashed in, looks like a sex killing.”
After twenty seven years in the force, mostly as a detective, Menzies still dreaded such calls.
“Who found her, Harry?” enquired Menzies, matter of factly. He was back in routine at the scene now, his brief interlude of imaginings over.
“Local man walking his dog, he had the nouse not to touch anything or get too near.”
“Any personal effects?”
No, purse if she has one has been taken, I've asked HQ to turn out the Home Office pathologist, uniform bobbies wouldn't take the responsibility. Sergeant who was second on scene got bollocked up hill and down dale by an SIO at a suspicious death recently and didn't want another.”
Menzies was sympathetic to the uniform sergeant's plight. These days everything was put under the microscope as part of the review process, right down to the timings of attendees at the murder scene. There were actions to be taken by the Scenes of Crimes team once death was confirmed and if the pathologist was kept hanging around clicking his heels unnecessarily costs would be incurred and discovered when his bill was presented. Not only that but Home Office pathologists did not take kindly to having to wait before displaying their skills, especially in the small hours of a weary November night.
Menzies ruminated over these details as he stalked around the scene. He found it difficult to come to terms with the management of serious crime these days and felt as though the Force Financial Controller was perched on his shoulder waiting to pounce with a cost analysis of every decision right down to the number of paper clips used. A young girl's life had been brutally snuffed out but the auditors would soon be swooping like vultures and as top man at the scene he was the prey. It irked him as he glanced at his watch and muttered, “Bleeding ten to three and we're nowhere yet, the bastard's got the usual head start.”
The pathologist, Dr. Jeffrey Rudkin, arrived some twenty minutes later.
They shook hands and briefly exchanged greetings, both recognizing the need to get the business done. This was no time for small talk. Menzies liked and respected Rudkin and the feelings were reciprocated although unstated. Each man was comfortable in his role and their attitude and behaviour toward each other was in keeping with the situation.
After allowing Rudkin time to painstakingly examine the body and scene Menzies approached him and immediately cut to the chase.
“Time and cause Doc?”
Rudkin was used to Menzies' style and his response was swift.
“The second part is the easy bit, Bob, a regular heavy instrument, possibly a hammer, yes I think a hammer. Severe trauma injuries to the back of the skull, three to four heavy blows I would say, probably died very quickly. No rigor as yet, I would suggest the killing was two to four hours ago, perhaps between ten pm and midnight. There has been some sexual activity and her lower underwear has been removed, I'm not sure whether full intercourse has taken place. Wore black leather shoes, the left one still on her foot, the other found a few feet away, doubtless came off during the attack. PM will be done after nine tomorrow, er this morning, I will know more then. Not much else I can say for now, anything else Bob?”
“No, thanks Doc, thanks for that, we'll get things moving here, see you at nine.”
Getting things moving meant work for the forensics team, in the shape of a detailed examination of the crime scene. There would be little more for him here. The photographs were done, the body was to be moved to the mortuary and the ground work of the specialists would continue in earnest in the morning.
Menzies took a last lengthy draw on his cigarette, hesitated momentarily and then drew a stubbing box from his pocket for the butt, thus avoiding an embarrassing contamination of the crime scene. He recalled a lecture during his basic training from a crusty old D.S. who had made everyone commit to paper the words “every contact leaves a trace”. He had lost count of the crime scenes he had attended but those utterances from so long ago and their importance were burned into his memory.
“Where's it to be, Harry?” he shouted to his friend and colleague.
Grice knew that the comment was a statement rather than a question but was compliant. Both men were, despite the lateness of the hour, wide awake and focused on the job in hand. They needed to reflect on the events, bounce ideas of each other and consider the trials that the morning would bring. The dawn would be quickly followed by what was known in the trade as the nine o'clock shudders, an expression used universally in the lower ranks to cover any situation when a briefing was passed up the food chain to a superior officer concerning an incident of some significance. The shudders bit applied because custom dictated the poor sod making the report would be upbraided with interruptions and gesticulations ad nauseam, “you ‘shudder' done this, you ‘shudder' have done that” and so on. In the context of the present investigation, there would at this early stage be a relentless thirst for information from all points of the compass, internal and external and the responsibility for a concise summation of the facts was a matter for Menzies.
The formula was always the same. Menzies would at seven thirty sharp, telephone the Head of the Force's C.I.D., who in turn would brief the duty Assistant Chief Constable. The matter would then be reported to the Chief Constable at the morning conference of Chief Officers. These gatherings gave umpteen ‘armchair' detectives the opportunity to briefly refrain from counting beans and wax lyrical on the next steps drawing on vast experience gained from ‘CSI New York' or ‘Prime Suspect' in the process. Menzies and Grice would weigh matters carefully in the next hour or so, assisted by a couple of decent pints and malt whisky chasers in the company of a friendly licensee.
“How about Mick Sweeney's place? Dressed as we are no one else will have us,” said Grice.
His remarks were somewhat unfair on himself. Despite having been summoned at short notice to a crime scene in the middle of nowhere his appearance was little short of immaculate. Finely cut suit, smart coat, even his leather walking boots oozed style. Aged forty three, six foot one tall, slim build with neatly cropped light brown hair, Grice was very much a man in his prime. Highly skilled and resourceful, his weakness was a touch of vanity which had been known to occasionally cloud his judgment.
“Sweeney's will do, what time are you due back in Burton's window, or did you come straight from the Lord Mayor's Ball?”
Grice was used to such ribbings from his superior and took it in good part.
“You wouldn't have me any other way. I'll see you at the back.”
The back was a secluded strip of spare land at the rear of The Miner's Arms, the chosen venue for the detectives nightcap, a place to collect their thoughts undisturbed and work out their game plan for the morning. After both had alighted discreetly from their motors, Menzies, in time honoured fashion took a coin from his pocket and tapped several times on the back door.
Sweeney did not disappoint. Sporting an oversized dressing gown he opened the door and waved his arms flamboyantly. Menzies was suitably impressed.
“When you've finished directing traffic, you can give us some service.”
Sweeney smiled warmly, displaying several unsightly gaps between his teeth. His pub in contrast to his persona could hardly be described as welcoming and was at best on the shabby side of adequate. The wallpaper and furnishings were a bit ‘tired' as was the landlord himself as he followed them inside.
“Have you blokes no homes to go to?” he grumbled in a soft Dublin brogue.
“Hold your tongue and pour us each a glass of the real McCoy and two pints of bitter,” replied Menzies.
All three men were smiling now, they spoke the same language and the banter was all part of their foreplay. Sweeney's preference to finish dressing by zipping up his fly and buttoning his shirt as he poured the drinks bore testimony to the relaxed nature of the occasion.
“What is it brings you to my door at ten to three in the morning, apart from my wit and cheap booze?” enquired Sweeney as he poured two generous measures of Jameson's.
Grice deferred to his boss for the response. Sweeney was for the most part a good guy, pro-police, very pro-detective and liked to feel he was to some extent part of the ‘police family'. One of his two sons was a uniform constable in a neighbouring force and he reckoned that earned him extra credit with his guests. He could however have a slightly loose tongue when the worse for drink and it was a matter requiring careful judgment how much if anything of the matter in hand should be shared.
“Well, it will please you to know Mick”, said Menzies, “that you, apart from ourselves, the local wooden tops and the Home Office pathologist, and the poor sod who found the body of course, are the first to know that a teenage girl has been savagely murdered on the Fairfield Estate. The body was found some three hours ago. Other than that I can't tell you anything. You comfort yourself with the knowledge that at this moment in time you know more about the incident than the Chief Constable does.”
That will make him feel special thought Menzies as he savoured a mouthful of the good stuff.
“Now Harry and me are going to sit down in comfy chairs away from the bar and chew the fat over this job, all right Mick?”
“That's ok. I'll bring you a couple of refills when the time's right,” was the response.
Sweeney knew well enough that the matter of his continued presence was not up for discussion and he was content that he had been fed more than a morsel or two that he would share with a few of his trusted bar flies the next day.
