The last few hours were spent watching her – in the next few hours… she’d be dead.
The town wasn’t quiet nor particularly busy. Zombies roamed with eyes glued to screens; earphones plugged into ears – oblivious to the world around them.
See no evil – hear no evil.
It was easy to be invisible. No one was watching – no one was listening – except me.
I sat in Starbucks, a few tables away. Like a lousy Cliché, I hid behind a pair of large sunglasses and last week’s newspaper. I watched as she sipped her white chocolate mocha. Her golden ponytail waddled as she spoke to the boy opposite her. Animated. Unable to wipe the massive grin off her face. Her dimples, which usually only appeared when she smiled widely, were frozen on her cheeks.
Who was he? I wondered.
I didn’t like him. Not just because he was sitting with her but because I didn’t like his kind. Tall and athletic – all the looks, no personality, no brain.
She liked him. It was obvious.
It wasn’t fair.
People like him got everything.
And it was damn unfair that people like her went around breaking hearts.
She had to be stopped.
I had to stop her.
And for more reasons than one.
Startled — Jaxon glanced at the traffic lights that had been green long enough to irritate the driver behind. He waved in the rear-view mirror and moved off. It was strange being on the receiving end – he was usually the one impatiently horning to wake the driver in front.
He made a mental note to wait a few seconds after the lights turn amber before slamming on the steering wheel in the future.
“You OK?” Stacey asked.
“Yeah, fine,” Jaxon replied without facing her in case his eyes betrayed him.
“It’s just… you haven’t said a word the entire way.” Silence briefly filled the car. “You are still excited about everything, right?”
“What? Course,” he coughed to clear his throat.
“Good! Because I’m going to need you now.” Her tone was serious.
“I know, honey. I’m right here.”
“You’re miles away.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just work and…”
“Well,’ He looked her in the eyes, “I’m nervous.”
Stacey’s smile cut through the tension like a knife.
“Me too, but you need to keep it together.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“And stop apologising.”
“Jesus, Jaxon! We’re going for a scan, not a murder trial!” she laughed.
How could he possibly tell her he’d be less nervous at a murder trial? He couldn’t. She wouldn’t understand.
“I know… and I am excited.” He turned the heating down – sweat formed above his lip.
“OK, good.” She rubbed her bump. “Now drive a little faster, we might get a parking ticket.”
She was good at finding comedy in tragedy. A trait Jaxon liked and loathed.
He was no stranger to pressure either, but not this kind. He was a Detective Constable in MIT. DC Jaxon Knox, he would proudly introduce himself if anyone asked. Detective Chief Inspector Harold Bishop told him he was one of the best detectives on the team. He was convinced Harold lied to all his staff. Fast to praise and knew how to motivate people, probably why he was the DCI.
From a tender age, Jaxon longed to be a copper. His father was a PC and had been exactly that for 30 years. He loved it and never planned to move up ranks. Jaxon’s mother would nag him for not being ambitious but Jaxon new that wasn’t true. His father was a proud Bobby on the beat.
“PC’s do the groundwork.” He’d say to Jaxon whenever they spoke about his job. “I couldn’t sit behind a desk in the ‘Brains Department’ all day like those big-bellied bureaucrats. No, I belong out there, on the front line.”
He admired father for that; he knew what he wanted and held his guns. Jaxon wanted to be just like him – he religiously wore his father’s helmet while scuffing his cereal every morning. He even tried to sneak it into school, which didn’t go down well.
“You have to earn this helmet, son.”
When Jaxon did eventually join the force, the thrill of solving crimes intrigued him far more than patrolling the streets in uniform. The helmet had lost its appeal.
His palms were moist as they approached the hospital. He secretly hoped there’d be no parking available and would be forced to drop her off at the front and wait in the car.
There was plenty of parking.
Although he despised his selfish thoughts, he couldn’t help how he felt. Time changed according to circumstances – staring at other people flicking through outdated Women’s magazines in the waiting room until the overworked and demotivated nurse called your name felt like days. Then waiting for the scanning equipment to be set up and nervously anticipating the midwife’s verdict would feel like forever. Whereas if he selfishly waited in the car, he could read a book or listen to the radio and it would feel like minutes before Stacey waddled back with the results. A cowardly yet appealing alternative.
