MatchUp, p.6Lee Child
where she’d taken a photo of Dana Dupont’s business card.
Margot Maynard paled and nodded. “That’s one of ours. Dana is our most successful foot model. You’re not telling me she’s dead?”
“We believe the dead woman is called Diane Flaherty. Do you know a Diane Flaherty?”
“Diane is Dana Dupont. It’s her working name. Oh my God, what’s happened? Are you sure it’s Diane? That can’t be right.”
Margot Maynard looked as if she might faint. Tony stepped forward and, taking her arm, led her to the office chair behind the desk.
“Can I get you anything? A glass of water?” Carol asked.
“No, I feel sick as it is. Diane? Dead? What happened? Was it a car crash? What?”
“I’m sorry to tell you that we’re treating Diane’s death as suspicious.”
“What does that mean?”
Tony squatted down beside her. “Diane was murdered, Margot. And the killer took her feet.”
She reared back in her chair. “Her feet? Oh my God, I always knew it would come to this one day.”
They drove back to the police station in glum silence, turning over what they’d learned.
After she’d calmed down, Margot Maynard had explained that the agency had been plagued over the years by an assortment of what she called “weirdos and perverts.” Men whose sexual fetishes focused on particular body parts. Feet, shoulders, even ears. The photographic studio where Out on a Limb did their catalog shots was across the landing from the office, and these strange, obsessive men haunted the street below, sometimes following the models after a photo shoot.
“Talk to the local cops,” Margot had said bitterly. “They must have a record of all the times we’ve called them because one of the girls has been harassed. You wouldn’t believe the disgusting things they’ve suggested to our models.”
Tony knew precisely the kind of thing those poor women would have been subjected to. “Was anyone ever arrested?”
“There were a couple of men, a few years ago now. Mostly they back off when the police caution them. They’ve generally got too much to lose. Wives, jobs, reputation.”
Carol’s phone rang and she took it on speaker.
“Stacey here, guv. I’ve thought I might take a quick look at the SCAS—”
“Serious Crime Analysis Section,” she muttered for Tony’s benefit.
“I know I’m rubbish with acronyms but I do know that one,” he said.
“If I could finish?” Stacey showed a sign of irritation.
“Go on,” Carol said. “SCAS?”
“There’s a report here from Sussex Police. They found a pair of feet on a rubbish tip in Brighton. It can’t be our victim’s feet, because they weren’t fresh.”
“But we don’t believe in coincidence at ReMIT,” Carol said. “Nice work, Stacey. Who’s the SIO?”
“DST Roy Grace.”
“I’ll call him as soon as I get back. When’s the autopsy?”
“They’ve bumped it up the list. They’re doing it this afternoon.”
Carol ended the call. “Weird. Maybe while I’m talking to Brighton and attending the autopsy you can check out the foot fetishists.”
Tony nodded. “I’ll take a look online. Most people with fantasies like these are pretty harmless. In my experience they tend not to be violent. They’re often socially inadequate, shy, poor at forming relationships. They want to kiss and touch, not possess. Elvis Presley was one. So was Thomas Hardy.”
Carol gave him a baffled look. “How do you know things like that?”
He shrugged. “Pub quizzes?”
Exasperated, she shook her head. “Go and find me an Elvis impersonator with homicidal tendencies, then.”
TONY WAS ACCUSTOMED TO SPENDING his days trying to empathize with the messy heads of murderers and rapists. But an afternoon on the trail of body part fetishists left him feeling more grimy than the average working day. There was something deeply unsettling about the transference of the sexual urge on to isolated bits of bodies. He found it dehumanizing and reductive. The more he read on forums and discussion groups, the clearer the picture became. Men, for it was almost invariably men, posturing to cover deep feelings of inadequacy. If you couldn’t handle a whole woman in her challenging complexity, how about her feet?
Or her hands?
Some even tried to rationalize it as a form of safe sex. Tony, who was used to a wide range of extraordinary rationalizations among serial offenders, thought that was right out there on the edge of daft, a technical term he used only when talking to Carol.
Whenever he came across someone who seemed to him to lean toward more salacious tendencies, he punted their details across to Stacey who performed her black arts to track down their location. Everybody who worked in the ReMIT team knew that Stacey had ways and means that went beyond the narrow confines of the law. But nobody cared because she knew how to cover her tracks and the intel she produced was worth more to them than being on their best behavior. Raiding people’s privacy for intel that could lead to evidence was a small transgression compared with murder and rape.
By the end of the afternoon, Stacey had run checks on half a dozen possibles, and they were both growing weary of their subjects’ apparent respectability outside the murky world of online fetishists. But as Tony browsed yet another chat room, Stacey abruptly called his name.
