MatchUp, p.5Lee Child
An edge to her voice stung the DS into action.
They took the marked path to the wall and looked down at the woman’s body. Even stinking of urine and vomit, it was possible to see that she’d been attractive. Pleasant enough face, though nothing out of the ordinary. Good figure. Shapely legs. Except that where her feet should have been there was a puddle of blood-matted grass and heather.
“What do you make of that?” Carol asked.
Tony shook his head. “I’m not sure what he’s saying to us. Don’t think you can run away from me? You’ll never dance with another guy now? Impossible to know until I know a lot more about the victim.”
She gestured to the forensic technicians working the scene. “Hopefully they’ll have something for us soon.
“How’s it looking, Peter?” she called out to the crime scene manager.
He gave her a thumbs-up. “It’d be easier if the witness hadn’t voided most of his body fluids over her. On the plus side we’ve got a clutch bag with a credit card, a business card, a set of keys, a lipstick, and forty quid in cash. The name on the credit card is Diane Flaherty. The business card is for a model called Dana Dupont. The contact number is an agency in Bradfield. I’ll ping the details to your e-mail account as soon as I can get a strong enough signal. It’s a nightmare up here.”
“What’s the agency called?”
“Out on a Limb.”
Tony raised an eyebrow. “Interesting.”
She nodded. “Let’s get down to the office and see what Stacey can dig out about Diane Flaherty and this agency.”
She tossed Tony a warning look.
“And don’t tell me to put my foot down.”
MOST DAYS SARAH DENNISON RECKONED she had the best job in the world, but today it felt like the worst.
The worst by a million, backbreaking stinky miles.
And it was getting even worse.
This would have been a perfect day for it to have rained and a howling gale to have blown, as it seemed to have done for most of this summer. Instead, under a searing midday sun and beneath a cloudless sky, the air in the West Brighton Domestic Waste Recycling and Landfill Site stood still, rank and fetid. The waste was literally steaming, the methane gas rising from it offering her and her colleagues a headache.
Sarah was a sergeant in Brighton and Hove Police, and part of her speciality training was as a POLSA. Police search advisor. Normally she loved the challenge of searching, particularly fingertip searches at the scene of a major crime, looking for the one incriminating strand of hair or clothing fiber on a carpet, or maybe in a field. It was always looking for needles in haystacks and she was brilliant at spotting them. But today it wasn’t a needle, it was a murder weapon, small fire extinguisher that had come out of a van and been used to strike a man on the head after a row over a girl in a nightclub.
And this was no haystack.
It was twenty acres of rotting bin bags full of soiled nappies, rotting food, dead animals, with aggressive feral rats running amok.
She and her five colleagues lined out to her right and left, steadily working their way through the rubbish, were constantly having to fend off rats with the rakes they were using to tear open and sift through the contents of every single bag. They’d been here since 7 a.m., and her back was aching like hell from the constant raking motions. It was now 2 p.m. and they would keep on going into the evening, for as long as there was light, until they found what they were looking for, or could conclude, for certain, it wasn’t here. She’d not eaten anything since arriving here, nor had any of her colleagues.
None of them had any appetite.
“Skipper,” a voice called out.
She turned to see PC Theakston at the end of the line to her right, dressed as they all were in blue overalls, face masks, gloves and boots, signaling.
“You’d better come and take a look at this.”
His tone was a mixture of excitement and revulsion, in equal parts. Perhaps more revulsion.
And she could see and smell why.
Through a mist of buzzing blowflies a rat was gnawing hungrily at one of two severed human feet, cut off above the anklebones, lying on the ground. The terrible, rancid, cloying smell of dead flesh filled the air all around them, and Sarah yanked a handkerchief from her pocket and jammed it over her nose. The feet were intact, but some of the flesh had turned a mottled green color. Specks of pink varnish dotted some of the nails.
“Where’s the rest of the body?” she said, wondering aloud.
“Done a runner?” the constable said.
NORMALLY, DURING HIS WEEK AS the on-call senior investigating officer, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, who was a few weeks shy of his forty-second birthday, wanted nothing more than a challenging homicide inquiry—a Gucci job, as he called them—that he could get his teeth into. One that would attract national press, and where he might have a chance to shine to his superiors. Most of the murders in the city of Brighton and Hove in recent months had been anything but. Lowlifes on lowlifes. A street drug dealer knifing another. Then a small-time drug dealer locked in the boot of a car that was then torched. Both of these, like most of that kind, were solved within days. A blindfolded monkey could have solved them in his view.
He knew it was wrong to be hoping for a good murder. But that’s what every homicide detective secretly, and sometimes not so secretly, was after. As he sat at his desk poring over the trial papers of a suspect he had arrested the previous year, a highly evil female killer, whose case was coming up at the Old Bailey next month, his phone rang.
