Murder In All Honour

Chapter 2

     Doyle stood with Williams in the entry door of the crime scene, wearing paper booties and watching the Scene of Crime Officers—the SOCOs—carefully bag the victim’s hands, although it seemed unlikely they’d find any traces of helpful DNA, under her nails. The victim lay prone on her bed as though asleep, her hands folded serenely on her chest.

     “There’s not much blood,” Doyle remarked. She’d been steeling herself for a scene of carnage, but instead it was eerily peaceful—the killer had even tucked a blanket around the body, which was a stroke of luck, because blankets were notorious as evidence-magnets.  The SOCOs carefully lifted it away to reveal a gaping incision, low on the woman’s abdomen.

     Williams nodded. “Whoever the killer is, she’s had some medical training, so we’re taking a look at nurses and physician’s assistants in the area—anyone who’s lost a child recently.”

     Doyle tried to imagine the sort of person who would kill a pregnant mother so as to steal her baby, but came up short—it was hard to believe another human being could be capable of such a horrendous act. “Is a psycho-mother still the workin’ theory? It seems unlikely she’d have so many victims, and all in a row.  Maybe it’s an organs-harvester, after all.”

     But Williams gestured toward the scene.  “Look at her, Kath. The killer has made it as painless as possible.  If it were an organs-harvester, he’d just kill her in an alley, and dump the body in the river.  And there are no signs of a forced entry, or any defensive wounds.  This has all the earmarks of a compassionate killer—a woman.”

     Involuntarily, Doyle grimaced at this contradiction in terms. “Not so very compassionate, surely.  Murder is murder, my friend. What’s the cause of death?”

     “Inconclusive as yet, but the others were given GHB to knock them out, and then they were asphyxiated, so it seems likely it was the same for this one.” 

     Doyle nodded, craning her neck to see around the SOCO, who’d moved to block her view. “Do we have a time of death?”

     The SOCO answered for him. “It’s been around twenty hours, ma’am, since the rigor is starting to recede. That would put the TOD at about two o’clock, yesterday.”

     This seemed a little strange, and she glanced up at Williams.  “Faith, this happened in broad daylight? And yet no one heard anythin’? Who reported?”

     “Anonymous tip.”  He gave her a look.

     She nodded in agreement with the unspoken thought. “The tipster was probably this compassionate killer, not wantin’ to leave her lyin’ here too long, with all the flies gatherin’.” This only made sense; if a worried employer or friend had been the one to call in, there would have been no reason not to identify themselves, and explain their relationship to the missing woman.  “I’ll have the audio people listen to the call, to see if they can pick up somethin’.  Is it too soon to know if there is anythin’ of interest in her mobile?”

     “We’ll see; it was left here in plain sight, so it’s someone who wasn’t worried about being traced. They must not have phoned each other.”

     But this didn’t make sense, and she frowned slightly. “If she opened the door, she must have known who it was—which seems a bit odd, if they’ve never telephoned each other.”

     “We’ll take a look; maybe the killer left it behind by accident, but it doesn’t seem likely.”

     Doyle could only agree; a great deal of care had been taken to commit this crime, and there were no signs that would indicate the killer made a panicky exit—which was a shame, as panicky killers usually turned out to be convicted killers.

     While the SOCOs continued their methodical work, she looked around the room, trying to get a sense of the crime. It was not easy; the tiny flat was spare and dingy, with no photos or personal items, only some rather tawdry outfits, stuffed into the small, open closet. “Perhaps it’s indeed a nurse, Thomas; an OB nurse could have come into contact with all of these victims, and would have known where they lived.”

     He nodded. “Right. Which narrows the field to health care providers who’ve lost a child, recently. Usually, they’re trying to replace a newborn, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a lead, with that profile.”

     They stood in silence for a moment, watching the SOCOs take photographs, and then bag and label the evidence with painstaking precision.  Behind them, one of the PCs they’d brought along to canvass the neighbors approached, and he cleared his throat, ready to make a report.  Officer Kineid had volunteered for the assignment, and Doyle surmised that he was angling to be transferred to the CID—he seemed eager to make a good impression on the detectives who stood before him.  At Williams’ nod, the man began his report in a soft accent—West Indies, she guessed. Doyle wasn’t very good at accents, as everyone who wasn’t Irish had a very strange one.

     “It’s a transient building, sir, and the victim hadn’t lived here more than a couple of months. The landlord said her name was ‘Star,’ and that she paid in cash. Her next month’s rent was due, and he was worried that she was going to skip, so he was going to check in with her, today or tomorrow.”

     Although the PC addressed Williams, his gaze strayed briefly to Doyle, as though he couldn’t help himself.  He’ll be wanting a snap, she thought with resignation; they always do.

     Williams crossed his arms. “Had she been paying on time, up to now? I wonder why the landlord was worried—why he thought she’d skip out.”

     But the young officer had already wondered the same thing. “Yes sir; I asked him about that, and he said she’d told him she wouldn’t be staying, so he was keeping a close eye on her.”

      “We don’t have a last name?”

     The PC shook his head. “No.  It’s the kind of place that’s run on cash, and the landlord said he has an ask-no-questions policy.”

     This was only to be expected, in this part of town, and so Doyle moved on. “Did the neighbors have anythin’ of interest to say?”

     With a great deal of eager respect, Kineid turned to address her.  “I’m afraid not, ma’am. The neighbors don’t know much—or else they don’t want to talk to the police.  They confirmed she went by the name ‘Star,’ and it appears there was no husband or boyfriend in the picture, even though there were men, going in and out.”

     Williams turned his head, and reviewed the still form, lying on the bed. “Prostitute.”

     But Doyle was puzzled by his conclusion.  “Faith, how could she be a prostitute, if she was so very pregnant?”

     The PC lowered his gaze to the floor, as Williams offered in a neutral tone, “You’d be surprised.”

     Shouldn’t have asked, Doyle thought with a blush; try to stay on-topic, lass.  “Little point in checkin’ through her clients, one would think; unlikely a john would want to steal a baby.”

     William nodded. “Yes—let’s not forget that aspect—the newborn.  Have you put in a call to the local hospitals and shelters, Constable?”  Williams asked the question with no real hope; this killer took the fetuses for reasons as yet unknown, and was not going to abandon them in some safe place, after going to all this trouble.  On the other hand, there was a slim hope that this compassionate  killer may have brought in the newborn for medical care, due to health complications.

     “I have, sir—nothing as yet.  And no one remembers treating a prenatal patient named ‘Star’—or at least, no one that I could find, so far.” 

     Williams shrugged, unsurprised. “Star’ sounds like an alias, anyway. Let’s show her snap around at the clinics, instead.  Maybe we’ll catch a break, this time.”

     Doyle offered thoughtfully, “Holy Trinity Church has a clinic that handles prenatal care and immunizations.”  She and Williams exchanged a look; the conspirators in the wide-ranging corruption scandal had been meeting at Holy Trinity Church, so it was already under a cloud of suspicion.  That, and the fact that the church had a permanent seat on the now-notorious Health and Care Professions Council.  Thus far, however, they’d found nothing to indicate that Holy Trinity was anything other than a convenient place for the villains to meet.

     “There are signs of recent drug use, sir,” the SOCO offered from her position on the floor. “She may have avoided the clinics for that reason.”

     Doyle quirked her mouth. “That’s nothin’ to speak of—it’s a rare patient over there who’s not been dabblin’ in drugs.” Doyle had volunteered for a short stint at the clinic, under best-be-forgotten circumstances.

     The SOCO added, “And I’d be surprised if there weren’t latent prints on the blanket, sir. We’ll know within the day.”

     “Excellent—keep me posted.”  Williams checked the time on his mobile, and then addressed the waiting PC. “Right, then; if you would, please review the CCTV feed from the street with the landlord.  Keep a sharp eye on any non-resident females who enter, and on anyone leaving with a bag or a bundle. And please take the victim’s snap around, to the local shelters and clinics.”

     But Doyle interrupted, “If it’s all right with you, sir, let me take Holy Trinity Clinic, when DCI Acton gets here. He knows one of the doctors there, and so they may be a little more forthcomin’ with him.”

     There was a small, surprised silence. “DCI Acton is coming here?” asked Williams.

     “I expect him at any moment,” Doyle equivocated. She hadn’t heard from Acton, but she couldn’t very well tell Williams that her husband was going to drop whatever it was he was doing to hotfoot it over to this crime scene, so as to make sure his wife didn’t find out whatever it was he didn’t want her to know.  Thus far, however, she hadn’t sensed anything unusual percolating below the surface; while it was a horrendous crime, it seemed like an ordinary crime scene.

     “Best get started, then,” Williams said to the PC. “Let’s try to get something to go on.”

     “Yes, sir.” But the man didn’t sheath his tablet, and after a moment’s hesitation, asked, “Would you mind if I take a snap, Officer Doyle?”

     “Not at all,” Doyle replied with a bright, artificial smile, and privately hoped she wouldn’t be called upon to recount the bridge-jumping incident, yet again.  Earlier in the year, she’d leapt off Greyfriars Bridge to save Munoz, her co-worker, and the local papers had made her into something of a hero. As Doyle was not one who craved the spotlight, this was apparently one of God’s little jokes.

     “Want me to take a snap with the both of you?” Williams offered.

     The young officer gladly handed his tablet to Williams, and then stepped next to Doyle. “I really appreciate it, ma’am—I’ve heard so much about you.”

     So that he wouldn’t think that she considered herself an exalted person, she asked kindly, “Are you thinkin’ you’d like to be a detective? You seem to have a knack for it.”

     The PC smiled with genuine pleasure, as Williams took the picture. “My wife would like me to transfer to the CID—she’s worried patrol work is too dangerous.”  His eyes strayed over to the still, silent form of the victim. “Our first baby is due in March.  I’ve told her not to go anywhere alone.”

     “It’s not as though your wife fits the victim profile,” Williams noted, as he checked the photo. “The victims have all been single, white, and poor.”

     With a crease between her brows, Doyle asked slowly, “Doesn’t it seem strange, that this victim would let herself get pregnant, if she’s doin’ business as a corner girl?”

     Kineid offered, “The landlord says she told him she planned to keep the baby, and that was one of the reasons he was suspicious that she’d take a bunk.”

     But Doyle suddenly had an unbidden memory, and she said to Williams, “Remember the witness we spoke to at the projects in connection with the corruption case—the one from the Wexton Prison holdin’ cell? She was single, pregnant, and doin’ drugs. Maybe—” she frowned, trying to pursue the elusive thought. “Maybe this psycho-mother is tryin’ to find a baby that matches herself, or somethin’.”

     With a nod toward the corpse, Williams reminded her of the flaw in this working theory.  “But then we’re back to the same question—why would she do it four times?”

     The three of them thought this over in silence for a moment, and then Doyle offered a guess. “She may be disappointed with each replacement baby, and so she keeps tryin’.”

     “What is she doing with the rejects, then?”

     Lifting her palms, Doyle could only admit, “I’ve no idea—it makes no sense.  Let me run a check on that Weston Prison witness, leastways.” She blew out a frustrated breath. “There’s a commonality here, but it’s just out of reach. It has to do with—with how they’re pregnant, even though they shouldn’t be, and—” she paused for a moment, her scalp prickling as it did when she was making an intuitive connection, “—and that they’re payin’ the rent on time.”

     Williams nodded. “Suit yourself—just remember to touch base, so that everyone’s not following the same leads.”

     At this juncture, one of the PCs who’d been positioned on the cordon appeared in the doorway to announce with suppressed excitement, “DCI Acton has arrived, sir.”

     And Acton, Doyle added silently. It has to do with Acton, too.