Murder In Hindsight
Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle was fretting; fretting and stalling until Detective Chief Inspector Acton could make an appearance whilst she tried to appear calm and composed in front of the Scene of the Crime Officers. As a newly-promoted DS, she should maintain a certain dignity and display her leadership abilities, even though she was longing to bite her nails and peer over the hedgerow toward the park entrance.
The various Scotland Yard forensics personnel were impatiently waiting because Acton was delayed, and Doyle had a good guess as to why he was delayed. One of these fine days, someone else may make the same guess and then the wretched cat would be among the wretched pigeons—although the mind boggled, trying to imagine Acton being called on the carpet by Professional Standards. Pulling out her mobile, she pretended to make a call just to appear busy.
“I’ll lose the light soon, ma’am.” The SOCO photographer approached, cold and unhappy, and small blame to her; Doyle was equally cold and unhappy, but with better reason.
“Ten more minutes,” Doyle assured her, holding a hand over her mobile so as to interrupt her pretend-conversation. “Then we’ll move forward—whether DCI Acton makes it or no.” She wanted Acton to have a look before the corpse was processed and removed, but she could always show him the photos.
The woman immediately plucked up. “No hurry; we can wait, if the DCI is on his way.”
Has a crush on him, the brasser, thought Doyle. Join the club, my friend; the woman probably had some private photographs she’d be all too happy to show Acton in her spare time. The SOCO photographer used to treat Doyle with barely-concealed contempt, but her attitude had improved remarkably after the bridge-jumping incident. A few months ago, Doyle had jumped off Greyfriars Bridge into the Thames to save a colleague, and was now a celebrated hero. All in all, it was a mixed blessing, because Doyle was not one who craved the spotlight and now she was perceived as sort of a female version of St. George—except that she’d rescued the dragon instead of the maiden, when you thought about it.
Irish by birth and fey by nature, Doyle had an uncanny ability to read people, and in particular she could recognize a lie when she heard it. This perceptive ability had launched her career as a detective, but it also made her reclusive by nature—it was no easy thing, to be able to pick up on the currents and cross-currents of emotion swirling around her. The SOCO photographer, for example, was lusting after the vaunted Chief Inspector but bore Doyle no particular ill-will for being married to him, since she was the heroic bridge-jumper and thus above reproach.
With a nod of her head, the photographer gestured toward the victim, being as she didn’t want to take her hands out of her pockets until it was necessary. “Is there something special about this one, then?”
There was, but Doyle did not want to say, especially before the loose-lipped SOCOs who were notoriously inclined to blather in their cups—it came from wading knee-deep in guts all the livelong day. So instead, she equivocated, “There are a few details that are worrisome, is all. I wanted the DCI to have a quick look.”
As it appeared to be an ordinary case of a bad `un coming to an only-to-be-expected bad end in this part of town, this pronouncement would ordinarily hold little water, but because the photographer was anticipating a chance to bat her eyes at Acton, no demur was raised. Doyle was reminded that on the aqueduct case, this particular photographer had withheld evidence at Acton’s request, and wondered at such foolish devotion. Then she recalled that it was a case of the pot and the kettle—Doyle herself was an aider and abettor, after all—and so she tempered her scorn. Although she was married to him, Acton was in many respects a mystery to her as few were; he abided by his own notions of justice, and was not above manipulating the means to achieve the ends he desired—not something one would expect from a well-respected DCI at the Met. But the fact that no one would expect it was—ironically—the very reason he got away with murder on certain memorable occasions; his reputation acted as a shield. Any suggestion that the celebrated Lord Acton was running illegal weapons, dispatching villains or manipulating evidence would be met with disbelief and derision, as well he knew. In the meantime, his better half was left to hang on to his coat tails and try to curb his wayward ways—it was no easy task, and Doyle reluctantly rang off from her pretend-conversation so as to decide how best to proceed without him.
After peering over the hedgerow yet again, she blew into her hands because she’d forgotten her gloves, and reflected that the cold was actually a blessing because the recently departed wouldn’t be further decomposing whilst they cooled their heels—she truly shouldn’t delay for much longer, or the Senior Investigating Officer might think they’d all gone for a pub crawl.
“Here he comes, ma’am,” the photographer chirped happily, and with a great deal of relief, Doyle looked up to see that Acton was indeed approaching; his tall, over-coated figure emerging from the evening fog. In such a setting he appeared larger-than-life, and small wonder that female underlings harbored a crush, or that the younger detectives at the Met called him “Holmes” behind his back. He was a local legend, which only made her fret all the more whilst she entertained the bleak conviction that the whole thing was about to come crashing down around their heads.
