Jacobson was distracted by his own extramural thoughts while Emma Smith drove him over to the crime scene. Alison would be back in Crowby tonight. And back with news, he knew. Definite news of the kind that might force him, at last, to make a definite, long-postponed decision about his future. Exactly the kind of decision that he’d always been seriously bad at making. DS Smith pulled up behind one of the SOCO vans when they got there. Jacobson clambered out of the passenger seat, put himself back – maybe with some sense of relief – into the here and now.
The Mill Street area. Rundown terraces. Dangerous disused warehouses. Ancient, falling-down factory lots. Alkies. Druggies. Whores. The address wasn’t in the worse part actually. The rung right at the bottom of the ladder maybe – but still an inch or two above the full-on shit pile which persisted underneath. They suited up and went inside, found Jim Webster, the crime scene manager, in conversation in the narrow hallway with the pathologist, Robinson.
Jacobson squeezed past them, would speak to them second. He indicated to DS Smith to follow him, to stick with him. His first priority – always – was to see the body. To kneel close and to remind himself who he was working for – and to what purpose. In life she’d been a brunette, he noticed, and pretty enough. There was a tiny tattoo just to the left of her belly button – Ganesh, the elephant god, illustrated in three colours. She’d been disturbed while she was sleeping, that was the theory so far, had maybe managed to get half way out of her bed before he’d struck. That was another assumption – a he – or at least someone possessed of more strength than she’d been able to muster. He’d left her lying on the floor, naked to the world and her head lolling at an inhuman, unnatural angle. Like a broken, plastic doll, Jacobson thought. Except that she hadn’t been plastic. She’d been real and alive. He looked even closer before he stood back up, tracing with his eyes the deep, tell-tale line the ligature had etched into the flesh around her neck. He already knew, from the control room message, that she’d probably been strangled – and he’d seen victims of strangulation before – but he couldn’t recall ever seeing a line as neat as this one. It was thick, uniform. As if the killer had had complete, steady control over what he was doing. As if he’d gone about his business unpanicked and self-assured.
The gaff was the ground-floor of a mid-terrace that had been jerry-carved into flats (there were two more above). It had a grand total of two and a half or three rooms – depending on how generous an interpretation you wanted to put on the available space. The lounge that doubled as the bedroom. The tiny bathroom. The cramped, nearly-as-tiny kitchen. You reached all three of them from the dark, thin hall. Robinson was still standing there, still waiting for him. Webster, predictably, had moved on. Jacobson could hear his voice emanating from the kitchen, supervising the SOCO effort or getting in the way (another question of interpretation).
‘There’s a fair bit of other bruising besides,’ Jacobson commented.
‘She’s put up a good fight at first,’ Robinson replied, ‘but as soon as he’s got it around her neck … ’
‘Anything else I should know about?’
Robinson brushed passed him and re-entered the room – the lounge/bedroom – where the body was. Jacobson had only looked, had taken pains not to touch, but a pathologist had greater professional largesse. Robinson bent down and beckoned Jacobson and Smith closer. Then slowly and carefully he lifted up each of her arms in turn. Jacobson studied the burn marks on the underside of the wrists and the forearms, knew what they were straightaway. Something else he’d seen before in other cases. But maybe not so many all at once.
‘Cigarette burns?’ he asked.
‘Bad ones at that. Sustained.’
Robinson eased his tall frame back on to its feet.
‘All the signs are that we’re looking at a package of related events, Frank. Struggling, strangulation – and in between a spot of protracted cigarette torture.’
‘Anything sexual?’ Emma Smith asked.
‘It doesn’t appear so,’ Robinson said. ‘But the PM might end up saying otherwise of course.’
It was Jacobson’s turn to nod. At least Robinson himself had shown up, he was thinking, and not some unknown and potentially incompetent substitute. Jim Webster re-appeared from the kitchen and suggested a workable time-scale: another couple of hours to complete the initial forensic clear of the premises – dusting, filming, testing, measuring – and then CID could make their detailed physical search and look-see.
‘And no sign of a break-in, Jim?’ Jacobson asked him, getting to his feet noticeably slower than Robinson, young and fit, had done.
‘Absolutely none,’ Webster replied. ‘Everything’s intact. Front door. Back door. Locks. Windows. She’s let him in earlier maybe – or he was already here.’
Jacobson hung around until the rest of his core team checked in. Ray Williams. Mick Hume. Jason Phillips, the new boy. There was plenty for them to do while they waited for their crack at the murder scene. The two flats upstairs. The terraces immediately on either side and then the rest of the miserable-looking little street. She’d put up a struggle, Robinson had said. That meant noise, disturbance, potential witnesses who’d heard or seen something worth knowing about. When he’d set it all up, he got Emma Smith to drive him back to the Divisional building. The boyfriend would still be there, he thought, kicking his heels in the custody suite – or talking tactics to the duty solicitor.