He tried not to sigh when he noticed the parking space next to the entrance was empty – bitterly convenient.
The waiting room was how he had imagined it. Dark green carpets with faint stains and scattered wooden chairs. An aroma of damp mixed with strong disinfectant and unbearable heat.
Older people occupied most of the chairs. A young couple sat in the corner facing away from each other as if they had just had a row.
The automatic door opening when someone left or entered brought with it a refreshing breeze but only opened twice in the 30 minutes they waited until Stacey’s name was called.
“Follow me.” The chubby nurse said as she waddled along the corridor. Her tone and body language suggested she didn’t want to be there. She made no eye contact and no attempt to smile. They were simply a name on the clipboard, and her job was to make sure the name got to the designated room.
Stacey locked her fingers through Jaxon’s and squeezed his hand. Jaxon pressed back and momentarily they glanced at each other and smirked like naughty school children. It had been a while since they had spent any “real” time together. Stacey had continued to teach up until the 8th month of the pregnancy despite having some complications in the first trimester, and Jaxon had been bogged down with case after case – late nights and early starts almost every day. No morning jogs, date nights or sitting on the couch and reading together for the past several months.
This strange split-second moment of staring into each other’s eyes and holding hands made Jaxon realise what he was missing. Nights of creeping into the house, hoping she would be asleep so he could look through casework, seemed like wasted opportunities. Opportunities to be happy.
The nurse banged her knuckles on the door twice and then opened it. The bright room had a bed and various machines surrounding it. A blond-haired lady, who Jaxon assumed was the midwife, swivelled her chair and greeted them with a smile. She was thin and wore red lipstick and didn’t look a day over 35. Jaxon had no idea why he expected her to be an old overweight woman with cloud-like hair. Served him right for not attending any of the previous scans.
He could feel his phone vibrating in his pocket as Stacey lay down on the bed. He knew it was work. He had been working on finding a missing girl for a week, and there were no solid leads. Harold was on his back about the investigation. This was the kind of pressure he was used to.
He wanted to take the call – he needed to take the call. He looked down at Stacey as she lay on the bed and the midwife pasted gel on her bump. Her face was glowing, and she still held his hand. He couldn’t ruin this for her – for them. He often felt as if he wasn’t part of it, that it was her thing and he was a chaperone. A terrible chaperone. It was difficult; torn between being a husband and a detective – now it would be a three-way tear. Impossible.
He used his other hand to reach into his pocket and caressed his way to the volume button. He pressed it, and the buzzing stopped. It was a difficult choice as the case was going nowhere and had received a lot of press attention. He had to keep reminding himself that it was work and this, he stared down at Stacey, was life. They both had their places and their rights.
He smiled at her when their eyes met, but her smile faded. It was as if she had intercepted his thoughts. The phone vibrated again, this time the room was silent, and Stacey heard the phone vibrating.
“Sorry,” Jaxon whispered and rummaged in his pocket to silence it again.
“Don’t be,” Stacey said. “It’s probably work. Shouldn’t you take it?”
“No. I don’t want to take the call right now.” He lied.
Stacey squeezed his hand a little harder, and her smile resurfaced, “I know how important your job is, and besides, the baby is fine. Look.” She stared at the monitor that showed a big head and two little legs kicking. Jaxon’s eyes remained glued to the screen. That was the first time he saw their little boy. It was as if guilt had taken the form of a fist and punched him hard in the gut. The sentiment of being both hungry and sick overcame him. He finally felt part of the pregnancy and was gutted that it had taken him this long.
It couldn’t have been easy for her to be dealing with this alone.
His deliberations of remorse, however, were interrupted with the phone vibrating again.
“Take the call!” The midwife commanded. Stacey and the midwife chuckled and then began talking among themselves. Although he felt sinful, he slipped his hand out of Stacey’s and crept towards the door.
“Jaxon Knox,” he answered.
“Jaxon, where have you been?!” the voice on the other end said.
“A couple of joggers discovered a body washed up in Southbank.”
“When?” Adrenaline coursed through his veins.
“An hour ago. A young, IC1 female. Blond, 5’7. She fits the description of the missing girl, Sarah Fowler.”
Jaxon’s heart sank to his ankles. His chest tightened. He had wanted to find Sarah alive – hoped she had run away to prove a point or make a statement; though his instincts and experience had already told him otherwise. No one ran away without taking anything with them. She had vanished without a trace. If this was Sarah, he had failed.
“I need you to get down there now. I have sent you the location via text.”
Jaxon peered back towards the door behind which his future lay. He sighed silently and rested the phone on his forehead. How could he tell Stacey he needed to rush off the first time he showed the slightest bit of interest in her and their baby?
“Jaxon?” He could hear DCI Harold Bishop’s voice from the phone’s speaker.
He put it back to his ear, “Sir,”
“Well, are you on your way?”
He paused momentarily and then said, “Yes, on route.”
He put the phone back into his pocket and rested his forehead on the door. He took a few deep breaths and pushed it open.
“There you are. Thought you might have run away.” Stacey said, now standing. “We’re all done.”
He hadn’t seen her this happy in months. It was wrong, he should be sharing that smile, sharing the joy, but instead, all he felt was guilt. Guilt for failing to be there for her and guilt for not finding Sarah Fowler in time.
Stacey looked in his eyes; he was sure she could read his mind.
“Thank you,” she said to the midwife who returned the smile, and they left the room.
“What’s wrong?” Stacey asked as they walked through the corridor towards the exit.
“They’ve found a body.”
“Oh my God!” she said and then moved closer and lowered her voice, “Do they know who it is?”
“No. A young girl.”
“The girl that went missing?” Her eyes opened wider.
“You know about the missing girl?”
“Of course. People have been talking about it, and it is in the papers. But her mother was adamant that she ran away, that’s why she did that appeal asking her to return home. They had some argument. She stormed out and didn’t come back.”
“Wow. You have been keeping up to date with things.”
“Well,” She grabbed Jaxon’s hand and placed it on her bump and said, “we have to think about how to handle young ones now.” The butterflies returned. He forced a smile.
“But that poor girl,” she continued, “If it is her, that is. I hope it isn’t.”
Stacey looked up at Jaxon. “You need to go and deal with this.”
“No. I… took the day off to come to the scan and… we were supposed to spend the rest of the day together.”
“Thank you for coming. It means a lot to me; it really does, but I know how important your job is. You need to go, and we’ll catch up later.”
It was surprising how understanding she was.
He wondered why it was so hard to tell her the truth about his past.
First day back after the holidays was always hard. Wasn’t waking up early or the long trek to UCL as much as getting back into work mode and seeing familiar faces. Sarah was a student at the University College of London who had grown tired of explaining whether it was a University or a College. Her uncle Mickey never understood it.
“So, it’s called a University and a College?” Unsure whether he was teasing her or whether he was genuinely confused.
He never went to University or College – dropped out at 15 and claimed it was the best thing he ever did. Started work in a car wash which led to his fascination with cars. Then moved into car trading and now had two offices and enough yard space to store 150 cars. He earned more than Sarah’s father, who was a doctor. And although her father hated to admit it, Uncle Mickey was right – dropping out was the best thing he ever did.
The majority of students on her course lived on campus. Sarah lived close enough to commute but far enough for it to be an inconvenience. She didn’t mind the underground – it was as an opportunity to catch up on notes on her Psychology degree. That’s what she told herself anyway – really, the time was spent reading a Peter James or Clare Mackintosh novel.
Reading I See You by Clare Mackintosh, however, was probably not the best choice when travelling on the underground as it made her paranoid about everyone around her.
“Sarah. Hi.” A voice emerged from behind her.
“Melissa, hi,” Sarah said as she turned to face her best friend, “Nice hair,”
“You like it?”
“It suits you.”
“You think? Mum hates it. She said she couldn’t believe I spent so much money getting this sizzling look.” She stroked Sarah’s straight blond hair and shook her head. “You’re so lucky you don’t have afro hair. I mean, not wrestling with your hair in the morning sounds heavenly – I wake up looking like I’m wearing a motorbike helmet.” They both chuckled.
“Well, I think it looks lovely – it’s got character, unlike my Plain-Jane look. Besides, this is not how it looks in the morning – I wake up looking the living dead!” They both laughed.
“Can I get you something?” Sarah pointed to the vending machine in the empty campus cafeteria.
“No thanks,” Melissa lifted her hands which had two Costa takeaway cups, “I much prefer real coffee.”
Sarah pushed the cafeteria cup away, screwed up her face and swallowed the sour taste in her mouth, “Come to think of it, so do I.” She stood up and grabbed her bag.
“White Chocolate Mocha…” Malisa said, “Shaken but not stirred,” she continued in the worst Sean Connery impression Sarah ever heard.
“Thank you!” Sarah put the cup to her face, closed her eyes and inhaled through her widening nostrils. “You’re a lifesaver!”
“The Mocha or me?” Malisa asked.
“Both!” Sarah smiled.
The place was quieter than usual. People struggled to get here on time first day back.
“How did you know I was in the cafeteria?”
“I didn’t actually,” Melisa sipped her coffee, “I was walking, enthusiastically might I add, to the morning seminar with Dr Boring Monotone and I saw the back of your head – I knew it was you.
“I don’t know, perhaps the long silky hair or the way you sit; I’m not sure exactly, but I just knew.”
“Maybe you have superpowers?” Sarah smirked.
“Yeah. I could be like the new Black Panther-ess.” They giggled. She could pull off a superhero character in a movie. She had the height, was a black belt in Taekwondo and went to the gym every day. The closest Sarah ever got to the gym was the induction, and the next 12 months were solid excuses for why she couldn’t go.
“So, how were the holidays?” Melissa asked as they hurried to the morning seminar.
“What holidays?” Sarah rolled her eyes, “Revision! And don’t get me started on the dissertation.”
“Tell me about it. Sucks to be in the last year!”
Sarah’s mind travelled back to the first year. It was a breeze in comparison and a drastic change from sixth-form, where she was treated like a child and didn’t make any ‘good’ friends. She often found herself in trouble. Her mother was adamant; Sarah took drugs and would inevitably end up in jail. But unlike her old friends, and aside from a small amount of cannabis, she never experimented with drugs or drank alcohol.
Things changed when she got accepted in UCL. Though she didn’t like to admit it, her mother was right about her old friends.
Her new friends, Melissa, Jane and Talisha, were sensible and responsible. Both Jane and Talisha worked in a clothes shop in the city to contribute towards tuition fees and living expenditure. Melissa’s father was a wealthy property developer, so she never worried about money. She insisted on paying for everything – snap out her plastic and swipe before anyone else had the chance.
Technically, they should have hated her for always insisting on paying or for being so damn wealthy, but for broke students, it was a blessing. They went to posh restaurants, got premium seats in the cinema, even spent a few nights in Paris. And Melisa never acted superior – she usually did the opposite. Praised and pointed out things she admired about everyone. How beautiful Sarah was, how Jane and Talisha had great style and fashion sense, and how much she appreciated great friends. Melissa was the definition of a ‘good’ friend.
The lecture hall was half empty. Sarah and Melisa sat on the back row and hoped Dr Murphy wouldn’t turn up. Not that he ever missed a day; even when sick, he would repetitively sneeze and blow his nose but get through the lecture. Sarah admired his tenacity and wondered if she would ever be as dedicated to anything in her life. She regretted picking Psychology and wished she had pursued something more creative. Being a writer would have suited her as she loved reading.
But you live and learn. Last year of the course – ride it out, get the qualification and then work things out after that. That was the plan.
“Don’t look now,” Melisa said as she peered towards the door. “It’s The Freak!”
“Don’t call him that!” Sarah said as Norman walked into the lecture hall. He wore a faded blue hoody and black skinny jeans.
“He’s so weird,” Melissa remarked.
“He’s not weird.”
“He is super weird, and he keeps staring at you. I see him all the time.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Sarah pretended she never noticed him staring at her.
“Yeah, he does, but I think you probably like the weirdos, don’t you?”
“Well, I am friends with you.”
“Ouch!” She slapped Sarah playfully on the arm, “No, but seriously, look – he’s doing it again – he’s looking right at you.”
Sarah glanced over; hoody still hung over his head and slumped deep into his chair as if that was still considered ‘cool’. Every few moments, he looked over but immediately looked away when they made eye contact.
Norman sat alone wherever he was; lecture hall, library, SU, wherever. Didn’t make conversation with anyone and always wore the same faded blue hoody. She imagined him as the kid everyone picked on in school – nicknamed ‘Tramp’ or something similarly as horrid. It was the kind of thing that happened in school – she hated it, but if you stood up for kids like Norman, the nasty kids went for you too. It wasn’t right and wasn’t fair, but it was what was.
Dr Murphy burst in through the doors at precisely 9. His hair was a mess, and he gasped as he got to the front of the hall. His usually pale face had darkened – must have gone away for the holidays and caught some sunshine.
“Morning everyone,” he said, “Hope you all had a nice break.” He scanned the half-deserted hall, “Seems like some of you are still on the break… but for the rest of you, I have an exciting lesson planned.” A few laughs and anonymous sarcastic comments emerged. “Settle down,” he said, “I’ll need a few minutes to get this troublesome projector sorted, so you guys have a few moments to catch up with one another. But no—” Sarah’s phone suddenly sounded with a loud message alert as if on cue. “Phones! You all know the rules – no noisy devices in my class. Silence them or better yet, switch them off.”
Sarah removed her phone and stared at the screen.
“If it’s Jane or Talisha, tell them we’ll sign them in for lecture but don’t bail on our get together later!”
It was as if Melisa had intercepted the text.
Me & T not comin 2day. Sign us in. C u later. #get2gether. X
Sarah could feel the gaze from across the room as she typed a response. Though it was dark, she knew the light from the phone’s screen would be lighting her face. She could see nothing. The screen had temporarily blinded her. By the time she regained her vision, Norman’s seat was empty.
“He’s gone,” Sarah said.
“Who? Melissa replied without looking away from her phone.
Sarah eyes scanned the hall, “Never mind.”
“There’s a new Marvel movie coming out – you wanna go watch it?”
“Great, I’ve booked our tickets for Friday.”
“Already? How did you know I was going to say yes?”
“I wasn’t going to give you a choice.”
“Thought as much.”
“What about the others?”
“How’d you know?”
She faced Sarah with eyebrows raised, “It’s a Marvel movie – they’re coming!”
The day dragged. Melissa wanted to go to Subway to a get six-inch Chicken Tikka, but Sarah passed. She wasn’t hungry nor in the mood to go anywhere – drained. Her legs were murdering her, and her body felt abnormally cold – feeling unusually cold meant coming down with something. She couldn’t afford to get ill – too much work to catch up on.
In the library. Meet me here when u r done. X
She texted Melisa then sunk into the large wooden chair in the library’s study area. It was quiet. No one in sight except the librarian sat at her desk; eyes glued to her computer screen. On a typical day, there would be footsteps, papers shuffling, keyboards bashing, faint whispers and the odd message tone, but not today. It was as if everyone had vanished and Sarah and the Librarian were the only people remaining on earth.
The radiator near her legs was comforting. Sarah put the MacBook Melisa bought her on the desk. She was paying for it in monthly instalments. And although three months arrears, Melisa had not said a word – this made Sarah feel even worse. Perhaps if Melisa had enquired about the arrears, Sarah wouldn’t have bought a pile of novels and the new coat she picked up last week.
She sighed as she searched Google for the notes on her latest assignment. Due in two days, she kicked herself for not starting it earlier. Her eyes stung, and the screen was making it worse. Better to print the assignment she had found on a nerdy forum with the same title as her assignment – the one she intended to copy. Why reinvent the wheel? She said to herself. Plagiarism was a thing of the past – it was the digital age where, if you can get away with it, it’s all good. She found solace in knowing most people would never walk into a shop and steal a DVD, but they would not hesitate in watching a movie on an illegal streaming site. Digital age. The rules were still being written.
Elsa, the Librarian, walked over to her table.
“Did you just try to print something?” She asked. Sarah felt her heart speeding up. Why would she ask that? Had she nosily looked at what was in print and figured it was a random person’s work?
“Erm… yes.” Sarah said, reluctantly.
“Sorry, it seems to have jammed. Do you mind waiting while I go to the I.T. room; they’re not answering the phone. I will get Jerry to have a look at it.”
“Sure.” Sarah smiled. Great, more people involved in her unethical printing.
“Shan’t be long.” She said and walked towards the exit.
Sarah sighed, rested her elbows on the desk and buried her face in her palms. She closed her eyes and hoped the accending headache was just in her imagination.
After a few moments of nearly drifting off, her eyes snapped open. She could have sworn she heard a noise. That familiar feeling of eyes watching her returned. She tried to reassure herself it was in her head, but then she heard the shuffling sound again. The library was empty; she knew that. She would have heard the loud doors opening and felt the draft had someone come in.
She was alone – or that’s what she had assumed.
She peered back at the desk – Elsa had still not returned. And the feeling of being watched was not fading. The library wasn’t huge but there were plenty of places to hide — rows of tall bookcases, a few rooms, an office. Her mind told her she was paranoid, but her instinct was telling her something different.
Jaxon had missed the Golden Hour. Reporters being pushed back by a few uniforms like hooligans at a football match. It might be an idea to give reporters a Police badge as their response time was much better than the emergency services. Like vultures, they crowded the area, flashing cameras and repeating the same questions to get a headline. Like bloodthirsty animals attacking what remained of the poor dead girl in the distance. Now merely a means for the papers to make money — her body, a spectacle — her blood, a currency — her name, a measly formality.
It wasn’t the first time he was going to see a dead body and certainly wasn’t going to be the last. He knew behind the crime scene tape, in the cordoned-off area, lay the lifeless body of someone’s daughter. Maybe someone’s sister, wife, mother. Immediately, he thought of Stacey. Bile travelled up his throat. As a DC and having witnessed the ugliest things in life, he was suspicious and paranoid about everything and everyone. Stacey was the opposite – she saw the good in everything and everyone. It often made him wonder why they were even together – opposites attract.
She trusted everyone and believed almost everything she was told. She would walk at night with her headphones plugged in and assume no one would be lurking in the shadows, watching her as she hummed along to the tracks on her playlist – now deaf and blind. To her, someone murdered or raped belonged in headlines of newspapers or novels, not in real life.
He thought of all the times he gave loved ones news that their world was about to fall apart. Telling someone that a person they love was murdered was very different from telling them they died in a car accident. After the shock came grief and after grief came anger and, in most cases, after anger, came revenge. Not justice but cold-blooded revenge. Most of the recent murder cases were related to Postcode Gangs. Senselessly killing over their geographical location. Young boys who didn’t understand the value of a person’s life or how it felt to spend 25 long years in prison.
Knife crime was a volcano erupting all over the streets of London. No one knew how it got so out of control or how to diminish its ferocious flames – certainly not some posh, potbellied MP in a thousand-pound suit. The only thing they ever got creative with was explaining their expenses.
A dead girl washed up in the Thames, however, was not the mark of a gang crime – this was usually the signature of a sicko. And the last thing London needed was another sicko.
Forensics, or SOCO’s as they were referred to, had finished taking all they could from the scene – photos, prints, swabs, nail clippings and whatever else they could get before it got destroyed.
A white sheet was placed over the girl’s body. DS Natasha Freeman was already at the scene. As Jaxon knew she would be. She was young and worked more hours than there were on the day. And contrary to the popular opinion of the rest of the department, she was the kind of person you both wanted and needed on your team. She wore blue plastic gloves and was crouched over the body as Jaxon approached wearing his footwear protectors. He was sure to put them on immediately – knowing how delicate evidence was in a crime scene. One wrong foot and you can add days on the investigation, or get it thrown out entirely.
Bureaucracy gone mad.
“Have they identified her yet?” he asked before he looked at the face of the victim.
“No,” Natasha responded, “forensics have taken the prints and DNA samples. We’re just waiting for transportation. We’ll know more after the post-mortem.” She continued trying to sound as professional as she could. She was finding it hard – he could sense the shakiness deep in her voice. Who would blame her? It’s not what you want to deal with on a Monday morning. It’s not what you want to deal with any morning. She hadn’t been exposed to even half as many dead bodies as Jaxon, and yet he felt reluctant to uncover the face of the victim.
“Let’s take a look,” he said and removed a pair of gloves from his coat pocket.
“You might want to brace yourself,” she warned. He appreciated the warning and took a deep breath. When uncovering a body, he reminded himself that it’s easier if you don’t think about them as people at all. The way a butcher doesn’t think of the meat he is slicing and dicing as once being a living, breathing animal.
This never helped.
Certainly didn’t help on this occasion.
As he lifted the sheet, the sudden urge to vomit overcame him. His brain refused to translate what his eyes were transmitting. The horror of staring at the pale and bloated face of a young girl was heart-wrenching. Her green eyes were like a frozen lake. Her blood-stained blond hair stuck to the sides of her cheeks. The right side of her skull looked as if it had caved in. Her lips were dark blue, and her neck was black with bruises. It was impossible to recognise her – she barely looked human.
Who would do this?
“Anything obvious?” he asked with his eyes glued on the victim.
“Seems as if she has suffered trauma to the head. Her body has some bruising, but the most significant thing is this,” Natasha gently lifted the victim’s arm. The hand was covered in a see-through plastic hand bang to preserve evidence. Jaxon craned his neck to get a better look. For a moment, he felt as if he imagined the small sailboat carved into the back of the victim’s hand.
“Surely it can’t be—”
“The Sailor.” A voice emerged from behind them.
Jaxon didn’t need to look back to know who stood behind him.
“It’s been over two years since we saw this symbol on a dead body.” DCI Harold Bishop said. “But it looks like The Sailor’s back.”
“I thought I would never see this again,” Jaxon said as he pulled the sheet back over her face. There was no point in trying to compare the victim’s face to the photo he had of the missing girl, Sarah Fowler – he knew it was her by the colour of her hair and her eyes. This was not the way he had hoped to find her.
He was relieved that he wouldn’t be the one informing her mother of her loss. He couldn’t stomach the look on her face. He thought back to when they spoke last; she was adamant that her daughter was alive and out there somewhere.
The guilt she would feel when she finds out Sarah is dead, and the last time they saw each other, they were at each other’s throats will be hard to swallow. She would blame the person who did this, blame the Police for not doing their jobs properly, but most of all, blame herself for allowing her daughter to storm out of the house, never to return.
“We need to keep the press back and not let them clock onto what might be a victim of one of the worst serial killers London had seen.”
Jaxon wanted to correct him – London hadn’t seen him – no one had. The Sailer was a ghost. His victims were all women, and there were never any clues left behind. He was no amateur, that was for sure. And it seemed as if he had no selection uniform for his victims. The killer struck at night but there were no apparent patterns.
“Do you really think it’s The Sailor?” Natasha asked.
“You don’t?” Harold responded. His forehead creased, and his eyebrows almost met in the middle. Jaxon read Harold’s mind – dead girl, London, sailboat carved into the hand of the victim.
“Well?” Harold said impatiently.
“I am not sure it is The Sailor. When I looked through the cases on The Sailor and his victims, there were no obvious patterns except that they were all IC1 females. But there was a pattern of how he killed them.”
“Go on…” Harold said, his forehead now releasing.
“First of all, he was a perfectionist. He killed his victims calmly and with extreme precision. He slit their throats with a sharp knife and in a perfectly straight line, or he stabbed them accurately – not missing the vital organs. He took both pride and pleasure when killing his victims.” She stood from her crouching position and removed her gloves. “This was death by trauma to the head – violent, rage-filled – careless – even emotional. Not his style.”
“The sailboat signature?” Harold pointed out.
“The Sailor always carved the sailboat on the left hand of his victims — this is on the right hand.”
Harold nodded and sighed. “So, we might have a copycat.” He squeezed the back of his neck, “Good work. I need to get back to the office and get things in order with the press release. I want you two to report to me,” he peered down to his wrist, “by 5 pm.”
The drive to the station was long. Natasha silently stared out of the window like a miserable child. She watched the world go by as if she no longer wanted any part of it. She was a good few years younger than Jaxon and had that spark in her eye. Training to be a DC and would be a damn good one, that was sure. Persistent and able to read in between the lines. The problem, however, was, that was all she read, and this often got her into trouble.
Jaxon was her senior but at times it felt like she was the one calling the shots. Her tenacity was both her strength and weakness. She was a real shit magnet.
There were three significant problems with looking into things too deeply, which Natasha learned the hard way: 1. Sometimes you dig so far that you lose your way. 2. You don’t like what you find. 3. You can’t prove what you find.
In the last case they worked on, she was so adamant that Harvey Morrison, another DC in the Met, was involved in an illegal drug smuggling operation, that she made accusations based on little evidence and a lot of assumptions. CPS threw the case out and Natasha’s reputation was disgraced.
Most of the department lost trust in her, and the DCI was not pleased. He liked Natasha, she had a copper’s nose, but he suspended her for a week; more a formality and mercy than a punishment – let her lay low until things cooled down.
On her return, she was ostracised – treated her as if she had committed treason. Betrayed the sacred pact to not turn on her own and deserved to be exiled from the family.
Not many people would have stuck around – most would have left the department, asked for a transfer or even quit altogether but not Natasha – she was obstinate in her refusal to accept she did anything wrong. She was infuriated that no one believed her, which wasn’t the case, both the DCI and Jaxon thought she was right – the problem lay and always laid in the getting the evidence and following the proper procedures.
The DCI made it clear she is not to investigate Harvey Morrison again and of the consequences if she were to make any more wild accusations. “You got off lightly!” he told her. She made no inane attempt to argue with his decision – forced to succumb that she had screwed up big time.
Jaxon thought to ask her if she is OK but stopped himself – when a woman is upset the last thing you did was ask her if she is OK! The wise words of his wife – advice that he now lived by.
“You OK?” he asked unable to stop himself. There was a brief silence – not long enough for it to mean much but long enough for it to say something.
“I’m fine. You?”
“Look, it’s perfectly normal to be a little shaken up considering…”
She turned to face him, “Do I seem like the kind of person who gets shaken up easily?”
“What we saw back there was not easy, not for you and not for me.”
Silence filled the car. The uneasy image of the dead girl’s blue face flashed in his mind. Not that it left his mind. And he assumed Natasha had the same image embedded in her mind.
“We let her down,” she spoke again, “We failed to find her in time.” It was funny how regardless of how many murders or rapists you catch, no matter how many people you save, it is only the ones you lose that stick in your mind. They play with your emotions and make you feel like useless. And if you let them, they consume you.
“We didn’t fail her,” Jaxon respond after a brief silence, “We did what we could.”
Of course, there was more that could have been done – more time spent on questioning people, getting more aggressive with potential leads, re-reading through statements, watching thousands of hours of CCTV footage until your eyes bled, but when do you draw the line? You must draw the line somewhere or else it will be you who needs saving.
“There’s nothing we can do for her now except,” the unusual thought of saying “pray” sprung to his mind. He wasn’t sure why – perhaps deep down, he still had faith that there was higher being. “Find her killer and nick him.” He continued. “Her family deserve to see justice for their daughter. It might help give them closure.”
The fact that she was found, though it be dead, would help the family deal with their loss – as cruel as it sounds, it was true. There was nothing worse than not knowing. Though it didn’t seem it, this was relief.
He never shared these sentiments with Natasha or anyone else. No one would understand, not the way he did.
He wanted to say something, anything. The silence was getting too loud, and he had opened compartments in his mind he shouldn’t have.
“What’s the rush?” Natasha said, but her voice seemed so faint that Jaxon questioned whether she said anything at all.
“You’re driving crazy! What’s the rush?”
He blinked a few times and then looked at the speedo – way faster than he should be going.
“Sorry,” he released his foot off the accelerator and loosened his grip on the steering wheel. His palms were sweaty, and for a moment, he forgot where he was going. He stopped at a junction and looked in all directions, confused.
“The station is just ahead.”
“I know,” he lied, “Thanks.”
“Are you alright?”
Of course, he wasn’t alright – what a stupid question!
He took a deep breath before responding, “I’m fine.” He wanted to scream but refrained — it wasn’t her fault, she didn’t know what happened.
It was better that way.