“I’m pinging something across to you.”
Tony glanced at the info sheet Stacey had sent, then sat up straight in his chair as he absorbed the key points.
Leyton Gray was a reflexologist based in Bradfield. A man whose profession necessitated the touching and manipulation of feet. A perfectly respectable calling, provided you weren’t also spending hours of your free time online looking at feet and talking to other people whose sexual urges were awakened by them.
But there was more.
One of his clients had complained to the police about his behavior. In her statement, Jane Blackshaw said he’d appeared to become sexually aroused while supposedly massaging her feet to treat a problem with irritable bowel syndrome. He’d left the room in the middle of her treatment and returned a few minutes later, flushed and out of breath. Stacey had tracked down a photograph of Jane Blackshaw, who was an unexceptional-looking woman in her early twenties.
Leyton Gray had been interviewed and had denied that anything inappropriate had taken place. He described Jane Blackshaw as an attention seeker and pointed out none of his other clients had ever complained either to his professional body or to the police. It was his word against hers. So the file was marked No Further Action.
But the clincher as far as Tony was concerned was the final paragraph in Stacey’s report. It had been snipped from the program of a complimentary therapy festival in Brighton.
“Returning by popular request, Leyton Gray will be talking about new developments in reflexology techniques. Leyton has been a regular speaker at our events and his sessions are always sold out. Book early to avoid disappointment.”
Leyton Gray, it appeared, was no stranger to the town where a pair of feet had turned up on the rubbish tip.
“HAPPY FEET. REMEMBER THAT MOVIE?” Glenn Branson said breezily as he entered Roy Grace’s office shortly after 9 p.m., carrying two mugs of coffee.
More breezily than he or his boss felt.
Grace frowned. “No, I don’t.”
“It was brilliant. Animated. With penguins dancing.”
“Lovely,” Grace said, distractedly.
“Awesome cast. Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman. Your kid would like it.”
“Noah’s eight months old.”
“Yeah, maybe wait a few years.” He paused, then pulled up a chair in front of Grace’s desk, turned it around and sat, resting his hands on the back. “I’ve had a thought.”
Grace opened his hands, expansively. “I’m all ears.”
“Forensic gait analysis. That specialist guy, Haydn Kelly, we’ve used on previous case
“Good thinking, if he’s around.”
Kelly had developed software that, from a single footprint, could enable someone to be picked out in a crowd from his or her gait. Everyone walked in a unique way; every human being’s gait was as unique as their DNA.
“Call him and see if he’s in the country and available to come down. I know he’s abroad a lot.”
His phone rang.
“Roy Grace,” he answered.
“Detective Superintendent Grace? This is DCI Carol Jordan of the Northern Regional Major Incident Team.”
A strong, pleasant, if a tad formal, northern voice.
And the name rang a bell.
“Was it you involved with the Jennifer Maidment case?”
“I was, yes.”
“That’s where I know your name from. How can I help you?”
“Your inquiry team entered a pair of feet on SCAS. We have a female body up here missing her feet, and although we’ve had a man in for questioning, we didn’t have enough evidence to hold him. So any supporting info would be helpful.”
He felt a beat of excitement and gave her all the information he had, informing her that tissue had been sent to the lab for fast-track DNA analysis.
“From what I’ve read on SCAS, I’m pretty sure we won’t get a DNA match to your victim. Our body here is fresh. Your feet sound a few weeks old, which doesn’t tally with our time of death estimates or last-seen evidence.”
“They are old. I can’t give you a precise date. About two to three weeks is our pathologist’s educated guess from the generations of insect larvae.”
“Those serration marks you’ve just described interest me,” she said. “Could you send me photographs? If we could establish whether the same, or a similar instrument has been used to sever both pairs of feet, we might make progress.”
“I’ll have them to you in a few minutes.”
Carol Jordan thanked him and told him she would call back as soon as she had confirmation, one way or the other.
Ending the call, he turned to Glenn Branson. “You’re a movie buff. What films can you think of where people have had their feet severed?”
“Misery. In the book the batty woman chain-sawed off one of his legs and cauterized it with a blowtorch. But they tamed it down in the film and she just shattered his legs with a sledgehammer.”
“Anything more helpful?”
He was feeling tired and fractious.
Branson yawned. “There was some horror movie I saw years ago, but I can’t remember the title. They hacked this guy’s legs off and fed them to a pig in front of him.”
“It had a happy ending?”
“Not exactly. They fed the rest of him to the pig, too.”
“Let me guess, then they ate the pig?”
“You saw it, boss?”
AT 7 A.M., GRACE WAS BACK in the CID HQ for the daily management meeting, prior to the next briefing on Operation Podiatrist. Just as he was entering the room, accompanied by Glenn Branson, his phone rang. Answering it, he heard the excited voice of the duty inspector, Ken “Panicking” Anakin.
“Roy, something that might be of interest to your current inquiry. A uniform crew got called to a firm of undertakers on the Lewes Road at 2 a.m., in response to an alarm and reports of lights on in the premises. It sounds like someone, maybe a drunk, broke in and disturbed some of the bodies in coffins prepared for funerals today. There’s one in particular that might be significant. A young deceased woman in her early twenties, whose feet are missing.”
“Can you give me the name and address?”
Anakin provided him the details and he jotted it down. “Is anyone there now?”
“The keyholder and proprietor. Mr. James Houlihan is quite upset.”
“Meet me there in fifteen minutes,” Grace said.
He brought Branson up to speed as they hurried out to the car park and into his unmarked Ford Mondeo, then with the DI reaching forward and switching on the blue lights and siren, ripped the five miles into central Brighton. Heading past the row of funeral directors’ premises along Lewes Road, they slowed. A short distance along they saw a neat-looking building, with the sign announcing HOULIHAN AND SONS, ESTABLISHED 1868. There were crimson curtains in the windows either side of a grand front door, and a smaller sign with an arrow that indicated parking in the rear.
The two detectives stopped right outside and walked swiftly toward the front door. As they reached it and Grace rang the bell, a marked police car drew up behind theirs. Ken Anakin, wearing his inspector’s braided cap, and a yellow high-viz over his uniform, looking as ever as if the world was going to end in five minutes, hurried over to join them.
The door was opened by a portly, balding man in his late fifties, soberly dressed in a charcoal suit and black tie and wearing unfashionably large glasses. He looked agitated.
“Thank you for coming; this is all quite distressing,” he said, in a mournful voice honed and toned by a lifetime of consoling loved ones and advising them on the decorum of funerals. It was the voice of a master salesman of quality coffins, and all the accoutrements for the funeral of a lifetime you had always promised yourself.
The two detectives introduced themselves and showed him their warrant cards, which he barely glanced at.
“Come in, please. What am I going to say to all my clients? What a disaster. Who would do such a thing?”
Grace and Branson, accompanied by the uniformed inspector, entered a small reception area. It had a deep pile carpet, ornate vases of flowers that looked too real to be real, and framed testimonials on the walls. Houlihan led them on through a door, along a corridor lit with sconces adorned by pink tasseled shades. He stopped outside a closed door.
“Our viewing room is there,” he pointed. “We call it the chapel of rest. That has not been violated, fortunately.”
It was strange, Grace thought; he didn’t mind the mortuary, and postmortems never bothered him, but there was something about funeral homes that gave him the heebie-jeebies. He could see Branson looking uncomfortable, too.
The proprietor opened a door a short distance on, pressed some switches, and led them into a large workspace. Grace smelled glue, varnish, and a strong reek of disinfectant. He heard the click-whirr of a refrigerator, and a steady tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . of a clock or a meter of some kind. He saw a row of health and safety notices taped to one wall, and a drinking water dispenser nearby. Several coffins, some plain, others more ornate, rested on metal trestles, with their lids lying randomly on the floor beside them. In the far corner of the room was a tiled alcove. There, a cadaver lay on a steel tray beneath a white cover, with one darkened, shriveled foot protruding. A large glass container filled with what looked like pink embalming fluid sat on a table, amid several neatly laid out surgical instruments and a long rubber tube.
“It is this one over here, gentlemen,” Houlihan said.
Grace walked past several coffins.
He saw a tiny old lady in one, her face so white it blended, ghostlike, with her hair color. The undertaker had stopped beside a plain pine coffin. Lying inside, between the cream, quilted satin sides, wearing a plain shroud, was a very attractive young woman, with flowing, titian red hair.
Pulling out a pair of protective surgical gloves from his pocket, he snapped them on, then with the undertaker’s nodded assent, he lifted away the shroud completely. Everything else of her beautiful and well-endowed body was intact. Crude stitches right down her midriff showed she’d had a postmortem, and further marks were visible at the start of her hairline.
But her feet were missing.
They’d been severed at the ankles by an instrument that both detectives could see, with their naked eyes, had a serrated blade.
A pile of what was obviously her clothing lay alongside the coffin so she could be dressed for the funeral.
“What can you tell us about this young lady, and the
MatchUp by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes