Nine Elms – Robert Bryndza

Detective Constable Kate Marshall was on the train home when her phone rang. It took a moment of searching the folds of her long winter coat before she found it in the inside pocket. She heaved out the huge bricklike handset, pulled up the antenna, and answered. It was her boss, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Conway. “Sir. Hello.” “Finally. She picks up!” he snapped, without preamble. “I’ve been calling you. What’s the bloody point in having one of these new mobile phones if you don’t answer?” “Sorry. I’ve been in court all day for the Travis Jones sentencing. He got three years, which is more than I—” “A dog walker found the body of a young girl dumped in Crystal Palace Park,” he said, cutting her off. “Naked. Bite marks on her body, a plastic bag tied over her head.” “The Nine Elms Cannibal .

” “Operation Hemlock. You know I don’t like that name.” Kate wanted to reply that the name had now stuck and was bedded in for life, but he wasn’t the kind of boss who encouraged banter. The press had coined the epithet two years earlier, when seventeen-year-old Shelley Norris had been found dumped in a wrecker’s yard in the Nine Elms area of South West London, close to the Thames. Technically, the killer only bit his victims, but the press didn’t let that get in the way of a good serial killer moniker. Over the past two years, another two teenage girls had been abducted, each in the early evening, on the way home from school. Their bodies had shown up several days after their disappearances, dumped in parks around London. Nothing sold newspapers more than a cannibal on the loose. “Kate. Where are you?” It was dark outside the train window.

She looked up at the electronic display in the carriage. “On the DLR. Almost home, sir.” “I’ll pick you up outside the station, our usual spot.” He hung up without waiting for a response. Twenty minutes later, Kate was waiting on a small stretch of pavement between the station underpass and the busy south circular where a line of cars ground slowly past. Much of the area around the station was under development, and Kate’s route home to her small flat took her through a long road of empty building sites. It wasn’t somewhere to linger after dark. The passengers she’d left the train with had crossed the road and dispersed into the dark streets. She glanced back over her shoulder at the dank empty underpass bathed in shadows and shifted on her heels; a small bag of groceries she’d bought for dinner sat between her feet.

A spot of water hit her neck, and another, and then it started to rain. She turned up the collar of her coat and hunched down, moving closer to the bright headlights in the line of traffic. Kate had been assigned to Operation Hemlock sixteen months previously, when the Nine Elms Cannibal body count stood at two. It had been a coup to join a high-profile case, particularly because doing so had come with a promotion to the rank of plainclothes detective. In the eight months since the third victim’s body had been found—a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl called Carla Martin—the case had gone cold. Operation Hemlock had been scaled back, and Kate, along with several other junior officers, had been reassigned to the drug squad. Kate squinted through the rain, down the long line of traffic. Bright headlights appeared around a sharp bend in the road, but there were no police sirens in the distance. She checked her watch and stepped back out of the glare. She hadn’t seen Peter for two months.

Shortly before she was reassigned, she had slept with him. He rarely socialized with his team, and during a rare night of after-work drinks, they’d wound up talking, and she’d found his company and his intelligence stimulating. They had stayed late in the pub, after the rest of the team went home, and ended up back at her flat. And then the next night he had invited her over to his place. Kate’s dalliance with her boss, on not one but two occasions, was something that burned inside her with regret. It was a moment of madness. Two moments, before they both came to their senses. She had a strong moral compass. She was a good police officer. I’ll pick you up outside the station, our usual spot.

It bothered her that Peter had said this on the phone. He’d given her a lift to work twice, and both times he had also picked up her colleague, Detective Inspector Cameron Rose, who lived close by. Would he have said our usual spot to Cam? The cold was starting to creep up the back of her long coat, and the rain had seeped in through the holes in the bottoms of the “good shoes” she wore for court. Kate adjusted her collar and huddled down in her coat, turning her attention to the line of traffic. Almost all the drivers were men, white, in their mid-to-late thirties. The perfect serial killer demographic. A grimy white van slid past, the driver’s face distorted by the rainwater on the windshield. The police believed the Nine Elms Cannibal was using a van to abduct his victims. Carpet fibers matching a 1994 Citroën Dispatch white van, of which there were more than a hundred thousand registered in and around London, had been found on two of the victims. Kate wondered if the officers who’d been retained for Operation Hemlock were still working through that list of Citroën Dispatch owners.

And who was this new victim? There had been nothing in the newspapers about a missing person. The lights up ahead turned red, and a small blue Ford stopped in the line of traffic a few feet away. The man inside was a City type: overweight, in his midfifties, and wearing a pinstriped suit and glasses. He saw Kate, raised his eyebrows suggestively, and flashed his headlights. Kate looked away. The blue Ford inched closer, closing the gap in the line of cars until his passenger window was almost level with her. It slid down, and the man leaned over. “Hello. You look cold. I can make you warm .

” He patted the seat beside him, and he stuck out his tongue, which was thin and pointed. Kate froze. Panic rose in her chest. She forgot she had her police ID card and that she was a police officer. It all went out the window, and fear took over. “Come on. Hop inside. Let’s warm you up,” he said. He patted the seat again, impatient. Kate stepped away from the curb.

The underpass behind her was dark and empty. The other vehicles in the line had male drivers, and they seemed oblivious, cocooned in their cars. The lights ahead remained red. The rain thrummed lazily on the car roofs. The man leaned farther over, and the passenger door popped open a few inches. Kate took another step back but felt trapped. What if he got out of his car and pushed her into the underpass? “Don’t fuck me around. How much?” said the man. His smile was gone, and she could see his trousers were undone. His underpants were a faded and dingy color.

He hooked his finger under the waistband and exposed his penis and a thatch of graying pubic hair. Kate was still rooted to the spot, willing the lights to change. A police siren blared out suddenly, cutting through the silence, and the cars and the arch of the underpass were lit up with blue flashing lights. The man hurriedly rearranged himself, fastened his trousers, and pulled the door shut. Activating the central locking. His face returning to an impassive stare. Kate fumbled in her bag and pulled out her police ID card. She went to the blue Ford and slapped it against the passenger window. Annoyed that she hadn’t done it earlier. Peter’s unmarked police car, with its revolving blue light on the roof, came shooting down the outside of the row of traffic, half up on the grass shoulder.

The traffic light changed to green. The car in front drove away, and Peter pulled into the gap. The man inside the Ford was now panicking, smoothing down his hair and tie. She fixed him with a stare, put her police ID card back in her bag, and went to the passenger door of Peter’s car. 2 “Sorry to keep you waiting. Traffic,” said Peter, giving her a brisk smile. He picked up a pile of paperwork from the passenger seat and put it behind his seat. He was a good-looking man in his late thirties, broad-shouldered with thick, dark, wavy hair, high cheekbones, and soft brown eyes. He wore an expensive tailored black suit. “Of course,” she said, feeling relief as she stashed her handbag and groceries in the footwell and dropped into the seat.

As soon as she closed the door, Peter accelerated and flicked on the sirens. The sunshade was down on the passenger side, and she caught her reflection in the mirror as she folded it back up. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, nor was she dressed provocatively, and she always thought herself a little plain. She wasn’t delicate. She had strong features. Her shoulder-length hair was tied back off her face, tucked away under the neck of her long winter coat, almost as an afterthought. The only distinguishing marks on her face were her unusual eyes, which were a startling cornflower blue with a burst of burnt orange flooding out from the pupils, caused by sectoral heterochromia, a rare condition where the eyes have two colors. The other, less permanent mark on her face was a split lip, just starting to scab over, which had been caused by an irate drunk resisting arrest a few days before. She had felt no fear when dealing with the drunk and didn’t feel ashamed that he’d hit her. It was part of the job.

Why did she feel shame after being hit on by the sleazy businessman? He was the one with the sad, saggy gray underwear and the stubby little manhood. “What was that? With the car behind?” asked Peter. “Oh, one of his brake lights was out,” she said. It was easier to lie. She felt embarrassed. She pushed the man and his blue Ford to the back of her mind. “Have you called the whole team to the crime scene?” asked Kate. “Of course,” he said, glancing over. “After we spoke, I got a call from the assistant commissioner, Anthony Asher. He says if this murder is linked to Operation Hemlock, I just need ask, and I’ll have all the resources I need at my disposal.

” He sped around a roundabout in fourth gear and took the exit to Crystal Palace Park. Peter Conway was a career police officer, and Kate had no doubt that solving this case would result in his promotion to superintendent or even chief superintendent. Peter had been the youngest officer in the history of the Met Police to be promoted to detective chief inspector. The windows were starting to fog up, and he turned up the heater. The arc of condensation on the windscreen rippled and receded. Between a group of terrace houses, Kate caught a glimpse of the London skyline lit up. There were millions of lights, pinpricks in the black fabric of the sky, symbolizing the homes and offices of millions. Kate wondered which light belonged to the Nine Elms Cannibal. What if we never find him? she thought. The police never found Jack the Ripper, and back then London was tiny in comparison.

“Have you had any more leads from the white van database?” she asked. “We brought in another six men for questioning, but their DNA didn’t match our man.” “The fact he leaves his DNA on the victims. It’s not just carelessness or lack of control. It’s as if he’s marking his territory. Like a dog.” “You think he wants us to catch him?” “Yes . No . Possibly.” “He’s behaving like he’s invincible.

” “He thinks he’s invincible. But he’ll slip up. They always do,” said Kate. They turned off into the north entrance to Crystal Palace Park. A police car was waiting, and the officer waved them through. They drove down a long, straight avenue of gravel usually reserved for people on foot. It was lined with large oak trees shedding leaves, and they hit the windshield with a wet flapping sound, clogging up the wipers. In the far distance, the huge Crystal Palace radio transmitter poked up above the trees like a slender Eiffel Tower. The road banked down and ended in a small car park beside a long, flat field of grass, which backed onto a wooded area. A large police tape cordon ringed the entire expanse of grass.

In the center was a second, smaller cordon around a white forensics tent, glowing in the darkness. Next to the second cordon sat the pathologist’s van, four squad cars, and a large white police support vehicle. Where the tarmac met the grass, the tape of the first police cordon flapped in the breeze. They were met by two uniformed police officers: a middle-aged man whose belly hung over his belt, and a tall, thin young man who still looked like a teenager. Kate and Peter showed their identification to the older officer. His eyes were hooded with loose skin, and as he glanced between her and Peter’s police ID cards, he reminded Kate of a chameleon. He handed them back and went to lift the police tape but hesitated, looking over at the glowing tent. “In all my years, I ain’t never seen nothing like it,” he said. “You were the first on the scene?” asked Peter, impatient for him to lift the tape but not willing to do it himself. “Yes.

PC Stanley Gresham, sir. This is PC Will Stokes,” he said, gesturing to the young officer, who suddenly grimaced, turned away from them, and threw up over the police tape. “It’s his first day on the job,” he added, shaking his head. Kate gave the young officer a look of pity as he heaved and threw up again, thin strings of spittle dangling from his mouth. Peter took a clean white handkerchief from his inside pocket, and Kate thought he was going to offer it up to the young officer, but he pressed it to his nose and mouth. “I want this crime scene locked down. Not a word to anyone,” said Peter. “Of course, sir.” Peter fluttered his fingers at the police tape. Stanley lifted it, and they ducked under.

The grass sloped down to the second police cordon, where Detective Cameron Rose and Detective Inspector Marsha Lewis were waiting. Cameron, like Kate, was in his midtwenties, and Marsha was older than all of them, a thickset woman in her fifties, wearing a smart black trouser suit and long black coat. Her silver hair was cropped short, and she had a gravelly smoker’s voice. “Sir,” they both said in unison. “What’s going on, Marsha?” asked Peter. “All exits in and out of the park are sealed, and I’ve got local plod being bused in for a fingertip search and house to house. Forensic pathologist is in there already, and she’s ready to talk to us,” said Marsha. Cameron was tall and gangly, towering above them all. He hadn’t had time to change and looked more like a louche teenager than a detective in his jeans, trainers, and a green winter jacket. Kate wondered fleetingly what he had been doing when he got the call to come to the crime scene.

She presumed he’d arrived with Marsha. “Who’s our forensic pathologist?” asked Peter. “Leodora Graves,” said Marsha. It was hot inside the glowing tent, where the lights were almost painfully bright. Forensic pathologist Leodora Graves, a small dark-skinned woman with penetrating green eyes, worked with two assistants. A naked young girl lay facedown in a muddy depression in the grass. Her head was covered by a clear plastic bag, tied tightly around her neck. Her pale skin was streaked with dirt and blood and numerous cuts and scratches. The backs of her thighs and buttocks had several deep bite marks. Kate stood beside the body, already sweating underneath the hood and face mask of her thick white forensics suit.

The rain hammered down on the tight skin of the tent, forcing Leodora to raise her voice. “The victim is posed, lying on her right side, her right arm under her head. The left arm lies flat and reaching out. There are six bites on her lower back, buttocks, and thighs.” She indicated the deepest bites, where the flesh had been removed, so deep as to expose the girl’s spine. She moved to the victim’s head and gently lifted it; the length of thin rope was tied tight around the neck, biting into the now-bloated flesh. “You’ll note the specific knot.” “The monkey’s fist knot,” said Cameron, speaking for the first time. He sounded shaken. Though the masks of their forensics suits obscured her teammates’ faces, Kate could read the looks of alarm in their eyes.

“Yes,” said Leodora, holding the knot in her gloved hand. What made it unusual was the series of intersecting turns, like a tiny ball of wool, almost impossible to replicate with a machine. “It’s him. The Nine Elms Cannibal,” said Kate. The words came out of her mouth before she could stop them. “I’ll need to conclude more from my postmortem, but . yes,” said Leodora. The rain fell harder, intensifying the thundering thrum on the roof of the tent. She let go of the young girl’s head, placing it gently back where it lay on her arm. “There is evidence that she was raped.

There are bodily fluids present, and she’s been tortured, cut with a sharp object, and burnt. You see the burn marks on her arms and outer thighs. They look to be caused by the cigarette lighter from a car.” “Or a Citröen Dispatch white van,” said Kate. Peter gave her a hard stare. He didn’t like being corrected. “Cause of death?” he asked. “I need to do the postmortem, but off the record, at this stage I would say asphyxiation with the plastic bag. There are signs of petechial hemorrhaging on her face and neck.” “Thank you, Leodora.

I look forward to the results of your postmortem. I hope that we can quickly identify this poor young woman.” Leodora nodded to her assistants, who brought in a pop-up stretcher with a shiny new black body bag. They placed it beside the body and gently turned the young woman over onto the stretcher. The front of her naked body was marked with small circular burns and scratches. It was impossible to tell what she looked like—her face was grotesque and distorted under the plastic. She had large paleblue eyes, milky in death and frozen in a stare. The look in her eyes made Kate shiver. It was devoid of hope, as if frozen in her eyes was that last thought. She’d known she was going to die.

3 Viewing the young woman’s battered body left Kate disturbed and exhausted after what already had been a long day, but an investigation of this scale had to move fast. As soon as they left the forensics tent, Kate was assigned to head door-to-door inquiries on Thicket Road, a long avenue of smart detached houses on the west side of the park. Despite having a team of eight officers, it took almost five hours to work their way down the street, and the rain didn’t let up. Their lead question—Have you seen a 1994 Citroën Dispatch white van and/or anyone acting suspiciously?—sparked fear and curiosity in the residents of Thicket Road. The search for a white van had been widely reported in the press, but the police weren’t allowed to comment on the details of the case. Even so, most people Kate spoke to knew she was investigating the Nine Elms Cannibal and had their opinions, questions, and suspicions. All of which generated endless leads, which would have to be followed up. Just after midnight, Kate and her team were called back to the rendezvous point at the station. The young woman’s body was now at the morgue for the postmortem, and the fingertip search of Crystal Palace Park was being hampered by the poor visibility and pouring rain, so they were told to stand down for the night and things would resume the next morning. The officer Kate had been working with boarded a bus back to North London, leaving Kate alone in the car park.

She was about to call a cab when lights flashed on a car in the far corner and she saw Peter walking toward her. “Need a lift home?” he asked. He was also soaked through and tired, and Kate gave him points for rolling up his sleeves and not sitting it out in one of the support vans with a cup of coffee. She looked around the car park. There were three squad cars left, but she presumed they belonged to the officers who had drawn the short straw to stay up at the park. He saw her hesitate. “It’s no problem, and you left your bags in my car,” he said. His lack of enthusiasm at the prospect of driving her home made her more willing to accept the lift. “Thank you. That would be great,” she said, suddenly craving a hot shower, tea and toast slathered in butter and honey, and then her warm bed.

He opened the boot of the car and took out a stack of towels from a laundry bag. “Thank you,” she said, taking one and wrapping it around her shoulders and wringing out her wet ponytail. She opened the passenger door and saw that her shopping bag was still on the floor. Peter opened the driver’s door and then the glove compartment. He rummaged around, pulling out a car manual and a bunch of keys until he found a box of baby wipes. He quickly cleaned off his hands and then chucked the dirty wipes under the car. “Anything from the fingertip search?” she asked. “Some fibers, cigarette ends, a shoe, but it’s a park—who knows who they belong to.” He tucked a towel on the passenger seat, then took a thermos flask out of the central console and handed it to her while tucking another towel onto the driver’s seat. Kate watched in amusement.

He seemed so domesticated, bustling and tucking with an unconsciously camp manner, making sure the improvised seat covers were neat and would stay in place. “I think you’re the first person who I’ve seen attempt hospital corners on a car seat,” she said. “We’re soaked, and it’s a new car. You don’t know how hard I had to fight to get it,” he said, frowning. It was the first time that evening he’d displayed any emotion. His dirty car seats gave him real anxiety. Kate wondered if that’s what happened after a long time in the police. You shut yourself off from the horrific stuff, and you sweat the small things. They were silent on the journey back to Deptford. She stared out the window.

Torn between trying to get the image of the young girl out of her head and trying to keep it there. To not forget her face, to file every detail away. Kate lived in a ground-floor flat behind a long, low row of shops just off Deptford High Street. The front door was accessed through a potholed gravel car park, and Peter’s car bounced and bumped its way through the waterlogged holes. They came to a stop at her front door under a sagging awning, and next to the delivery entrance of the local Chinese restaurant, where there was a pile of crates filled with empty soft drink bottles. Peter’s headlights reflected off the pale back wall of her building, illuminating the inside of the car. “Thanks for the lift,” she said, opening the door and stepping out widely to avoid a large puddle. He leaned over and handed her the shopping bag. “Don’t forget this, and it’s ten o’clock tomorrow morning at the station.” “See you then.

” She took the bag and closed the car door. His headlights lit up the car park as she rooted around in her pocket for her key and opened the front door, and then it was dark. She turned to see his taillights vanish. She’d made an idiotic mistake in sleeping with her boss, but after seeing the dead young woman and knowing there was still a killer on the loose, it seemed to pale to nothing. 4 It was cold inside the flat. A small kitchen looked out over the car park, and she quickly closed the blinds before switching on the lights. She took a long shower, staying under the water until the warmth came back into her bones, then pulled on a dressing gown and came back into the kitchen. The central heating was doing its work, pumping hot water with a gurgle through the radiators, and the room was warming up. Suddenly starving, she went to take a microwave lasagna from the shopping bag, but nestled on top were the bunch of keys and the thermos flask from Peter’s car. She put the thermos on the counter and went to the phone on the kitchen wall to call his pager so he wouldn’t get all the way home before he discovered he didn’t have his keys.

She was about to dial when she noted the keys in her hand. There were four, all substantial and old. Peter lived in a new-build flat near Peckham. The front door had a Yale lock. She remembered this clearly from that second night when he’d invited her over for dinner. She’d hesitated outside the door, staring at that Yale lock, thinking, What the hell am I doing? The first time I was drunk. Now I’m sober, and I’m back for more. The keys in her hand were mortise keys for heavy locks, and a small length of rope was tied around the key ring. The rope was thin, with a red-and-blue woven pattern. Heavy-duty rope, or cord.

Tough and well made. She turned the loop of rope over in her hand—tied at the end was a monkey’s fist knot. She replaced the phone on its cradle and stared at the keys. Kate had a feeling, like the room was tilting under her feet, and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. She closed her eyes, and the crime scene photos of the dead girls flashed behind them— bags tied tight round their necks, vacuum formed, distorting their features. Tied off with the knot. She opened her eyes and looked at the keys and the monkey’s fist. No. She was exhausted and clutching at straws. She pulled out a chair and sat down at the kitchen table.

What did she know about Peter outside of work? His father was dead. She’d heard odd bits of rumor about his mother being mentally ill. She was in the hospital. He’d had quite a poor upbringing that he’d struggled to extricate himself from, that he was proud to extricate himself from. He was thought of highly by top brass. He didn’t have a girlfriend or wife. He was married to the job. What if the keys belonged to a friend? Or his mother? They fit a large door or a heavy padlock. They had speculated that the killer would need a place to keep the van and his victims. A storage unit or a large garage.

If Peter had a storage unit, he would have mentioned it, and she remembered him complaining about the building where he lived. He’d said he paid a fortune for a space in the underground car park, and that didn’t include a garage. No. It had been a long, stressful day, and she needed sleep. She put the keys on the counter and retrieved the lasagna from the bag. She peeled off the outer packaging and placed the small plastic box in the microwave and keyed in two minutes. Her hand hovered over the timer. She thought back to when they had brought in an expert, a retired scoutmaster who explained the monkey’s fist knot to the incident room. What made the knot stand out was that it could be tied only by someone with a level of expertise. The monkey’s fist was tied at the end of a length of rope as an ornamental knot and a weight, making it easier to throw.

It got its name because it looked similar to a small bunched fist or paw. The lasagna spun slowly in the microwave. The retired scoutmaster had told them that most young boys would learn to tie knots in the Scouts. The monkey’s fist knot had little practical use, but it was a knot tied by enthusiasts. Everyone in the incident room had attempted to tie the knot, under the expert’s watchful instruction, and only Marsha had managed it. Peter had failed miserably, and he had made a joke out of how bad he was. “I couldn’t tie my own shoes until I was eight!” he’d cried. All the officers in the incident room had laughed, and he’d put his hands over his face in mock embarrassment. The keys were old, with a little rust. They’d been oiled to keep them in good use.

The rope was shiny in places, and the monkey’s fist knot looked old, with oil and grime worn into it. She chewed on her nails, not noticing that the microwave had given three loud pips to say it was finished. She sat down at the kitchen table. The first three victims had been schoolgirls between fifteen and seventeen years old. They had all been abducted on a Thursday or a Friday, and their bodies had shown up at the beginning of the following week. The victims had all been sporty, and in all three cases, they had been grabbed on their way home from after-school training. The abductions had been so well executed that the killer must have known where they would be and lain in wait. They had questioned PE teachers in all boroughs and brought several in for questioning, the same with male teachers who had 1994 Citroën Dispatch white vans registered to their names. None of their DNA had matched. They’d then looked at the parents of the victims and friends of the parents.

The net kept getting wider, the theories wilder as to how the victims could be linked to the killer. Kate remembered a question that had been written up on the whiteboard of the incident room. WHO HAD ACCESS TO THE VICTIMS AT SCHOOL? A thought went through her, like a jolt of electricity. There had been a list of teachers, classroom assistants, caretakers, crossing guards, lunch ladies . but what about the police? Police officers often go into schools to talk to the kids about drugs and antisocial behavior. On two occasions Peter had roped her in to join him on a school visit, to talk to some innercity schoolkids about road safety. He had also worked on an antidrug presentation given around London schools. How many schools did he visit? Twenty? Thirty? Was it staring her in the face, or was she just tired and overwhelmed? No . Peter had commented that he had visited the school of the third victim, Carla Martin, a month before she went missing. Kate got up and looked in her cupboards.

All she could find was a bottle of dry sherry she’d bought to offer her mother on her last visit. She poured herself a large measure in a glass and took a gulp. What if they had no leads because the Nine Elms Cannibal was also Peter Conway? The nights they spent together moved to the front of her mind, and she pushed it back, not wanting to go there. She sat, shaking. Did she really have the balls to accuse her boss of being a serial killer? Then she spied Peter’s thermos flask sitting beside the microwave. He’d drunk from it in the car. It would have his DNA. Kate got up, her legs trembling. Her bag was on the floor by the back door, and it took some effort to get the clasp open. In one of the inside pockets, she found a new plastic evidence bag.

The flask has Peter’s DNA on it. We have the Nine Elms Cannibal’s DNA. I could quietly put in a request. She pulled on a clean pair of latex gloves and approached the thermos like it was a wild animal she was about to capture. She took a deep breath, plucked it off the counter, and dropped it into the evidence bag, which she immediately sealed. She placed it on the tiny kitchen table. It felt like a betrayal of everything she believed in. She stood in the silence for a few minutes, listening to the rain hammering on the roof, and took another swig of the sherry, feeling it warming her insides and taking the edge off her panic. No one needs to know about it. Who could she ask who was discreet? Akbar in forensics.

She’d bumped into him once coming out of one of the gay bars in Soho. It had been an awkward moment. She had been with a guy, and so had he. He’d invited her for a drink the next night after work, and she had assured him that his secret, if it was a secret, was safe with her. She would call him first thing in the morning, drive it over early and get the flask swabbed. Or maybe, if she got some sleep, this would all seem like a crazy theory in the morning. There was a knock at the door, and she dropped the glass. It shattered, spraying glass and brown liquid across the linoleum. There was a pause, and then a voice said, “Kate. It’s Peter, are you okay?” She looked up at the clock.

Almost two a.m. The knock came again. “Kate? I heard breaking glass. Are you okay?” He hammered on the door harder. “Yes! I’m fine!” she trilled, looking at the mess on the floor. “You don’t sound it. Can you open up?” “I’ve just dropped a glass on the floor, by the door. What are you doing here?” “Have you got my keys?” he said. “I think I might have dropped them in one of your bags.” There was a long silence. She stepped over the shattered glass and quietly put the chain on and opened the door. Through the gap, Peter stood, soaking wet, the collar of his coat pulled up. He smiled a broad, white smile. His teeth were so straight and white, she thought. “Good, I thought you might have gone to bed. I think you have my keys?”

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