He called ‘Clean Harry’ Fields, the drug squad supremo, en route – but couldn’t raise him on any of his numbers. He left a get-back-to-me message on Fields’ mobile and on his main office line and then he settled back for the ride and thought about the known facts, bare as they were at this stage. The murderee, to judge by her passport and driving licence, was Catherine Anne Bowman, age 29. She had a BA in Eng Lit from Birmingham University according to the scroll which Webster’s team had found in a drawer in her lounge. A fact which Jacobson had to admit had surprised him. If she had a legitimate job or occupation they didn’t know about it yet. That was a fact that didn’t surprise him – especially given the obvious evidence of an alternative income source which the SOCOs had found not just in that particular drawer but scattered throughout the premises. No criminal record though – so successful at what she did, at least in a limited way. Not your average moronic dealer at any rate.
A savage March wind blew across the police car park when they reached it. Jacobson had to button up his jacket to stop it flapping wide and Emma Smith’s long dark hair was less than elegant by the time they made it inside. Unasked, DS Smith called the lift and then pressed the buttons for the fifth and seventh floors when it arrived.
‘The Colombian blend or a shot of Red Eye?’ she asked him just before he got out at the fifth.
‘Better make it the Red Eye, lass – and one of those health-risk sausage rolls if they’ve got any left.’
Jacobson unlocked his office and checked his computer and voicemail for anything more pressing than the issue of Catherine Bowman RIP, didn’t find anything that fell into that unlikely category.
Smith had made it back from the canteen by the time he’d finished. He ate the greasy sausage roll while his coffee cooled a little and while she used his internet connection to check for anything public about the deceased. A page on Facebook. A letter to the Argus. A comment on some message board or other. Result so far: zero. Bowman, it seemed (commendably, in Jacobson’s view) had kept her life resolutely offline – or had at least had the common-sense to use an alias. He watched Smith typing and clicking away. She’d tied her hair back, he noticed, had already prepared for the next weather onslaught.
He drank his coffee over by the window but resting his back against the sill, keeping his gaze in the room. She scored over Kerr as his Number Two in at least two ways, he thought flippantly (and not for the first time). She was a lot better to look at obviously. Secondly, and more pertinently, she was a true coffee-head and had never yet messed up their order. Kerr on the other hand had drunk tea (even foul Earl Grey) and affected not to see any difference between Nescafé and something freshly ground and properly brewed.
Smith mentioned a drug squad DC she knew who she thought was probably straight-up, trustworthy. He’d also been working the Mill Street area recently, maybe still was. Either way, she reckoned, he probably had a bigger clue to what was going on there than ever reached the ears of Clean Harry.
‘He could be well worth talking to then, Emma,’ Jacobson commented, ‘once we’ve dealt with the boyfriend.’
Dead on nine AM, by the chimes of the nearby Town Hall clock, the custody sergeant phoned through with the call they’d been waiting for. The lad had conferred with his solicitor, he told Jacobson, and was ready to be interviewed. They finished their drinks, binned them, and quit the room.
At least they’d had fifteen minutes more or less to themselves, Jacobson thought, time to draw a little breath. The control room message had kick-started him out of a pleasant, slumbering dream on the wrong side of seven AM – and so he’d missed his breakfast, missed shaving, missed picking out a smarter, cleaner shirt than the one he’d been wearing yesterday. DS Smith had been similarly inconvenienced. But murder cases were like that more often than not, didn’t care less about your little daily routines. The body had been called-in around six thirty but Robinson’s provisional estimate put the attack several hours earlier than that – call it two o’ clock or three o’clock, Frank – so already, he knew, they were a good six or seven hours behind the killer. He followed Emma Smith out along the corridor and back towards the lift. It wasn’t the best margin to work with. But he’d worked successfully with worse, he reminded himself. A lot worse.
The duty solicitor was some recently-appointed junior from Alan Slingsby’s ever-expanding legal empire who Jacobson didn’t know. A bland face, a bland suit and giving nothing away. The textbook Slingsby clone. Jacobson had opted for one of the voice-record-only rooms, wanted to keep the session low-key if he could. Video, the alternative, had an unfortunate tendency to encourage interviewees to act up. The Jeremy Kyle syndrome, DS Kerr had used to call it. The boyfriend sat next to the solicitor, hunched. To his credit, he looked cut to pieces, distraught.
In police terms, the lad was a slightly better-known quantity than his dead partner. Name of Warren Drood. Twenty-one on his last birthday. A background in care and foster homes. A few minor teenage offences. Joyriding. Breaches of the peace. Public boozing in a designated area. He had dark eyes and smooth skin, was maybe, Jacobson realised, serious (and youthful) eye-candy from Catherine Bowman’s point of view. Even though it was March and he’d been brought in near enough in the middle of the night, he was only wearing a sleeveless blue T-shirt above his white jeans. He had a nervous habit of flicking his forefinger and thumb against his municipal gym biceps. Jacobson switched on the tape, told him who he was, who Emma Smith was.
‘No comment, right. I’ve never seen any of that kit before.’
Jacobson adjusted his bulk into his chair, decided not to point out Drood’s logical fallacy: a denial was a comment of sorts. He didn’t give a stuff about the drugs – Christ-knows-what kind of low quality recruit was finding its dull, plodding way into duty CID again. The callous type of idiot, apparently, who’d bust a young man at a murder scene instead of getting down fresh and verbatim exactly and precisely what he knew about the more serious crime.
‘I want you out of here just as soon as I can sort it out, Warren. You’ll have things to do, to arrange, about Catherine-’
‘Katy. She’s called Katy,’ Drood interrupted him, his hostility-quotient maybe dropping from ten down to nine and a half.
Katy. Yes, that makes sense, Jacobson thought.
‘Katy, of course. You’re working nights at the sandwich factory, is it? Over on Copthorne Road?’
‘I’ve already told all this to-’
Back up to ten. And another bicep flick.
‘Yes but you need to tell me – not the clown who pulled you in here in the middle of the night.’
The Slingsby clone smiled at that.
‘Inspector Jacobson isn’t drugs, Warren. I’ll let you know if he asks you something he shouldn’t.’
Drood studied the uneventful surface of the table in front of him.
‘Yeah, OK. I’m at the sandwich factory. Trying to get some readies. One of the Poles upstairs put in a word for me.’
Jacobson ran through the sequence in detail, extracted Drood’s personal confirmation for each step. The night shift ended at five thirty and then a mini-bus delivered anybody lacking transport of their own to a series of dropping-off points across town. The nearest one for Drood was on Mill Street itself – from where it was a five minute walk or thereabouts back to Katy Bowman’s flat. Drood’s story was straightforward. He’d let himself in, found her dead, dialled 999. Somebody else on the duty shift – not the idiot of course – had already checked and verified the basics. But who had discovered a body – and how and when – was always fundamental. In the course of the day, Jacobson would want the story double checked, even triple checked.
Immediately, though, he was ready to move on.
‘You’ve known Katy for a while then?’
‘Since last summer.’
‘And you’ve been staying at her place since when?’
Warren Drood was down to maybe six now on the all-coppers-are-bastards scale but he was still monosyllabic when he could get away with it.
‘Since then. August. When we came back from Creamfields.’
Jacobson thought he saw the beginnings of tears in his eyes before – quickly – he lowered his head again. Hunkering down – and squeezing his biceps now, probing his own strength for its comfort value. He was a kid really – and somebody hadn’t just killed his girl, they’d killed his big, clever sister too, maybe even the mother he’d never known. Life was shit: but Jacobson still had to take him where he needed to go.
‘I read about the sandwich factory the other week, didn’t I? Some fiddle they’ve got going about how they calculate hours? Keeps them from paying the minimum wage.’
Warren Drood carried on staring at the table, carried on hugging his arms.
‘So I’m wondering, Warren, why you’re out there working nights for peanuts when you could be at home with Katy. She’s got some quality product around the place, I’m being told. A nice, steady living – more than enough for two.’
He looked up again at that one.
‘I don’t know what you mean about Katy. But I’m not some hanger-on. I like to pay my way.’
Paying his way shovelling coleslaw onto cheddar. The idea was so pathetic that Jacobson believed it instantly, totally. He stood up, switched the tape off, sat back down.
‘This denial thing’s getting in the way, Warren,’ he said. ‘So now we’re completely off the record. You’ve got to tell me about Katy. Who she knows, how she lived. I can’t catch the sod who’s done this otherwise.’
Drood looked to his solicitor. His solicitor looked to Jacobson.
‘Anything said right now will not implicate Warren in any misuse of drugs offences. That good enough for you?’
‘I’d still advise you not to make any personal admissions, Warren,’ the solicitor commented.
Jacobson half-smiled, professionally amused that Slingsby’s new recruit was well up to his boss’s exacting standards.
After he’d asked if he could have a cup of tea (DS Smith belled the custody sergeant, passed on the request), Drood painted the basic picture for them. Cannabis and clubbers’ drugs mainly. Nothing ‘madder’ (meaning heroin and opiates or crack). And a regular ‘quiet’ clientele (meaning cash upfront and no unpredictable headbangers). Katy had done a postgrad course at Crowby uni for a while, he told them – had built up some good, no hassle custom that way. These days, she had students sub-contracting for her, working the student union bars and keeping demand constant.
Drood’s tea arrived. Plus a plastic spoon and a sachet of white sugar.
‘So the uni’s her beat – nothing local?’ Jacobson asked, wanting to keep the momentum going.
‘That’s it. Katy’s got brains. She can talk the language over there. Besides it’s all gear and loser shit like that round our way. Katy’s not into any of that – she’s got better plans.’
Jacobson didn’t correct Drood’s run of the wrong tense, understood it as another – bigger – kind of denial.
‘She still gets callers at the flat though?’
‘A few now and then. They drive over and she sorts them out. But mainly the students sell on for her. Her little helpers, she calls them.’
The cut-to-bits look again – and then he corrected the tense himself, his voice trailing away to nothing:
‘She called them anyway ...’
‘Your tea’ll get cold, Warren,’ Jacobson urged him.
Drood stirred in the sugar, took a robotic sip or two.
Jacobson gave it a minute. Then:
‘You said Katy had plans?’
‘Going out to Goa. Permanent, like. She had good contacts out there, been over loads of times. She was going to open a guest-house in Anjuna, maybe put on yoga courses and shit. Another year of saving up, that’s all it was going to take.’
‘And you were going to go as well, Warren?’ Emma Smith asked.
‘Course. She took me out there at Christmas. Looking at places and everything.’
The memory of it was bright, distracting, in his eyes. Jacobson knew it was the right moment to give him a good shake – and see if anything bad fell out.
‘Any idea who killed Katy – or why?’
Nothing did. Just more blank distress falling across his face.
‘Must have been a nutcase. There’s nobody at all with any reason.’
‘She was straight with her own suppliers, then, hadn’t pissed anybody off?’
Jacobson would have preferred to live in a world where nobody ever got killed over the small, petty levels of trade Katy Bowman looked to have been involved with. But he knew full well that he didn’t.
Drood remembered where he was again, looked to the solicitor for guidance.
‘You can answer the question, Warren – so long as we’re still off the record?’
Jacobson nodded in the affirmative.
‘She was straight with everybody,’ Drood insisted, after a long second. ‘She said it brought good karma that way.’
‘There was no sign of a break-in, Warren,’ DS Smith commented.
‘So if was a nutter it was probably a nutter that she knew,’ Jacobson added, developing the theme and relishing the non-pc description he mightn’t have risked on an interview tape.
Drood picked up his tea again, swallowed it down in a few, nervy gulps.
‘Not if he found the spare key somehow,’ he said when he’d finished it off entirely. ‘Katy kept a spare key out back. Case she ever got locked out accidentally.’
Smith asked him for the exact location and he told her: behind a loose brick in the out-house wall – near where they kept the wheelie bin.
‘Any names for us, lad?’ Jacobson asked, chancing his arm. ‘Katy’s student contacts? Or just her mates? Anyone we can go to for more info?’
Drood gave them more first names than second names and too many of them were just nicknames tagged on to vague whereabouts and contexts. But not all of them would be made-up on the spot, Jacobson knew. Drood wasn’t a quick-enough thinker for that, he was sure. Not even at the best of times – which this certainly wasn’t.
Purely for form’s sake, he asked him who her supplier was.
Drood shook his head.
Instant, unequivocal – exactly what Jacobson expected, even with the ‘off the record’ guarantee still in place.
Time to wrap this up, he thought.
‘You’ve got somewhere you can stay meantime, Warren? It might be a day, even a couple of days, before you can move back into the flat.’
Drood looked surprised. DS Smith explained about the Scene of Crime operation, how real-life forensics took time –
it’s not quick like it is on the tele, Warren.
He came up with a name and an address out on the Woodlands estate. His best mate’s place, he told them.
‘OK,’ Jacobson said. ‘If there’s any news about Katy, I’ll make sure you get to hear about it.’
The Slingsby clone asked about the pending possession charge.
‘That stays under review – under my review – until the inquiry’s closed. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.’
They left Drood staring into his empty plastic tea cup and seeing who-knew-what inside it. Katy Bowman’s dead, despoiled body maybe – or a more general, more abstract vision of his own life: suddenly, unfairly, curtailed and
© Iain McDowall, 2014. All rights reserved.