Cold blood a gripping se.., p.1
A gripping serial-killer thriller
For Mum and Dad, with all my love.
‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here.’
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
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The Night Stalker
Monday, 2 October 2017
Detective Chief Inspector Erika Foster shielded her eyes from the pelting rain as she and Detective Inspector Moss hurried along the South Bank, a paved walkway lining the southern bank of London’s River Thames. The tide was low, cutting a brown swathe through the silt, bricks and rubbish littering the exposed riverbed. In the pocket of her long black jacket, Erika’s radio gave a tinny burst and she heard the officer at the crime scene asking their location. She pulled it out and replied: ‘This is DCI Foster. We’re two minutes away.’
It was still the morning rush hour, but the day was already darkening, with a gloomy fog descending. They picked up the pace and hurried on past the tall IBM headquarters, and the pale squat ITV Studios building. Here the South Bank curved sharply to the right before widening out to a tree-lined avenue leading down to the National Theatre and the Hungerford Bridge.
‘It’s down there, boss,’ said Moss, slowing breathlessly.
On the exposed riverbed, ten feet below, a small group of people gathered on a man-made beach of pale sand, tucked into the corner where the South Bank curved to the right. Erika massaged her ribs, feeling where she was getting a stitch. At just over six feet tall, she towered over Moss, and her short blonde hair was plastered to her head by the rain.
‘You should ease off the cigarettes,’ said Moss, looking up at her. She pushed wet strands of red hair away from her face. Her plump cheeks were flushed from running, and her face was covered in a mass of freckles.
‘You should ease off the Mars Bars,’ Erika shot back.
‘I am. I’m down to one for breakfast, one for lunch and a proper dinner.’
‘I’m the same with the cigs,’ smiled Erika.
They came to a set of stone steps leading down to the Thames. They were stained at intervals with tidemarks, and the last two steps were slippery with algae. The beach was four metres wide and ended abruptly where the dirty brown water churned past. Erika and Moss pulled out their warrant cards, and the huddle of people parted to let them through to where a special constable was attempting to protect a large, battered, brown cloth suitcase, half buried in the sand.
‘I’ve tried to move them all up, ma’am, but I didn’t want to leave the scene unattended,’ said the young woman peering up at Erika through the rain. She was small and thin, but had a determined glint in her eye.
‘You on your own?’ asked Erika, glancing down at the suitcase. Through a ragged hole in one end two pale bloated fingers were poking out.
She nodded. ‘The other special I’m on duty with had to go and deal with an alarm going off in one of the office blocks,’ she said.
‘This isn’t on,’ said Moss. ‘There should always be two specials. So you’re coming off the night shift in central London, alone?’
‘OK, Moss—’ started Erika.
‘No, it’s not okay, boss. These people volunteer! Why can’t they pay for more police officers?’
‘I joined the specials to gain experience to become a full-time officer—’
‘We need to clear this area before we lose all chance of forensic evidence,’ interrupted Erika.
Moss nodded and she and the special started to herd the gawking people towards the steps. Erika noticed at the end of the small beach, next to the high wall, two small holes had been dug out by an older man with long grey hair, wearing a multicoloured poncho. He was oblivious to the people and the rain, and carried on digging. Erika pulled out her radio and called in for any uniformed officers in the vicinity. There was an ominous silence. She saw the man in the coloured poncho was ignoring Moss, and carrying on digging.
‘I need you to move up there, back up the stairs,’ said Erika, moving away from the suitcase towards him. He looked up at her and carried on smoothing his pile of sand, which was saturated by the rain. ‘Excuse me. You. I’m talking to you.’
‘And who are you?’ he asked imperiously, looking her up and down.
‘Detective Chief Inspector Erika Foster,’ she said, flashing her warrant card. ‘This is a crime scene. And you need to leave. Now.’
He stopped digging and looked almost comically affronted.
‘Are you allowed to be so rude?’
‘When people obstruct a crime scene, yes.’
‘But this is my only income. I’m allowed to exhibit my sand sculptures here. I have a permit from Westminster Council.’
He rummaged in his poncho and retrieved a laminated card with his photo, which rapidly spotted with rain.
A voice came from Erika’s radio. ‘This is PC Warford, with PC Charles…’ She could see two young officers hurrying towards the crowd of people by the steps.
‘Coordinate with DI Moss. I want the South Bank closed off, fifty feet in each direction,’ she said into her radio, then stuff
‘You have a very unfortunate manner,’ he said, squinting up at her.
‘I do, and it would be very unfortunate if I had to arrest you. Now go on, up there.’
He slowly got to his feet. ‘Is that how you talk to a witness?’
‘What did you witness?’
‘I uncovered the suitcase when I was digging.’
‘It was buried in the sand?’
‘Partly. It wasn’t there yesterday. I dig here every day; the sand gets shifted by the tide.’
‘Why do you dig here every day?’
‘I’m a sand sculpture artist,’ he stated pompously. ‘That is usually my spot. I do a mermaid sitting aloft a rock with fish jumping; it’s very popular with—’
‘Did you touch the suitcase, or move anything?’ said Erika.
‘Of course not. I stopped when I saw… When I saw the suitcase was split and there was… fingers, protruding…’
Erika could see he was scared.
‘Okay. Go up to the walkway, we’ll need to take a statement from you.’
The two officers and the special had cordoned off the walkway. Moss joined her as the old man staggered off to the steps. They were now the only two people on the beach.
Pulling on latex gloves, they moved to the suitcase. The fingers poking through the hole in the brown material were swollen, with blackened fingernails. Moss gently worked the sand away from the seams, and exposed the rusted zipper. It took Erika several gentle tugs, but it yielded, and the suitcase sagged open as she unzipped. Moss moved to help, and they slowly lifted it open. A little water spilled out, and the naked body of a man was crammed inside. Moss stepped backwards, putting her arm up to her nose. The smell of rotting flesh and stagnant water hit the back of their throats. Erika closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them. The limbs were white and muscular. The flesh had the appearance of raw suet and was starting to flake away, in places exposing the bone. Erika gently lifted the torso. Tucked underneath was a head, with black wispy hair.
‘Jeez, he’s been decapitated,’ said Moss, indicating the neck.
‘And the legs have been chopped off to fit inside,’ finished Erika. The bloated, badly beaten face was unrecognisable. A swollen black tongue protruded from between large purple lips. She gently placed the torso back over the head, and closed the suitcase. ‘We need forensics down here. Fast. I don’t know how long we’ve got until the tide comes back in.’
An hour later the forensics team were at the crime scene. The rain continued to pour, and the fog thickened, obscuring the tops of the surrounding buildings. Despite the rain, crowds had gathered at each end of the police cordon to gawk at a large white forensics tent which had been erected over the body in the suitcase. It glowed ominously against the murky water rushing past.
It was hot inside the tent. Despite the cold, the bright lights in the small space were causing the temperature to soar. Erika and Moss had changed into blue crime scene coveralls, and were with Forensic Pathologist Isaac Strong, who was crouched down by the suitcase with his two assistants, and the crime scene photographer. Isaac was a tall, lean man. His soft brown eyes and thinly shaped eyebrows were the only things to identify who he was through his hood and face mask.
‘What can you tell us?’ asked Erika.
‘The body has been in the water for some time; you can see this yellow and green discolouration on the skin,’ he said, indicating the chest and the abdomen. ‘The cool temperature of the water will have slowed decay—’
‘That’s decay slowed down?’ said Moss, putting up a hand to her mask. The smell was overpowering. They paused, all staring at the battered naked body, at how neatly the pieces had been packed inside: a leg each side of the torso; the knee joints folded into the top right and bottom left corner; arms crossed over the chest and the decapitated head tucked neatly underneath. One of Isaac’s assistants unzipped a small pocket on the inside of the suitcase lid and pulled out a small clear plastic ziplock bag containing a gold wedding band, a watch, and a man’s gold chain necklace. She held it up to the light, her eyes wide over her protective mask.
‘They could be his valuables, but where are his clothes?’ said Erika. ‘It’s like he’s been packed, not dumped. Is there any ID?’ she added hopefully.
The crime scene photographer leaned in and fired off two shots. They winced at the flash. Isaac’s assistant searched the pocket with a gloved hand. She shook her head.
‘Dismembering the body in this way, the precision, and packing in the valuables shows forward planning,’ said Isaac.
‘And why pack in the valuables with the body? Why not take them? It’s almost like whoever did this is taking the piss,’ said Moss.
‘It makes me think it could be gangland or drug related, but that’s for you to find out,’ said Isaac. Erika nodded as one of his assistants lifted the torso and the photographer took a shot of the victim’s decapitated head.
‘Okay, that’s me done,’ said the photographer.
‘Let’s get the body moved,’ said Isaac. ‘We’ve got the tide to contend with.’
Erika looked down and saw one of the footprints in the sand was beginning to fill with swirling water. A young guy in overalls appeared at the opening of the tent with a fresh black body bag on a stretcher.
Erika and Moss stepped outside, and watched as Isaac’s assistants unzipped the body bag, spread it open, then gently lifted the suitcase towards the stretcher. Four feet off the sand it caught, and they almost lost their footing.
‘Hang on, stop, stop, stop!’ said Erika, moving back into the tent. A torch was shone onto the underside of the dripping suitcase. A length of pale rope had become entangled in the material, which was starting to bulge and fray under the weight of the body inside.
‘Scissors, quickly,’ snapped Isaac. A pair of sterile scissors were quickly unwrapped and handed to him. He leaned underneath and neatly clipped off the rope, allowing them to lift the suitcase clear. It disintegrated as it was laid on the stretcher. He handed over the scissors and rope, and they were bagged up and labelled. Then the body bag was zipped up, enveloping the suitcase.
‘I’ll be in touch when I’ve completed the autopsy,’ said Isaac. He left with his two assistants as they started to push the stretcher, wheeling it awkwardly across the sand, leaving deep tracks.
When Erika and Moss had handed over their coveralls, they came back up onto the paved walkway of the South Bank and saw Nils Åkerman, the head of forensics, had just arrived with his team of five CSIs. They would now attempt to gather forensic evidence from the scene. Erika looked back at the water encroaching the beach and doubted they would have much luck.
Nils was a tall, thin man with piercing blue eyes, which today were a little bloodshot, and he appeared fed up and exhausted.
‘Nice weather for ducks,’ he said, nodding at them as he passed. He spoke excellent English with a faint Swedish accent. Erika and Moss were handed umbrellas and they watched as Nils and his team moved across the shrinking beach. The water was now less than a foot from the tent, and was speeding past, swelled by the rainwater.
‘I never get his sense of humour,’ said Moss. ‘Can you see any ducks?’
‘I think he meant ducks would enjoy this weather, and who says he meant it as a joke?’
‘But he said it like it was a joke. It’s the Swedish sense of humour, I’ve heard it’s really weird.’
‘Anyway, let’s focus,’ said Erika. ‘The suitcase could have been dumped further upriver and got snagged on the rope as it was carried by the tide.’
‘There’s miles of riverbank where it could have been chucked in,’ said Moss. Erika looked up at the buildings and across the busy water. A barge was chugging past, belching out black smoke, and two long, low Thames Clipper water taxis were slicing their way against the tide in the other direction.
‘This would be a pre
‘Stupid is as stupid does. It could be a shrewd place for a ballsy person to dump a body. So many back roads where they could disappear,’ said Moss.
‘That’s not helpful.’
‘Well, boss, we shouldn’t underestimate whoever did this. Or should I say, misunderestimate?’
Erika rolled her eyes. ‘Come on, lets grab a sandwich and get back to the nick.’
It was late afternoon when Erika and Moss arrived back at Lewisham Row Police Station, and they were both drenched from the rain, which hadn’t let up. The construction work around the station, which was just beginning when Erika was first assigned to south London, was almost complete, and the eight-storey police station was now dwarfed by several high-rise blocks of luxury apartments.