Menzies was silent for a minute or so, collecting and rearranging his thoughts. There was indeed much to consider.
“How's the time, Harry?” he said at length.
“Going on quarter to four.”
“Fuck me, how it flies when you're enjoying yourself.”
He spoke with much cynicism, an attribute common amongst seasoned detectives.
“Let's see what we've got. Before we know where we are I'll have to ring “Dusty” and he'll want to know if I've counted the hairs on the forensic teams arses and how many police women are more than four days late!”
Dusty just happened to be Det. Chief Supt., Brian Springfield, Head of C.I.D. It would be fair to say that he and Menzies were not kindred spirits and whilst the former had respect for Menzies detective skills if not affection for the man, the feelings were not mutual. Menzies did not rate his boss and the boss knew so. It was a matter of street cred. Menzies was the archetypal time-served detective. He called a spade a shovel as they say in Yorkshire and for him the required qualities of a detective, junior or senior, were honed investigative skills, common sense and loyalty to his colleagues. He had little time for high fliers, opportunists known contemptuously as butterflies, who fluttered from department to department, putting together an admirable C.V. but coming up short on experience at the sharp end and lacking support from the lower ranks.
Menzies had seen many such types go on to reach Chief Officer rank, even become Chief Constables. They would talk a good game, as he put it, look and sound effective on T.V., rub shoulders with the high and mighty, but had little understanding of how to run a murder enquiry or nail a bent copper. Menzies was a professional and would do his job and brief Springfield with the trappings of respect but his contempt would be barely disguised.
After a period of comfortable silence and several gulps of the precious waters Menzies spoke first.
“What do you think Harry, any early inspired thoughts on this one?”
Grice wasn't one for eureka moments.
“Nothing that leaps off the page. Starting with the obvious the man is probably local or knows the area well. Fairfield estate is not a place you would come across by chance and the scene itself with no lighting and little chance of being disturbed is an ideal spot to waylay a victim. It's possible of course that he isn't local but has toured the area looking for a suitable spot to pounce, as Sutcliffe did when he was on the loose.”
Menzies felt a sudden chill at the mention of the name. It was the better part of thirty years ago but that series of awful crimes in the late seventies had cast a long shadow and ruined many hitherto distinguished careers in the process.
Worse than that mistakes made by those in charge ensured the killer remained at large whilst three innocent young girls were murdered, his last three victims. A failure of that investigation had been the inability of the senior command to keep an open mind throughout the enquiry and only eliminate possible suspects after the most detailed scrutiny of their movements. Menzies pondered on this for a while and drained his pint before picking up where Grice left off.
“Christ, the last thing we want is a serial killer on the loose. It would bring down so much shit we'd need to start wearing hats, like detectives did in the old days. We‘ll have a better idea when the body's identified, the girl wasn't dressed like a scrubber and if as I expect her prints draw a blank somebody is going to miss her in the morning.”
Grice tried to lift the gloom.
“Forensics may turn more up when it gets light, hopefully a confession note under the hammer used to see her off from the killer together with his post code and a sat nav to get us there.”
“You're no fucking help at all, for that you can get 'em in next time. Think we'll call it a night, what's left of it. I'll need to get my act together before I ring Dusty with the good news. I'll see Rudkin at the P.M. if you start the ball rolling with the incident room. Don't forget you'll need a code from HQ for the budget. Fairfield nick has a decent room and good parking. I'll give you a shout when I've done with Rudkin and then we'll set up the first briefing and sort out a press statement.”
“I'll bring you some make up,” joked Grice.
“A bit late to try and make me look pretty, see you later, night Mick and thanks for doing the business.”
Menzies stood for a moment in the damp cold air. He lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, restrained an inclination to cough and considered the great responsibilities he bore. Somewhere out there was an empty bed, anytime soon a distraught mum or dad would reach for the phone and step into their worst nightmare. As he watched his friend and colleague's car disappear into the night he was comforted by the thought that he had Harry Grice on board with him for the investigation that would follow. They understood the game, they would share confidences and provide emotional support to each other in times of difficulty. They also shared a terrible secret.