"I used to be a murder squad detective, and a damned good one at that until I told them where they could shove it. It’s a long story. Now, I’m an inquiry agent, or what some people might call a private detective. I like to gamble and have the occasional drink. I'm old school, and I put my trust in my gut instincts and my brass knuckles." Nick Harland.
Charles Thorpe languidly strolled down the sunlit high street. He stopped at a bookshop and studied his pale, gaunt features in the reflection of the highly polished window.
He suddenly froze like a statue. His eyes widened as his gaze was drawn to a pretty young blonde girl in a short skirt, and a tight red T-shirt. His shameless stare enveloped her as she went by. His eyelids began to flicker as if in the midst of a convulsion, his eyeballs rolling back in their sunken sockets. Her aroma lingered on the warm, summer air, the fleeting moment had stirred something deep within him. He tilted his head back and his entire body tingled as he drank in her fresh, exquisite fragrance. He opened his eyes and savoured the last molecules of the sweet perfume of her youth. His jaw tightened and his pale lips drew back, revealing a set of coffee coloured teeth. He stood stock still and concentrated his gaze on the undulating cheeks of her pert backside.
'Satan is with thee, my child,' said the little voice inside his head.
Thorpe had served seventeen years for the murders of two young women, and in the eyes of the law the slate had now been wiped clean. His debt to society had been paid in full. The murderer was now out, and free to walk the streets once more. 'A reformed character and a model prisoner,' the Parole Board had said. Charles Edward Thorpe, A.K.A the Fallen Angel had fooled them good this time. As for his victims, they are but a distant memory, faded photos on dusty mantelpieces.
It was two o'clock in the morning and the air was thick, still and warm, and it was far too hot to even try to think about sleep. Through the opaque window of the Harland Detective Agency a dim yellow light burned. Inside, Nick Harland was sitting at his desk, deep in thought.
Me, a father? I can't seem to get my head around it, it feels so weird Nick thought. He was puzzled by the fact that he didn't seem to feel the same way everyone else did about the forthcoming happy event. He reached for the bottle of Bourbon on his desk, filled the shot glass to the brim, drank it, and drew on his cigarette. He eased back in the chair, and became lost in thought once more. His face was black and invisible now it was covered by the shadows. The tiny red tip of the cigarette glowed as he sucked the warm nicotine out of it. He aimed a long funnel of blue smoke at the ceiling, ran his fingers through his unkempt and damp hair and watched the small oscillating desk fan make strange shapes out of his cigarette smoke.
A photo of a pretty young girl in a red dress lay on his desk. The picture had been taken two years ago at the girls twenty-first birthday party. Her smiling eyes seemed to reach out to him. He leant forward, picked the photo up and began to study the beautiful face.
Missing persons, I hate these cases. It’s been a week now, so it'll now be a murder hunt for sure. She’s dead, I know it, and the last thing her family will want to see is a bill from me for my failed services he thought as he glanced at the invoice he'd just typed out.
"Where are you Sally? Come on, give me something to go on, God damn it" he said, asking the question as if in direct conversation with her. Nick stubbed out his cigarette and strolled over to the front door. He opened it and sucked in a long deep breath. A booming rumble of thunder came rolling in from the North, sounding like some colossal locomotive at full speed. Sheets of heavy rain turned the pavement into a black mirror within seconds. He stepped into the deserted street, turned his face skyward and gratefully accepted the downpour. He went back inside and took another shot of bourbon and opened the desk drawer. He swept his Colt 45, brass knuckles and car keys from the top of his desk into it and slammed it shut.
His damp shirt did its best to cling on to him as he wrestled out of it. He threw it over the back of the chair, switched out the lamp and slumped onto his comfy old sofa. He laid back and stared into the darkness. Listening to the hum of the little desk fan and the rumbling sky, he thought about Sally Fenton.
Nick woke to the warble of the phone. He threw his arm out and grabbed the handset. The call was from Detective Inspector Fleming. He told Nick that the body of a young woman fitting the description of Sally Fenton had just been discovered in West London.
The crime scene was ten miles from Nick's office and he arrived at the location within the hour. Nick pulled off the Great West Road and took a sharp left. As he turned the corner, he drove into the kind of neighbourhood that had you looking over your shoulder. The area was run down, and even at the height of a bright summer morning the place seemed to be a few shades darker than it should have been.
Up ahead, he could see the shiny ribbons of crime scene tape stretched across the road. He pulled over, switched off the engine and had a smoke. Even before he'd seen the body he was already thinking about how he was going to break the news to Sally Fenton’s mother.
Nick approached the first line of crime scene tape and was handed some CPE shoe covers by the police officer on duty outside the door of the disused factory. Nick ducked under the tape and it felt like a dozen cockroaches had just scuttled up and down his spine. It always felt like that with murder cases; no matter how many times he'd dealt with them, he always felt the same way - sick to his stomach. But even more so with this one. He entered the gloomy corridor of the disused factory.
It was semi dark inside and he had to play hopscotch with puddles of stagnant water. The shaft of light from the open doorway twenty feet away told him where he needed to be.
As he entered the room, the powerful spotlights erected by the crime scene team blazed down upon a slim, naked, pure white body of a young woman who was laid out on the cold concrete floor of the old workshop. Nick said nothing as he simply stood and surveyed the room. He crouched over the body and studied the burst blood vessels and purple spots on her once unblemished, attractive face. Such a great looking girl, and now. It's hard to believe it’s the same person, Nick thought as he lifted the page of the Bible that had been covering her face. He drew back her eyelids and the tiny pinpricks of red in the sclera of her eyes told him what he already knew. He cast his eye over her protruding tongue and stared into her bulging, bloodshot eyes. 'Strangled,' he whispered.
The girl’s delicate alabaster-like hands had been deliberately placed at her sides. Her hair had been brushed back and she was lying flat on her back with her legs together. His eyes moved slowly over the body and he took note of the two burned-out black candles. One was at her head and the other at her feet. The photo of her on his desk flashed into his mind.
"Morning Nick, she’s been unofficially identified, and it is Sally Fenton," Fleming said matter of factly as he pointed to a neatly folded pile of clothes in the corner. Her small black purse was on top, and on top of that was her credit card.
"Yeah, that’s her alright, poor kid," Nick said.
He moved in a little closer to examine the ligature marks around her slender white throat and then glanced at the candles once more. What is this, some kind of sick ritual? he thought.
"The killer used a thin cord, or wire cable perhaps?" Nick said and continued to study the marks around her throat.
"According to the doctor, the temperature of the body indicated that she was killed at around three this morning," Inspector Fleming said.
Nick got up, brushed the grime from his hands and went outside for a smoke, his tenth this morning. He took a huge draw on the cigarette and slowly released the smoke through his nostrils as he thought about the girls' parents.
Strangled eh? That page from the Bible’s a bit weird, and why nail the thing to her forehead? I hope that was done post-mortem, haven't seen anything like this for a while,he thought as he jotted down the details in his notebook.
You look dog rough, mate," Inspector Fleming said as he placed his hand on Nick's shoulder.
"Yeah, I couldn't sleep last night, and you ain't no oil painting either," Nick said, noting the two, fat, slug-like bags under Fleming's eyes.
"You fancy a breakfast, Nick? There’s a little café just up the road. You can get a couple of fried eggs, a greasy slab of bacon, a lump of slimy black pudding and a cup of lukewarm tea for two ninety-nine. Fleming said, noting the indications on Nick’s face of a possible hangover.
"No, I'm alright thanks, I think I'll give that a miss. Have you informed the next of kin, yet?" Nick said as he ripped off his shoe covers.
"No, not yet, I was thinking that seeing as you are working for the family directly, it might be better coming from you? And we do need an official identification of the body as well if you could swing it." Fleming said.
"Okay, leave it with me, I'll see you around," Nick said as he flicked his cigarette stub into the gutter and climbed into his black Ford Mondeo. He gently bumped the car off the pavement and drove slowly away. He kept his foot off of the accelerator and wasn't in a hurry to deliver the bad news.