The Threshold of Eternity
Adult Crime with the focus on the descent into insantity...
By the time Patti Archer thrust Mori, her seven-year-old daughter, out of the front door into the frozen January darkness and the arms of Mrs Franks from the car pool she was exhausted.
‘Later, mum,’ Mori said as if she were a gang member under training. Patti knew she would have to make time soon to speak to her daughter about some of the bad habits she had picked up from God only knew where.
‘Have a good day at school, darling,’ she said. ‘See you tonight.’ She forced a smile. ‘Thanks, Mrs Franks.’
Patti closed the door, leaned against the dimpled glass, and clutched her head. The pain in her shoulders had started at five-thirty when she checked her emails. It had spiralled up her neck and terminated in a throbbing headache at the base of her skull. Chief Superintendent Paul Singleton had given her another case. She now had five active murder cases, and only two detectives to do the legwork. He was determined to push her over the edge, and this morning she felt as though she was staring into the abyss.
In the kitchen, she took another two painkillers. It was seven forty-five, and there was meant to be a minimum of four hours between tablets. The two she’d taken at five-thirty hadn’t worked. Maybe she needed something stronger.
Grabbing her coat, bag and briefcase, she headed towards the door, but hit a wall at the stairs. Her shoulders sagged and tears streamed down her cheeks. She sat on the third stair and drained the well of self-pity. At twenty-nine years old she was the youngest Detective Inspector on the force, but after three months on the job she was finding it a struggle.
She climbed the stairs and washed her wrecked face in the bathroom sink. Did that puffy, red-eyed mask in the mirror really belong to her? Who stole the sparkling green eyes? Her shoulder-length black hair looked lacklustre and needed cutting, the split-ends made it appear frizzy. She had a hidden spot that hurt like hell in the corner of her mouth, and looked like a cyst or something just as ugly when she re-applied her make-up. There was a time, nine years ago after university when she’d met Richard and fallen in love, that she would have been mistaken for a supermodel. Now, after the pregnancy, the heartache, and the divorce, she was just like everyone else – surviving from day to day by papering over the cracks.
She wanted to go back to bed, pull the quilt over her head and shut out the world, but she knew she couldn’t. Duvet days like the happy times of her youth were a thing of the past. Now she was a leader with responsibilities, a role model, a player.
It was five-past eight by the time she had composed herself enough to leave the house. The Siberian wind jolted her awake as she stepped through the door. She would never reach Hammersmith police station by eight-thirty now, especially as she had to wait ages for the windscreen to defrost.
The new case file lay on her desk like a living thing, but before she had even hung up her coat Bob Hanley, her Detective Sergeant, was filling the door.
‘Morning, Gov, Helen called in sick. She thinks it might be swine flu and could be off for at least a month.’
And then there were two, she thought. Helen Davies was her Detective Constable, the other member of the team.
Bob sat down sideways in one of the two chairs in front of her desk and stretched out his legs.
Trying to sound light-hearted she said, ‘Don’t sit down, Bob. I need coffee, and if Helen is off then you’re it.’ She draped her coat over a peg on the wooden hat and coat stand and slid into the gap behind her desk.
Standing, Bob said, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ At six-foot-two he made her office seem tiny and blocked out the light. ‘By the way, the Chief’s looking for you.’
Bastard, she thought. The Chief not Bob, although he wasn’t far behind. She had been fast-tracked over Bob, and sometimes she saw the look of disdain in his eyes. Like the Chief, he was waiting for her to fall flat on her face. Her jaw set hard. Well, they’d both be waiting a long time.
She sat in her worn high-backed chair, opened the case file and began skimming: Rory Durham, aged 12, lived at 1412 Melrose Gardens, Hammersmith. PC Frederick Reeves had found the boy in an alley at eleven-thirty on Sunday night – two days ago – behind the Lucky Dragon Chinese Takeaway on the High Street. The post mortem summary stated he was stabbed in the heart with a spike, and had been dead for at least twelve hours when he was found. No forensics report.