“DS Doyle.” He nodded to her. “Have you an ID?”
“I do indeed, sir.” They kept up a professional façade when they were dealing with each other at work, but she met his eyes and felt the chemistry crackling between them like an electrical charge. No one could fathom why the great Chief Inspector Acton had married the lowly likes of her, and literally on a moment’s notice. She could fathom it, however, and did—sometimes twice a day. Thus far in their short marriage they were very happy together, despite the occasional crisis. “He’s twenty-three years old with a record of petty thefts and drug-dealin’—nothing major—but he was a suspect in an arson homicide about eight years ago.” She paused significantly, and Acton met her eyes with interest. He then stepped carefully over to the body, lying next to the hedgerow, and she followed to crouch down beside him and contemplate the victim’s remains for a silent moment. The victim had been shot in back of the head, and there were no signs of a defensive struggle.
She continued, “No sign of robbery, and he was armed—had a .38 revolver tucked into the back of his belt.” That it was illegal went without saying; guns were carefully controlled in Britain, but the black market flourished, particularly among the criminal classes. Lowering her voice, she indicated with a finger, “The entry wound is angled, and there’s no visible residue, so it’s at mid-close range—no more than a foot or so. Another shot from behind, but not a professional hit.”
He began to pull off his leather gloves by the fingers. “Allow me to lend you my gloves.”
“You mustn’t,” she warned. “I’ll never learn, else.”
“Your fingers are white.”
“Are you listenin’ to me?”
“Yes.” He glanced up at her. “He used a different weapon, this time, and shot from the opposite side in an attempt to obscure his identity.”
“I think so,” she agreed, mollified that he was paying attention, and had come to the same conclusion as she had. “He’s trying to disguise it, but it’s the same killer. And the victim has another cold case connection.”
They rose, and Acton stood next to her, his breath making a cloud in the chill air.
In a low tone, she ventured, “Perhaps you should button your coat, my friend—and try not to be breathin’ on anyone.”
There was a pause. “Is it so obvious?” he asked quietly.
“Only to me,” she assured him. “Was it completely wretched?”
“I’ve been admonished not to discuss it with you, but the answer is yes.”
“Grand,” she observed dryly.
He continued in a neutral tone, “I am asked a great many questions about my mother and about you.”
“Whist, Michael,” she scoffed. “As if that has anythin’ to do wi’ it.”
He chuckled, which was a good sign, and she chuckled with him, not caring what the impatient SOCO team would think to see the CID detectives amusing themselves over the remains of the decedent. Acton had begun therapy for an obsessive condition, the object of his obsession being her fair self. He had developed a fixation for his first-year colleague, and by the time Doyle had become aware of it, he’d convinced her to marry him—which she had, in a pig’s whisper, which only spoke to the state of her own mental faculties. To make a try at a normal life he was seeing a therapist, hoping to learn techniques to control his symptoms without necessarily disclosing the reason. Apparently, the therapist had not been misled.
“So you’ve been servin’ yourself some self-help,” she concluded. After his sessions, Acton would drink impressive quantities of scotch. He was not one to refrain, even under normal conditions, but it seemed to Doyle that the therapy was only making matters worse.
“We’re losing the light, sir,” the photographer ventured from a respectful distance.
Thus reminded, Acton called the SOCO team over and began giving instructions; particular care was to be given to physical evidence at the site, although there was little to hope for, with the ground so cold. Because the killer was using a variety of murder weapons to disguise his involvement, any footprints or trace evidence they could scrounge up might provide a means to link this murder to the others; by all appearances, they were dealing with a serial killer.
While they watched the forensics team go to work, Acton lifted his head to survey the area and observe the placement of the CCTV cameras. “Tell me about the cold case that is connected to this one.”
“Unsolved double-murder by arson. Our victim here was the chief suspect, eight years ago, but there was little evidence and he had a lot of sympathetic press coverage, bein’ so young.” There was a pause. Doyle’s working theory was that they were now dealing with a vigilante; someone who was murdering earlier suspects who’d gotten away with murder.
“Eight years; a strange sort of vigilante, who abides for such a length of time.”
“Aye, that,” she teased solemnly. When Acton drank, his tone and language reverted to House of Lords, and so she reverted to hardscrabble Dublin so as to counter him.
Amused, he turned to meet her eyes and said sincerely, “This was very good work.”
She shrugged, nonetheless pleased by the compliment. “Lucky, more like. And give yourself some credit; it all came of you throwin’ me off the cases.” Acton had been concerned—and rightly so—that Doyle was in danger when they were investigating the Kempton Park racecourse murders. He had taken her out of the field, and instead placed her on thankless and uninteresting cold case duty, locked in the CID basement and looking through dusty boxes of unsolved homicides. Thoroughly frustrated and resentful, she had nevertheless used the time to review and index Acton’s cold case files, and had noticed a link between a recent string of apparently-unconnected murders and some of the unsolved cold cases. Her intuition came to the conclusion that someone was murdering killers who had previously escaped justice—a vigilante was at work. This latest victim would appear to confirm her theory.
A PC who was monitoring the cordon came over to have a word with Acton. “Sir, there is a reporter who would like to have a word.”
Doyle caught a quick flash of annoyance from her husband, but there was nothin’ for it; if you tried to avoid the pests, it would only make them think you were hiding massive police abuse. Cooperating with the fourth estate was a necessary evil, especially in this day and age, but on the other hand, Acton was not one to suffer fools. This attitude worked only to enhance his standing with the public, who followed his career with avid interest—not that he cared or noticed. He signaled for Doyle to accompany him, and so she followed him as he went to address the reporter, a woman who stood with her arms crossed against the cold despite wearing a fine cashmere coat—reporting must pay well. She was from the London World News, a paper that had often been critical of the Met. Recently, however, an uneasy truce had been achieved and the Detective Chief Superintendent had cautioned them that the Home Secretary desired as much cooperation with the press as possible. Doyle was nervous; Acton was very self-possessed and she doubted that anyone else could tell that he had been drinking, but if the interview did not go well she’d have to create some sort of distraction—perhaps another pretend phone call.
The reporter seemed a very competent woman in her mid-thirties, brimming with confidence, Doyle could see; someone who would never forget her gloves on such a day. Holding out a hand to shake his, she threw Acton a friendly smile that held a touch of flirtatiousness, not an uncommon occurrence as the SOCO photographer was also attempting to sidle up next to him on the pretext of waiting to be discharged. You’re not his type—neither of you, Doyle thought; his type was shy redheads who nonetheless tended to fly off the handle on occasion. She was resigned, though; Acton was titled, handsome, rich and unattainable, a combination which was apparently fatally attractive to the general female population. Male, too, she amended, remembering Owens, the detective trainee who had harbored an unhealthy obsession for him. She was lucky Acton was literally crazy about her; there was a lot of temptation lyin’ about.
Acton didn’t introduce her, and so Doyle stayed back, monitoring the conversation between the two and wondering if she had the wherewithal to step in, if the need arose. Judging by the questions, however, it didn’t appear that the reporter was yet aware of the pattern which pointed to a serial killer, and so Doyle relaxed a bit. As the scene had been cordoned off in a public place and there had been a delay in waiting for Acton, no doubt the press had merely caught wind of it and had come to see if there was a story. Serial killers were tricky; although there were times when the public should be warned there was such a killer afoot, in cases like this, when it seemed unlikely the killer was aware they’d twigged him, discretion was the better option—all the better to set up a trap and seizure.
In a provocative gesture, the reporter threw back her head and laughed at something Acton said, which inspired the photographer to interrupt with barely-concealed jealousy. They were both making a dead run at him, but he appeared completely oblivious to it, which was commendable, being has his wife was making a mighty effort not to interject a smart remark. Instead, said wife comforted herself by recalling that she’d carried off the palm, and thus managed to curb the urge to knock both their heads together.
At this point, the reporter deigned to notice Doyle. “Why, you’re the bridge-jumper, aren’t you?”
Doyle acknowledged that indeed, she was the bridge-jumper.
The woman shook her head. “I have to say—I don’t think I could have done it.”
Doyle remembered that Kevin Maguire, the reporter who had interviewed her from the same paper, had told her it was a great human interest story because everyone who read it would pause and wonder if they would have run such a risk. Apparently, he was right. “Please give my regards to Mr. Maguire,” she said; the man had done her a favor and Doyle was grateful.
“Will do,” the woman agreed, and with one last glance under her lashes at Acton, she left.
After giving instruction to close down the scene, Acton and Doyle walked back toward Acton’s Range Rover, parked a block away. He was quiet, and she broke the silence. “You should probably go straight home, my friend.”
“Come with me.”
She could see that he was in need of the cure—it was her experience that a good, hearty serving of ungentle sex tended to bring him out of the dismals. “I can’t,” she explained regretfully. “I’m slated to help at the clinic, and I’m past due already.”
He ducked his head for a moment, and then looked at her with an expression she knew very well. “Don’t stay late.”
“I won’t. Don’t be startin’ without me.”
“Not a chance,” he replied.