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By Jane Casey
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2012 Jane Casey
All rights reserved.
I didn't know where I was or what I was doing when the phone rang; I didn't even know that it was the phone that had woken me. I came up from miles below the surface and opened an eye as one part of my brain tried to work out what had disturbed me and another part focused on how to make the noise stop. It resolved into a low rattle that was my phone vibrating crossly on the bedside table along with the high-pitched shrill of the most annoying ring tone I could have chosen. Fumbling for it in the dark, I sideswiped it and managed to push it off the table. It fell face down in the carpet, still ringing, the sound now slightly muffled. I'd winged it but not killed it. The bonus was that now it was a little bit harder to reach. I leaned out of bed at a dangerous angle, raking the carpet with my fingers, trying to get to it.
Most of the nuance was lost in the pillow, but I interpreted Ian's comment as 'answer the fucking phone', which was pretty much what I was thinking myself. Along with what time is it? and what does this eejit want?
I got it at last and stabbed at the buttons until it stopped making a noise, trying to read the screen. LANGTON. Rob. I squinted at the time and read 03.27. Half past three in the morning and Detective Constable Rob Langton was calling me. I was waking up now, my brain starting to crank into gear, but my mouth hadn't caught up with the change of plans and was still slack with sleep. When I said hello, it sounded slurred, as if I'd been drinking for the last — I worked it out — three and a half hours instead of having some much-needed shut-eye. Three and a half hours. That made six hours of sleep in the last forty-eight. I squeezed my eyes closed and wished I hadn't added it up. Somehow, knowing the numbers made me feel worse.
'Did I wake you, Kerrigan?' I would have recognised the Manchester twang anywhere.
'You know you did. What do you want?'
I asked, but I already knew. There were only two reasons why Rob Langton would be ringing me at that hour of the morning sounding excited. One: there was another body. Two: they'd caught the killer. Either way, I wasn't going back to sleep any time soon.
'No way.' I sat up in bed and put the light on, ignoring a groan from beside me and squinting as I tried to concentrate. 'Where? How?'
'We had a bit of help. Nice young lady out on the beers with a bladed article didn't take kindly to being next on the Burning Man's list.'
'He's not dead.' My heart was pounding. If he was dead, that was it. No answers. No trial.
'Nah, he's clinging on. He's in hospital. In surgery, at the minute. Two stab wounds to the abdomen; she lacerated his bowel.'
'Yeah, couldn't happen to a nicer person.'
'Anyone we know?' I rubbed my eyes with the heel of my hand and tried not to yawn.
'Not known at all. Never been arrested before, and he hadn't come up in this enquiry.'
I sighed. That wasn't great news. We hadn't even been close to catching him, then. We'd just been lucky. Though the girl had been luckier still. I wasn't a fan of people wandering around carrying knives, but I'd seen enough dead women in the past few weeks to think it wasn't such a bad idea.
'His name's Vic Blackstaff. He had all his documents on him — driver's licence, work ID. He's in his mid-fifties, does shift work for a call centre in Epsom. Lives in Peckham. Drives through south- west London to get home in the small hours of the morning. Plenty of opportunity.'
'Older than we'd thought,' I commented. 'Shift work fits, though. Where did it happen?'
'That's quite a long way out of the usual area. Up to now he's stuck to Kennington, Stockwell — nowhere as far out as Richmond.' I was frowning.
'Yeah, but his usual area is flooded with uniforms. Makes sense that he would be hunting elsewhere, doesn't it?' Rob sounded confident and I gave a mental shrug; who was I to second-guess a serial killer?
'They're going through his car at the moment,' Rob went on. 'We're waiting at the hospital.'
'Me and the boss. And DI Judd, unfortunately. We'll be interviewing the young lady as soon as the doctors tell us we can talk to her. She's still being checked out.'
'How is she? Is she —'
I didn't want to fill in the rest of the sentence. Is she going to make it? Is she badly beaten? Is she burned? How far had he got?
'She's fine. Shaken up. Nothing wrong with her but we haven't been allowed in to see her yet. She says she's not ready.' Rob sounded impatient, which nettled me. Why shouldn't she take her time before speaking to the police? She'd had a shock. What she needed was a sympathetic ear. And I was the ideal person to provide it. Energy flooded through my limbs, adrenalin pushing fatigue into a corner, to be ignored until I had time to give in to it again. Three hours' sleep was plenty. I was already out of bed, making for the door, stumbling on rubbery legs that ached as if I'd run a marathon the day before.
'Well, I'll be there soon. Maybe they'll let me talk to her.' The perks of being the only woman in Superintendent Godley's inner circle were not legion, but now and then it came in handy.
'Why doesn't that surprise me? Nought to sixty in ten minutes, that's you.'
'That's why you phoned me, isn't it?' I was in the bathroom now, and debated whether I could risk peeing while on the phone. He'd hear. I'd have to wait.
'I knew you'd want to be here.' That was only half the story; it suited them all for me to be there. I could hear Rob grinning; he was a smug git sometimes, but I could forgive him, because when all was said and done, I did want to be there, and without a call from him, I wouldn't have known a thing about it until I'd seen it on the news.
'I'll be there in half an hour,' I said before I'd thought about it properly. It was a long way from Primrose Hill to Kingston and I desperately needed a shower. My hair was sticking to my head. There was no way I was leaving with dirty hair. Not again. 'Make that forty minutes.'
'We're in the ICU. Phones off, so ring the hospital if you need us.'
I flicked the water on before going to the loo, but even so, it wasn't even close to warm enough when I forced myself to step into the slate- lined shower area, wincing as the spray hit my goose-pimpled skin. The showerhead was the size of a dinner plate and pumped out rain-forest levels of water; it was just a shame that it never got hot enough for me. Style over substance, as usual. But it wasn't my flat so I couldn't really complain. I was sharing it, officially, but I felt more like a guest. And not necessarily a welcome one, at times.
I had balled my hands together under my chin, hugging body heat to myself, and it was an effort to unknot my fingers and reach for the shampoo once the water started to approach tepidity. Haste made me fumble the shampoo cap and I swore as I heard it skitter around the sloping tiles that led to the drain. I left it there, hearing my mother's voice in my head, sure, it can't fall any further ... Two minutes later, I stepped on it and had to muffle a yelp in the crook of my elbow as a sharp edge dug into the arch of my foot. Swearing was a help. I swore. A lot.
I scrubbed at my scalp until the muscles in my forearms complained and rinsed my hair for as long as I could allow myself to, eyes closed against the lather that slid down my face. Bliss to be clean again, joy to know that the case was coming to an end. I wanted to stay in there for ever with my eyes closed; I wanted to sleep — how I wanted to sleep. But I couldn't. I had to get going. And by the time I got out of the shower, I was what passed for awake these days.
Back in the bedroom, I tried to be quiet, but I couldn't help rattling the hangers in the wardrobe when I was taking out a suit. I heard stirring behind me in the bed and bit my lip.
I wouldn't have spoken to Ian if he hadn't spoken to me; that was the rule I observed about getting up and leaving in the middle of the night. Not that I was sure he'd ever noticed there was a rule.
'Going to meet a murderer.'
That earned me an opened eye. 'You got him. Well done.'
'It wasn't exactly all my own work, but thanks.'
He rolled over onto his back and threw an arm over his face, shielding his eyes from the light. He was in his natural position now, hogging the middle of the bed. I suppressed the impulse to push him back onto his own side and hauled the sheet up instead, tucking him in. Look, I care about you. See how thoughtful I am.
'Mmm,' was the response. He was on his way back to sleep. I slipped the dry-cleaner's bag off my suit and balled it up, squashing it into the bin. I should have taken it off sooner. The suit smelled of chemicals and I wrinkled my nose, reluctant to put it on. The forecast was for a cold day, and rain. I thought longingly of jeans tucked into boots, of chunky jumpers and long knitted scarves. God, dressing like a grown-up was a pain.
I sat on the edge of the bed to deal with my tights, coaxing them over damp skin, wary of ripping them. My hair dripped onto my shoulders, cold water running down my back. I hadn't got time for this. I hadn't got time for immaculate. Slowly, infinitely slowly, I worked the material up over my thighs and stood to haul the tights the rest of the way. It was not the most elegant moment of getting dressed, and I wasn't pleased to turn and find Ian staring at me, an unreadable expression on his face.
'So is this it?'
'What do you mean?' I slipped on a shirt, then stepped into my skirt, zipping it up quickly and smoothing it over my hips. That was better. More dignified. The waistband was loose, I noticed, the skirt hanging from my hips rather than my waist. It took the hem from on the knee to over it, from flattering to frump. I needed to eat more. I needed to rest.
'I mean is this the end of it? Are you going to be around more?'
'Probably. Not for a little while — we've got to sort out the paperwork and get the case ready for the CPS. But after that, yeah.'
If there isn't another serial killer waiting to take over from where the Burning Man left off. If nothing else goes wrong between now and Christmas. If all the criminals in London take the rest of the year off.
I was looking for shoes, my medium-heeled courts that didn't so much as nod to fashion but hey, I could wear them from now until midnight without a twinge of complaint from my feet. I could even run in them if I had to. One was in the corner of the room, where I'd kicked it off. The other I eventually found under the bed, and had to sprawl inelegantly to retrieve it.
'I hate the way they whistle and you come running.' He sounded wide awake now, and cross. My heart sank.
'It's my job.'
'Oh, it's your job. Sorry. I didn't realise.'
'Don't do this now,' I said, stabbing my feet into my shoes and grabbing my towel. 'I've got to go. It's important and you know it.'
He'd sat up, leaning on one elbow, blue eyes hostile under thick eyebrows, his brown hair uncharacteristically untidy. 'What I know is that I haven't seen you for weeks. What I know is that I'll be ringing up Camilla to say you can't come to supper after all, and is that OK, and I'm really sorry if it's mucked up her seating arrangement. What I know is that your job always seems to come first.'
I let him rant, towelling most of the water out of my hair and then dragging a comb through it, trying to get it into some sort of order. No time to dry it; it would dry on the way to the hospital. A few wisps, a lighter brown than the rest, were already curling around my face.
'Camilla works in an art gallery. She has nothing to do all day but rearrange the seating plan for her little dinner parties. It'll be a challenge for her.'
He flopped back down and stared at the ceiling. 'You always do that.'
'What?' I shouldn't have asked.
'Put down my friends because their jobs aren't as important or as worthwhile as yours.'
'For God's sake ...'
'Not everyone wants to save the world, Maeve.'
'Yeah, it's just as important to make it look nice,' I snapped, and regretted it as soon as I'd said it. Camilla was sweet, sincere, a wide-eyed innocent that brought out the protective instinct in everyone who knew her, including me. Usually. The sharpness in my voice had been partly exhaustion and partly guilt; I had been thinking of skipping the dinner party she was throwing. It wasn't that I didn't like Ian's friends — it was just that I couldn't stand the questions. Any interesting cases lately? Why haven't you caught the Burning Man yet? What's the most hideous thing you've ever seen on duty? Do you wish they still had capital punishment? Can you sort out this speeding ticket for me? It was tedious and predictable and I found it acutely embarrassing to represent the Metropolitan Police to Ian's friends. I was just one person. And traffic tickets were definitely outside my purview.
'Aren't you in a hurry?'
I checked my watch. 'Yes. Let's talk about this later, OK?'
I wanted to point out that I hadn't brought it up in the first place. Instead, I leaned across the bed and planted a kiss on the bit of Ian's chin I could reach easily. There was no response. With a sigh, I headed to the kitchen to pick up a banana, then grabbed my bag and my coat and ran down the stairs. I closed the front door with the key in the lock so I didn't wake the neighbours, though if they'd slept through my shower and relationship issues, they probably wouldn't notice the door banging. If they were at home, and not on a pre-Christmas shopping trip to New York or a winter break in the Bahamas.
I stopped for a second on the doorstep, head down, my mind whirling.
'What am I doing? What the hell am I doing?'
I hadn't meant to say it out loud, and I wasn't talking about work. I could handle work. My boyfriend was another matter. We'd been together for eight months, lived together for six, and from the moment I'd moved into Ian's place, the fighting had started. I'd fallen for a big smile, broad shoulders and a job that had nothing to do with crime. He'd told me he liked the dynamic, busy detective with long legs and no ulterior motives. I wasn't looking for a husband who could be the father to my children — yet. My eyes didn't light up with pound signs when I heard he was in banking. It was all so easy. We saw one another when we could, snatched hours in bed at his place or mine, managed dinner together every so often and when my lease came up for renewal, Ian had taken a chance, the sort of gamble that had made him rich, and invited me to move in with him in his ludicrously over-designed, expensive flat in Primrose Hill. It hadn't been a good idea. It had been a disaster. And I wasn't sure how to get out of it. After two months, we hadn't known one another, except in the biblical sense. We hadn't worked out what we had in common, or how we might spend long winter afternoons when the weather made going out an unappealing prospect. As it turned out, we stayed in bed or we fought. There was no middle ground. I started to stay longer at work, left earlier in the morning, popped into the nick over the weekend even if I wasn't on duty. The only silver lining was the overtime pay.
The night air was harsh and I shivered as I hurried down the road, my hair cold against my neck. I was glad of the coat Ian had bought me, full-length and caramel-coloured in fine wool that was really too nice for hacking about crime scenes, but he had insisted on it. Generosity was not one of his shortcomings — he was open-handed to a fault. Even allowing for the extra overtime cash, there was no way I could compete. We weren't equals, couldn't pretend to be. It was no way to live.
When I got to my car, parked where I could find a space the night before, which was not particularly close to the flat, I stopped for a second to fill my lungs with sharp-edged air and centre myself, letting the silence fill my mind. That was the idea, anyway. Somewhere an engine revved as a neighbour drove away; traffic noise was building already, even at that early hour. And I needed to be elsewhere. Enough of the Zen contemplation. I got into the car and got going.
Excerpted from The Burning by Jane Casey. Copyright © 2012 Jane Casey. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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