Bob came back with two steaming mugs and put a strong black coffee in front of her.
She passed him the file. ‘Read.’
‘Not another one?’ He sat and skimmed through the file. ‘Time of death would have been around midday on Sunday then?’
Shrugging she said, ‘Most likely.’
‘Not much chance of catching anyone then?’
‘Probably not, but we’re still waiting for the forensics report.’
‘We’d better go and see the…’ he examined the file again, ‘…mother. Show willing, make the right noises, etcetera.’
Cynicism, like concrete, had set hard in Bob, but she still had some way to go to reach the same consistency. ‘I think we should also have a quick look at the crime scene, and speak to the pathologist.’
He pushed thick fingers through his short greying hair and screwed up his eyes. ‘Why?’
‘Because that’s what we do, Bob. We’re detectives, so we’d better do some detecting. We need to make it look as though we at least tried to find the killer before we threw it on the unsolved pile.’
There was an awkward silence between them as they nursed hot coffee mugs and mentally prepared for the day.
‘We should go over the other cases,’ Bob said eventually, ‘see where we are?’
Bob Hanley was forty-seven, a relic that had been left behind by those who had gone before. All around him were young, eager, thrusting detectives, and then there was Bob, doing the same thing he had been doing for twenty years, an encyclopaedia of how it used to be. Sometimes, when she wasn’t feeling sorry for herself, she felt sorry for him.
‘Yeah, okay. I’ll go and see what the Chief wants, get him out of my hair, you bring the incident boards up to date, start one for Rory Durham, and then we’ll go over them and plan the day.’
‘I’ll never be out of your hair, Inspector Archer,’ Chief Superintendent Paul Singleton said pushing open the door to her office.
Shit, something else for him to moan about.
The Chief looked at Bob and said, ‘Have you got some incident boards to update Sergeant?’
Bob stood and squeezed past the Chief’s bulk.
‘Where have you been, Inspector?’ the Chief asked. She could detect the underlying aggressiveness in his voice, and smell the sweat on his obese body.
‘I’ve been here, Chief.’
He leaned down and balled his fists on her desk. ‘Not at eight-thirty this morning you weren’t.’
‘Shortly after, Sir. You know what the traffic is like.’
‘You should set off earlier.’
‘My daughter doesn’t leave for school until seven forty-five, Sir.’
‘You’re a DI now, Archer. Sacrifices need to be made. Sergeant Hanley was here at eight-thirty twiddling his thumbs, you should have been here to direct him.’
‘Sergeant Hanley knows what to do, Sir.’
‘Don’t split hairs with me, Inspector. I need someone I can rely on, someone who takes the job seriously. I’m beginning to think we made a mistake when we fast-tracked you.’
It wasn’t the first time the Chief had berated her like this. She felt sick, worn down, beaten. She worked non-stop, but it was never enough. Most days, she didn’t even stop for lunch. Took work home, ignored Mori to read reports, emails, telephone messages, internal and external directives, memos. Packed her daughter off to bed early so that she could think about the cases, go over witness statements, post mortem reports, incident reports, look for clues, mistakes, ideas. Often, going to bed after midnight, she tossed and turned as each case played out in her head, and was lucky if she got two hours sleep a night. She was exhausted, and knew she couldn’t carry on like this.
‘You can count on me, Chief. I won’t be late again.’
‘I certainly hope not, Inspector. In this job, family life is way down the list of priorities.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ She had heard that his wife had left him years ago and taken their two children with her. Hardly surprising, she thought. He was a pig.
‘You’re up to speed on the dead boy?’
‘Looks like a gang killing, Sir.’
‘You’ve obviously not read the post mortem report properly.’
The bastard has set me up.
‘He was stabbed in the heart with a spike.’
‘If you’d been here at eight-thirty you might have had time to read the report thoroughly. Instead, you skim the summary and think you know everything. This is what I’m talking about, Inspector. You’re not committed. You seem to have other priorities. You need to think hard about whether you want this job or not.’
She grabbed the file and turned to the post mortem report. It was five pages long. She started to read.
‘Don’t think I’m going to stand here and watch you read, Inspector. On the third page, Doctor Grainger states that she found evidence of long-term sexual abuse.’
‘From who? The father doesn’t live with them.’ She spoke out loud, but wished she hadn’t.
‘Finding the answer to that question is supposed to be your job, Inspector. I suggest you go and speak to Doctor Grainger and the mother before jumping to any more conclusions.’
He looked at his watch. ‘Nine-thirty already. You arrived late, had a mug of coffee, and missed important details in a file. Having a productive day so far, Archer. You’d better pull your finger out before I start looking around for your replacement.’ He didn’t wait for a response, but left her door open as he waddled out.
She felt like a failure, felt like scooping up her bag and coat, telling him to stick the job, walking out and never looking back, but she knew she wouldn’t, couldn’t. This was her life, everything she’d worked for, and she wasn’t about to let that fat bully force her out.
Taking her cold coffee, she trudged into the corridor and saw Bob through the glass windows of the incident room. He was stood in front of five small mobile white boards wielding a black marker pen. She needed another strong coffee, and made a detour into the kitchen.
It was now nine-forty, and as she walked into the incident room she had the feeling of chasing shadows.
‘Okay, Bob,’ she said parking herself in a chair.
‘What did the Chief want?’
‘To talk about the Rory Durham case,’ which was true. Bob didn’t need to know about the Chief’s bullying. Maybe she could put in a written complaint, go over his head. That would be sure to finish her career. ‘He pointed out something on the third page of the post mortem report we
‘What’s the point of having a summary page if they don’t include the important details? What did we miss?’
‘Apparently, Doctor Grainger found evidence of long-term sexual abuse.’
‘Shit. Do you think it’s connected to his death?’
‘Who knows, but we’ll have to find out who’s responsible either way.’
‘But the father…’
‘I know, I pointed that out to the Chief. We’ll just have to go and talk to Doctor bloody Grainger, as if we didn’t have enough to do. Right, come on then, Bob, the day is disappearing fast.’
Bob shuffled to the first board on the left. ‘Marianne Rokovsky, aged thirty-one, had her skull caved in by her ex-husband ten days ago. We have a warrant out for his arrest, but he has a Russian passport and it’s likely that’s where he’s holed up. We asked the Russian consulate for help tracing him last Wednesday, but nothing yet.’
‘It’s been nearly a week. I’ll phone legal and get them to chase it up.’ Patti wrote a reminder in her notebook.
Moving to the next board he said, ‘Patrick Sheffield, aged fifty-seven, no fixed abode. Found beaten to death in Hammersmith tube station last Tuesday. The tapes went to forensics on Wednesday and I’m expecting something back later today.’
‘Do they need a kick up the arse?’
‘No, I saw Ray Tulley in the corridor earlier. They’ve been busy, but he’s on top of it.’
‘Okay, let’s see what we get.’ She wrote a note in her notebook. ‘Still no witnesses?’
‘If anybody saw anything, they’re not sticking their heads above the parapet.’
‘Heather and Bertrand Moses, aged seventy-four and seventy-nine respectively. Tied up in their own home at 29 Baraclough Road and tortured to death.’
She knew that forensics had found hair and saliva not belonging to the victims, but couldn’t match the DNA to anything on the database. ‘Still no leads?’
‘Nothing. I’m still waiting to hear from a couple of my snitches, and Robbery has passed photographs of the items that were stolen to the local fences. Sooner or later something will turn up.’
‘Let’s hope its sooner. Some crimes deserve the death penalty.’
‘Yeah.’ He moved to the next board. ‘Sally Vickery, prostitute, aged forty-two, raped and strangled on Saturday night in an alley off St Paul’s Road.’
‘With any luck, the task force will take that one off us today.’ Someone had murdered five prostitutes in as many weeks.
‘Your luck just ran out. A fax came in this morning, it’s in your in-tray, they think it’s a copycat because no souvenir was taken.’ The souvenirs were body parts, the details of which had not been released to the press. Up to now the killer had helped himself to a finger, an ear, an eye, a
pair of lips, and a scalp.
‘Shit.’ She had sat on the case in the hope of it being number six. ‘We’d better do something with it, I suppose.’
‘We need to get over to forensics and see what they’ve got.’
‘And then there’s Rory Durham.’ He wrote the known details on the white board.
Patti looked at the notes she’d made in her notebook. ‘Whilst I’m phoning legal, you go and see what forensics have got on the prostitute and the boy. Then, in about twenty minutes, bring your car round to the front of the station. We’ll go and see Doctor Grainger and interrogate her about Vickery and Durham.’
Bob smiled. He was married with two grown-up children, but it didn’t stop him fancying Doctor Grainger. He would have gladly interrogated her.
‘Keep your mind on the job, Bob,’ Patti said. ‘After that, we’ll visit the boy’s mother. That should be a barrel of laughs.’
‘If we’ve got time, we’ll find my snitches and see if they’ve got anything on the Moses murders, someone must know something.’
‘And don’t forget we need to get back to see Ray Tulley later this afternoon about the tube tapes.’
Patti stood up wearily. It was nine fifty-five. ‘I’ll see you outside in twenty.’
She went back to her office. A side effect of the painkillers was drowsiness, and her head felt as though it was stuffed full of cotton wool. She didn’t want any more unwelcome surprises so she shut the door. After prodding legal and getting a promise of an update later, she leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. A ten-minute power nap wouldn’t hurt.
Her eyes snapped open as someone turned the doorknob.
Bob’s head appeared. ‘When you’re ready, Gov.’
She looked at her watch it was ten thirty-five. ‘Sorry Bob, I must have drifted off.’ With her heart beating like a drum, she stood, grabbed her bag and coat and squeezed past him into the corridor.
‘You don’t look too good, Gov. Maybe you’re getting swine flu like Helen?’
‘Thanks for that, Bob.’ She said over her shoulder. ‘You really know how to make a girl feel special.’
He smiled. ‘It’s a knack I have, works every time.’
They traipsed down the stairs and through the crowded front reception. Bob’s car was parked half on the pavement and pointing in the wrong direction. The freezing wind blew her hair across her face as she walked round the front of the Volvo S80 and slid into the passenger seat.
Once Bob had swung the car round and was heading towards Hammersmith Hospital along King Street she said, ‘What did forensics say?’
‘We’ve got three suspects for the Vickery murder, which we need to interview.’
She wanted to say ‘More fucking work?’ but what was the point? Nothing would change. She could only do what she could do. ‘Semen?’
‘Yes. God knows why they don’t make the punters wear condoms.’
Richard had once told her that men hated wearing condoms. He said it was like taking a bath with socks on. ‘What about the boy?’
‘The spike was unusual, not something your average gang member carries around with him.’
‘They’ve identified it as a marlinspike.’
She turned to stare at him He looked smug, knowing she wouldn’t have a clue what a marlinspike was.
‘It’s a tool used in rope work apparently. Looks like a rather large sewing needle, solid with a hole in the thick end and tapered to a point.’
‘Oh!’ She had no idea how that helped them, but guessed the boy’s murder probably wasn’t a gang killing anymore.
‘He was killed somewhere else then dumped in the alley, but the interesting thing is that his real name is Gary Banks and he disappeared from his home in Manchester ten years ago when he was two years old.’
‘Crap,’ Patti said. ‘That means we’ll have to go to the mother’s address first and bring her in.’ No sooner had she organised her day than it had turned to a sack of shit. The grand puppet master was jerking her strings again. She was a marionette dancing to some tune she couldn’t hear. There had been a time when she’d been in control of her life, when she’d had a plan for the future. Now, she lived day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and minute-by-minute. Plans were for people who had normal lives. God knows what she had, but it wasn’t a normal life.
She phoned the Duty Sergeant and requested a mobile unit to meet them at Melrose Gardens and take Mrs Durham into custody.
Instead of turning into Hammersmith Broadway towards the hospital, Bob filtered left on the roundabout up Shepherd’s Bush Road, and then another left into Melrose Gardens. The mobile unit was already there.
Calling a thirty-floor high-rise Melrose Gardens was a way of camouflaging the fact that it was a concrete monstrosity with no gardens in sight. Mrs Durham lived on the fourteenth floor in flat twelve. The lifts weren’t working and they were forced to use the stairs.
The two constables were young and attacked the ascent with a zest Patti only vaguely recalled from her youth. She knew that if she asked Bob to go up fourteen flights of stairs he’d surely have a heart attack, and then there would only be her to do all the work.
‘You stay here, Bob,’ she said and saw him physically relax.
‘Thanks, Gov. I was having palpitations just thinking about getting up there.’
She set off following the two uniforms. After three flights she began to think she’d never make it. Maybe she was going to have the heart attack. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d done any exercise. Certainly, climbing fourteen flights of stairs would be classed as exercise, but hardly beneficial or enjoyable. When she reached the stairwell on the eleventh floor she sat down. She was drenched in sweat. It ran in rivulets down her face and neck, snaked down her back, and pooled under her arms and between her legs, she felt a damned mess. Mrs Durham could run past her down the stairs gripping her passport in one hand and waving a plane ticket to Buenos Aires in the other, she didn’t care.
‘The flat’s empty, Inspector,’ one of the uniforms shouted down the stairwell.
She stood and forced her legs one at a time up the last three floors. On the fourteenth floor, she clung to the railing until she’d brought her breathing under control, and her legs had stopped shaking. She sprayed herself with perfume, but doubted it would disguise the stench of sweat.
Whilst the uniforms had been waiting for her to catch up, they’d used their initiative and knocked on the door. When no one had answered they requested authority to break in, which the Duty Sergeant had given them.
The door hung by one hinge and splinters of wood lay on the carpet. Inside, it was dark and smelled musty as if no one had lived in the flat for some time.
‘Knock on the neighbours,’ she said to the two PCs, ‘see if they know anything about the occupants, what they look like, where they might have gone, how long the flat has been empty. Anything which might give us a lead.’
One went left the other right.
She carried on down the hall peering in the rooms. People had lived here, but they weren’t here now. She phoned Bob. ‘No one here, Bob. It’s been empty for some time.’
‘Hardly surprising, Gov, considering what we’ve found out. Mrs Durham obviously wasn’t his biological mother, which makes you wonder what the hell’s been going on.’
‘Anyway, ring forensics and tell them to come up here. With all their kit, you’d better warn them about the lifts being out of action. They’ll need to contact the council or someone to repair them. And then ask Tom Mitchell, the Duty Sergeant, to put an APB out on Mrs Durham.’
She went outside and waited. Eventually, the PCs returned. The neighbours described Mrs Durham as average height, pretty with shoulder-length bottle blonde hair. She had kept herself to herself, but there had been a regular flow of male visitors into the early hours. They thought she was a prostitute. Neither of them had seen much of the boy.
‘Thank you,’ she said to the two PCs and told them to wait for the forensics’ team to turn up before they left. She could see they weren’t happy about it, but they were the ones who broke the door down, and after all she was the Inspector.
Going down fourteen flights of stairs was much easier than climbing them, but she made a vow never to do either again – if the lifts didn’t work then neither did she.
Bob sat in the car basking in the warmth from the heater like a hedgehog in hibernation.