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Striding home through the dark streets of York with a bloody plastic cape and rubber gloves concealed inside a polythene bag in his rucksack, he congratulated himself on a successful outing. He had come a long way since leaving the house where he had spent his unhappy childhood. He had done his best, but even then he had known that the cats he killed had been paving the way for other victims. At that time he had been forced to suffocate his victims, as he couldn't return home covered in blood. Because the most annoying aspect of his life back then was that whenever he flung himself through the front door, bag on his back and blond fringe flopping over his forehead, his parents would be there, waiting ...
He turned away from his parents, refusing to look at them, certain they would crush his excitement. Glancing up, he gave a defiant smile at his father's reflection frowning at him in the mirror. If they persisted in worrying about him when he stayed out late, that was their problem. It wasn't fair of them to spoil his fun.
He had given up insisting that it was his life to live as he pleased. Instead he had resolved to ignore them. In any case, they didn't know the half of it. He took risks they knew nothing about. But the pay-off was worth all the preparation. His parents would never understand. No one would. In their small-minded way, people like them would assume he was driven by a sordid sexual urge, but nothing could be further from the truth. More intense than anything they could imagine, his pleasure was momentous; he had learned to exercise power over life itself. Compared to the triumph of a kill, all other experiences were petty.
Despite all their questions, he never told them where he was going or who he was seeing. For a long time he had simply told them he was meeting his 'mates'. They didn't need to know more than that.
'Have you any idea what time it is?' his father asked severely.
When he didn't answer, his mother spoke, her voice shrill with anxiety.
'You know it's nearly two o'clock. Where have you been? One night you're going to get yourself in trouble. You could be attacked, and left for dead in a gutter, and we'd know nothing about it until the police knocked on the door to tell us you'd been killed. You have to come home at a sensible time. You'll be the death of us with all this staying out late. We need to get to bed –'
'Oh, give it a rest, will you? If you want to go to bed, who's stopping you? Did I ask you to wait up for me? What's your problem? Nothing's going to happen to me.'
Even though he was not quite sixteen, he hated the way they made him sound like a petulant teenager. He was so much more than that: a master of life and death.
'You can't say that,' she replied.
'Well, I just did.'
'Don't be flippant with us, son,' his father snapped. 'The point is, however independent you think you are, you don't know what might happen to you. No one does. A youngster like you, out on the streets on your own, you've no idea who might be out there, and what they might be after. People get assaulted, and young boys are especially vulnerable.'
They had been through the argument many times without reaching a resolution, but his parents refused to give up.
Forcing a smile, his father said, 'Why don't you at least let me come and pick you up, when you want to stay out late?'
'You're having a laugh. You? Come and pick me up? Not bloody likely. You'd spoil everything.'
'Well, I could come and meet you somewhere then, if you like. Jesus, you must know you're putting yourself at risk going out on your own at night. You're only fifteen, and you don't know anything of the world yet. Why don't you at least tell me where you are, so I can come and give you a lift home? For your mother's sake, if nothing else. You know she worries about you being mugged.'
'What if one of these muggers you're so worried about attacked you?' He spat the words out. He wasn't laughing now. 'You're just as likely to be mugged as me, you know. Now, stop pestering me, because I told you nothing's going to happen. Not to me, anyway.' He turned away to hang up his coat. 'I know what you're trying to do,' he resumed, turning back to face them. 'It's not going to work. You don't own me. I'm not a child. You can't control me anymore.'
Seeing his father cower backwards when he lifted his hand to pull off his scarf, he grinned, his good humour restored.
'You thought I was going to hit you just then! You did, didn't you? And you think you can scare me! Ha!'
He snapped his fingers in the air with a faint click. His mother stepped forward, one hand raised, but he stood his ground, taunting her.
'What are you going to do? Hit me? That's why you go on and on and on about something happening to me, because that's what you want, to see me punished. You'd like me to suffer, just to prove you were right.'
'Don't talk such nonsense. You know that's not true.'
'Isn't it?' He held out his arm to display a series of scratches. 'What's this then?'
His father shook his head in disgust. 'You know perfectly well you told us a cat scratched you. Now, I'll ask you again, where have you been all this time?'
'Oh, give it a rest, old man. Have you got any idea how stupid you sound, asking the same questions, over and over again?' With a flick of his head he tossed their sour protests aside, and his long fringe spun around his head. He stroked it into place with the flat of his hand, enjoying the feel of its sleek softness. Until he was old enough to do as he pleased, his parents had never allowed him to grow his hair long enough to cover his ears. That was just one of many reasons why he hated them. As though it should be up to them to control his appearance! Now they had lost their authority over him, they were nothing in his eyes. Less than nothing.
He understood their efforts to confine him were driven by anxiety, but he was different from them. He was fearless. Ordinary people like his parents could have no idea what he was capable of achieving. They didn't know him at all. No one did. They were never going to understand that there was no need to be concerned on his account. They should be worrying about their own safety while he was living under their roof.CHAPTER 2
'It's so dull around here,' Ariadne grumbled. 'Not that I'm complaining,' she added with a slightly embarrassed laugh, 'but you know what I mean.' She lowered eyes as dark and impenetrable as Geraldine's.
'I know exactly what you mean,' Geraldine said.
Neither of them admitted out loud that they had chosen to work in serious crime to avoid sitting behind a desk. Of course no one was pleased to hear that an innocent victim had been killed, but the job could be tedious when they weren't working on a murder case. What made the time pass even more slowly for Geraldine was that she didn't know anyone in York outside of her work colleagues. Her lifestyle had changed significantly over the course of the past year. Demoted from the rank of detective inspector in the London Metropolitan Police force, she had relocated to York where she now worked as a detective sergeant. Only her unswerving commitment to her work had sustained her throughout what had been a very difficult year. Now, for a change, her work life had been quiet for a couple of months, allowing her to relax and enjoy exploring the city of York, and get to know her colleagues.
To some extent, she and Ariadne had been thrown together as their desks stood opposite one another. Whenever Geraldine glanced up, she saw her colleague's dark head lowered over her desk. Sometimes they both looked up at the same time, and exchanged smiles. Geraldine was pleased to have made a new friend at work. In her mid-thirties, Ariadne was only a few years younger than Geraldine, and they were both single. They even looked vaguely similar, with dark hair and eyes, although Geraldine wore her hair short while Ariadne's glossy curls touched her shoulders. Sometimes they went out together for an evening, but when they weren't occupied with an investigation, Geraldine's weekends were usually spent visiting family. Although these were social calls, she spent more time on the road than anywhere else, driving all the way to London to see her identical twin, and even further to Kent to visit her adopted sister.
Geraldine was used to batting away antagonism. With years of experience, it wasn't difficult to distance herself from extreme animosity, which she understood was directed against her office as a detective sergeant working in a serious crime unit, and not personal. Yet somehow, where her twin sister was concerned, she struggled to keep her emotions under control. It disturbed her to know how easily Helena could upset her. Apart from their physical similarity, they couldn't have been less alike. Geraldine had spent her adult life in the service of justice. The identical twin she had only recently met was a recovering heroin addict, involved in petty crime of one kind or another for longer than Geraldine had been a police officer.
Geraldine was startled when Ariadne interrupted her musings to ask whether she wanted to take a break and go for a coffee.
'Sorry if I disturbed you, but you can't think about work all the time,' Ariadne added, laughing, and Geraldine gave a guilty smile because she hadn't been thinking about work, but about her twin sister.
They were sipping coffee and Geraldine was listening to Ariadne describe the Greek island where her mother had grown up, when they were summoned to the major incident room. They glanced wordlessly at one another, aware that so peremptory a summons most likely signified a murder on their patch. Moments after they arrived, the detective chief inspector strode in. Eileen Duncan was a broad-shouldered, forceful woman. Sharp features in her square face were framed by dark hair that was turning grey. She gazed around at the assembled team with a faintly aggressive expression that Geraldine suspected masked an underlying anxiety. The mood in the room was sombre, and everyone fell silent as Eileen spoke.
'A body was discovered early this morning in Pope's Head Alley, one of the snickelways.'
'Snickelways are narrow alleyways,' Ariadne whispered. 'You'll find them all over town.'
Geraldine grunted in response. Having lived in York for nearly six months, she had studied the local area and its history, and was familiar with the network of narrow passageways that criss-crossed the city streets.
'It's one of the oldest snickelways in the city,' another sergeant murmured, as though that somehow made the murder more heinous.
'We've closed it off at both ends, but there's not much room to manoeuvre along there. It's less than a metre wide.'
They all listened intently as the detective chief inspector went on to give details of the site where the body had been found, in a passageway running between Peter Lane and High Ousegate.
'Check your tasks with the duty sergeant and keep everyone updated with anything you discover. We need to find out what happened, and quickly.' With that exhortation, the detective chief inspector swept out of the room.
'Let's hope this one's over and done with soon,' Geraldine muttered. 'I've got a holiday booked next month.'
'You can still go away if you've booked the time off,' Ariadne said.
Geraldine didn't answer but she knew that once she was involved in a murder investigation she could never walk away, not even for a day, let alone two weeks.
She had mixed feelings when she saw that she would be working with her ex-colleague, Ian Peterson. They knew one another well, having worked together in the past when she had been an inspector and Ian had been her sergeant. Now their roles had been reversed, thanks to his advancement and her own demotion. At times she struggled to remember that he was her senior officer. She wasn't sure whether he sometimes came across as bombastic because he also found the situation awkward, and felt the need to assert his authority over her. It was equally possible that he had become more authoritarian with everyone as he moved up the career ladder.
Whatever the reason for the change in his attitude towards her, she had come to terms with her disappointment at the reception he had given her on her arrival in York, and the realisation that she had evidently valued their friendship more than he did. While not unfriendly, he had hardly greeted her arrival with the enthusiasm she had been foolish enough to anticipate. She told herself that beyond her hurt ego she didn't really care. But however hard she tried to suppress her feelings, she knew that Ian mattered to her, perhaps more than any other man she had ever met.
Pulling on protective shoes, she passed through the cordon at the end of Pope's Head Alley and entered the narrow passageway behind Ian. It was enclosed on both sides by high brick walls, almost like a tunnel, except that it was open to the sky. As they turned a corner, a couple of uniformed officers stood aside to let them through. There was barely enough room to squeeze past them.
'It's just up there, towards High Ousegate,' one of the constables said.
Geraldine followed Ian across the plastic stepping plates of the common approach path lining the passageway, until they reached the site.
She noticed the blood first. Camouflaged on red-brick walls enclosing the snickelway, the scarlet runnels were startlingly brilliant against grey paving stones on the ground. As she looked down at the dead man, the high walls seemed to close in on her and the scene took on a dreamlike quality. A dark puddle had pooled beside the dead man's head. Nothing about the shape or colouring of the body looked even vaguely human. Only the short mousy hair, crusty with dried blood, indicated that the hump of clothes at her feet had once been a person.
For a few seconds she stood perfectly still, taking in every detail of the scene. The crime team who were on their way would struggle to work in such a confined space, photographing the body and searching every centimetre of the passageway for evidence, but for now the time was hers. High Ousegate was closer than Peter Lane, and from the position of the body she thought the dead man had probably entered the alleyway from the Peter Lane end. The cause of death wasn't immediately obvious, although the blood indicated he had been stabbed.
The silence was disturbed by a faint cacophony that grew in volume behind her. Two white-coated scene of crime officers appeared around the bend in the snickelway.
'Let's get out of here,' Ian said.
Geraldine nodded. There was barely room for her and Ian to stand side by side against the wall. Two more white-coated officers appeared in front of them, on the far side of the body. They manoeuvred their way past the officers waiting behind them and returned to Peter Lane.
'Phew,' Geraldine said as they emerged back on to the street. 'That was tight.'
'And bloody,' Ian muttered.
Peter Lane was busier than it had been when they arrived. People were hurrying past on their way to work, most of them barely glancing at the cordon across the lane. As she entered the bustling street, Geraldine felt as though she was waking from a nightmare.
They drove back to the police station in silence. Without evidence there was nothing useful to discuss, only speculation. Once they knew the identity of the victim, and the details of his violent death, they would be in a position to consider what had happened. If they had witnessed the victim of a mugging, as seemed probable, they could only hope the killer had left clear traces of DNA behind, enabling them to find a match straightaway.
'That was a vicious attack,' Ian said as they drew up in the police station car park. He shuddered. 'Let's hope we get him quickly.'
'Or her,' Geraldine replied.
Ian frowned. 'That seems unlikely but, either way, we don't want a violent psychopath loose in the city.'
Geraldine didn't say what she suspected they were both thinking. They were responsible for protecting the innocent, and if this was not a one-off crime of passion but a random assault, other innocent lives might be at risk. The many alleyways that criss-crossed the city of York were quaint and historically interesting. She hoped they had not become a hunting ground for a dangerous killer.CHAPTER 3
After a hurried lunch in the canteen, Geraldine attended a briefing. Not all of her colleagues were there when she reached the incident room, and the detective chief inspector, Eileen Duncan, had not yet arrived. A young constable, Naomi, was whispering to Ian, so Geraldine walked past them to join Ariadne who was standing by herself at the side of the room. They had barely had time to exchange a greeting when Eileen entered. Striding past them all, she made her way to the front of the room where she stood looking around at the assembled team.
'It seems we're looking at a street crime that went too far,' she said. 'We all know about the spate of attacks that have been happening recently. There have been several accounts of victims being threatened with a knife in the course of a mugging and there's nothing to suggest this was anything other than an unfortunate victim who tried to resist an approach from this criminal gang. With the increase in violent assaults on the streets, this was a fatality waiting to happen. We need to find this gang of muggers and put a stop to them before things escalate any further.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rogue Killer"
Copyright © 2019 Leigh Russell.
Excerpted by permission of Oldcastle Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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