He answered and listened.
Then hung up.
He should wish for things more often.
An hour later, accompanied by his colleague and mate Detective Inspector Glenn Branson—tall, black, and bald as a bowling ball—Grace drove up to the entrance to the West Brighton Recycling and Landfill Site. A marked police car as well as a white CSI van were pulled up beside a Portacabin that housed the site office, and there was a line of blue-and-white police tape across the road, with a uniformed officer standing in front with a clipboard.
Grace was pleased to see that the site was already secured. But the site manager, a burly harassed-looking woman in a yellow uniform, with the name Tracey Finden on her lapel badge, clearly was not. She strode over before they were even out of the car. As Grace rolled down the window, introduced himself, and showed her his warrant card, she replied, “You can’t do this, sir. We’ve got lorries and the general public coming and going all day. This is going to cause chaos.”
“I do understand that and we’ll be as quick as we can.”
“I thought your officers were looking for a bloody fire extinguisher.”
“They were—and still are. But now you have to understand this is a potential murder inquiry, and I’m treating this place as a crime scene.”
“For how long?”
“At this moment, I cannot tell you. It could be several days.”
“Several days? You’re joking?”
“I don’t think a dead human being is something to joke about.”
“It’s a pair of feet, right? That’s all.”
“That’s all?” Grace replied.
“They could have come from anywhere. You don’t seriously think whoever they belong to is wandering around the site looking for them, do you?”
“I don’t think anything at this stage,” he replied calmly. “Until I have more information. But I am going to need your help, Tracey. Is there CCTV here?”
“Yes, six cameras.”
“How long do you keep the recordings?”
“Two weeks before they’re automatically recorded over.”
“I’m going to need the memory cards. Also the details of all lorries that you’ve logged in the past month and any information you can give about them and their drivers.”
The two detectives climbed out of their car, wormed their way into their protective onesies, followed by overshoes, gloves, and face masks, then
“Yugggggh,” Branson said, wrinkling his nose at the stench.
Grace too had to swallow to stop himself from gagging.
Then they followed the long length of police tape that had been laid on the ground, guiding them in a straight line through the garbage toward a small knot of people in uniform, standing amid a cloud of buzzing flies.
Unsurprisingly, the home office pathologist, pedantic Groucho Marx look-alike Dr. Frazer Theobald, declined the opportunity to view the feet in situ at the waste site, requesting them to be recovered and taken to the mortuary. Sarah Dennison and her colleagues had completed their search by late afternoon and no other body parts had been found. This, both Grace and the pathologist agreed, indicated the place was more likely to be a deposition site than the crime scene itself.
Assuming it was a crime scene—and Grace was always wary of assumptions. Ass–u–me makes an ass out of u and me was something he frequently liked to remind people of. The feet could have come from a hospital mortuary, taken in a sick prank by medical students. Things like that had happened before. Or some sicko might have stolen them from an undertaker. A funeral director would be loath and probably too embarrassed to report such a theft.
He stood with DI Branson, gowned up in green protective clothing and white clogs in the Brighton and Hove City Mortuary, along with his wife, Cleo, the chief mortician. Or senior anatomical pathology technician as the role was now known. Darren Bourne, Cleo’s assistant, a coroner’s officer, a crime scene photographer, and the crime scene manager.
So far Dr. Frazer Theobald had established the feet were female, size seven, and at some time recently, presumably prior to being severed, had been pedicured. He wasn’t able to date how long they had been severed precisely, and his best estimate from the deterioration of the flesh, and the generation of blowfly larvae, was somewhere between three to five weeks. Tissue had been sent to the DNA lab with an urgent request. But it would be a couple of days before they would know if the owner of the feet was on the national database. The absolute priority for both detectives was to identify that person.
One thing the pathologist pointed out to Grace and Branson, with the aid of a microscope, was the surgical precision with which the leg bones had been sawed through. There were tiny, matching serrations on both feet. What that indicated to him was that the feet had not been hacked off in anger, or as some form of torture or revenge. They’d been removed by someone with medical skills, or possibly with butcher training. But beyond that the pathologist could offer no further suggestion at this stage. Nothing that would help answer the one burning question Roy Grace had right now.
At 6 p.m. that same evening, Grace sat in the Major Crime Suite conference room at the police HQ near Lewes, where his department was now based. Glenn Branson, DS Norman Potting, and several other members of his regular team, including a HOLMES—Home Office Large Major Enquiry System—analyst, an indexer, and a researcher sat around the oval table.
“This is the first briefing of Operation Podiatrist,” he read out from his notes. “The investigation into the discovery of a pair of female feet found at the West Brighton Domestic Waste Recycling and Landfill earlier today, which I am treating as a homicide investigation.”
Norman Potting began sniggering. Under Roy’s withering glare he raised an apologetic hand. “Sorry, Chief. Operation Podiatrist? Feet?”
Several others around the table also grinned.
No one could accuse the police computer, that randomly produced operation names, of not having a sense of humor.
Grace fought back a smirk too. “I don’t imagine the lady who’s missing them is finding it quite so funny.”
“I should think she’s hopping mad.” Potting chortled, looking around for appreciation, but all he saw were stony stares.
“One immediate line of inquiry,” Grace said, “is to see if there is anything similar out there on the database. We need to take a look on the Serious Crime Analysis Section system and also log everything we have so far on Op Podiatrist on it. Another will be to map out the exact area of the city all the refuse lorries collect from, and their delivery times to the site. One thing we do know is that it’s only refuse lorries that have access to the site. I want an outside inquiry team to list and interview all the refuse crews.”
Jack Alexander, a young DC, raised a hand. “Are you considering utilizing the volunteer search team for the other body parts?”
“Not at this stage, Jack,” Grace replied. “We have no idea where to begin. We don’t even know how far and wide the other parts could be scattered. If at all.”
“Seems to me,” DS Potting said, “that the victim’s giving us a right old runaround.”
IF IT WAS IN CYBERSPACE, Carol Jordan was convinced that DC Stacey Chen could find it. Barricaded from the rest of the room by an array of six monitors, Stacey’s fingers moved over her keyboard more quickly than the eye could follow. Nobody, Carol thought, was ever going to pick up her pin number shoulder-surfing at a cash machine. By the time they got back to the office, Stacey already had results from the scant information Carol had passed on to her.
She flicked a finger at the bottom right-hand screen.
“Out on a Limb is a specialized model agency.” Stacey caught Tony’s single raised eyebrow and gave him a long hard look. “Not that kind of specialized.”
Tony opened his eyes wide in a look of mock innocence. “I never said a word.”
“What kind of specialized?” Carol asked, cutting across the banter, eager to get to the point.
“I suppose you’d call it extremities,” Stacey said doubtfully. “They do hands and legs and feet, not whole bodies. Their clients sell shoes, tights, stockings, jewelry, that kind of thing. They’ve even got a selection of ears for modeling earrings.”
“I’d never thought about it. But I suppose it makes sense,” Carol said. “So is this Diane Flaherty on their books?”
“Not that I can see. But Dana Dupont is.”
Stacey tapped a trackpad and another screen rearranged its pixels. A shapely pair of calves appeared. Another tap and the image changed to elegant ankles and a pair of feet that appeared to be free from any of the myriad blemishes that most people’s feet reveal. No hard skin, no corns, no bunions, no dry skin, no fungal infections, no ingrowing toenails, no oddly shaped toes. Just a pair of immaculate, enviable feet that looked as if they’d never so much as bent a blade of grass.
“Anything on Diane Flaherty at all?” Carol asked.
“There’s a Diane Flaherty with an address in Bradfield. Self-employed, no criminal record, drives an Opel Corsa. Nobody else listed at her address.” Stacey woke up a third screen with an address and a driver’s license photo.
“That’s the dead woman,” Carol said. “We need to get a team round there, see what we can dig up. And I need to talk to somebody at Out on a Limb. You coming, Tony?”
He started, dragging his attention away from the pictures of Dana Dupont’s feet.
“Yeah,” he said absently. “And you need to get a list of people they send their catalogs to. If I was a foot fetishist, or I had a thing about ears or whatever, their catalogs would make me a happy bunny.”
“It takes all sorts,” Carol muttered.
“Otherwise we’d be out of a job,” Tony said, following in her wake.
THE PHYSICAL PREMISES OF OUT on a limb were a lot less glossy than their catalog implied. A narrow doorway on the Halifax road between a kebab takeaway and a cancer charity shop led up a steep staircase to a Spartan office where strenuously artificial air freshener battled with the smell of stale fat.
So far, the fat was winning.
The woman who had buzzed them up leaned against the desk in what might have passed for a provocative pose in someone twenty years younger and two stone lighter.
“You said on the phone you were the police?” she said, her voice surprisingly warm and almost seductive
Carol produced her warrant card and Tony smiled. “I’m not actually a police officer.”
“Dr. Hill is a consultant,” Carol butted in before he could say anything unfortunate. “And you are?”
“Margot Maynard,” the woman said. “Out on a Limb is my business.”
“I’m afraid I have some disturbing news, Ms. Maynard. This morning, a woman’s body was found on the moors. In her bag she had a card belonging to one of your models.” Carol proffered her phone,
MatchUp by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes