No Place to Die - Clare Donoghue

CHAPTER ONE

22nd April – Tuesday

‘I know,’ she said, waiting for the next line in what was a well-rehearsed piece. ‘Yes, Mother, I’m aware of that.’ Jane looked at the clock on the bottom right-hand side of her computer screen. ‘I agree. I’ll call as soon as I leave.’ The seconds ticked by. ‘Yes, clean ones are in his room.’ She resisted the temptation to drum her fingers on the desk. ‘That’s right, where they’re always kept.’ Jane could sense other people in the office beginning to tune into her conversation. ‘Nothing. There was no tone. Sorry – yes, you’re right. I’ll be home soon.’ Almost there. She hoped. ‘Before eight. Yes. Okay. Yes. Good. Thanks, Mum. Bye.’

Detective Sergeant Jane Bennett put the phone back in its cradle, closed her eyes and let her head drop onto her desk with a thud.

Her mother didn’t object to looking after Peter. Far from it. She was ‘happy to help’. Jane would have the words engraved on her mother’s tombstone: ‘Celia Bennett, beloved wife, mother and grandmother. “Happy to help”.’ The image relaxed Jane’s shoulders and she smiled. The ten-minute ear-bashing she had just endured was routine. The caveat to her mother’s favourite phrase was full entitlement to bitch and moan whenever the mood struck. Jane didn’t mind. Her working life didn’t allow for routine, something that her son craved. She couldn’t be there all the time. So every pick, veiled dig, subtle criticism or direct assault that her mother levelled against her was worth it.

She lifted her head off the desk, using her fingertips to pull her fringe back into place. The heat of the day had all but gone. She turned and pulled her jacket off the back of her chair and slipped it on. Peter would be eight in June. When Jane looked at him she still saw the chubby, red-faced baby who was always hungry. That was before his autism had been diagnosed, before the invisible barrier separating mother and son had been explained. Eight years old. She couldn’t believe it. She would have to organize a party, get his friends over. Her mother would help. Jane rolled her eyes. It was an involuntary action, or rather a pre-emptive reaction to what her mother would say. She pushed the power button on her laptop and waited for it to shut down.

One quick meeting with department heads, a briefing with the team and then she should be able to head home. She slipped her laptop into her bag, surveying the files on her desk, deciding what she needed to take home with her. She wanted to be ready the second the briefing was over. Peter had already picked out a book for tonight’s bedtime story. A bedtime story that Jane had promised to read to him. Her eyes settled on the most current file on the Stevens case. She shook her head. A serial killer in Lewisham. Five women dead. She couldn’t get her head round it. The man responsible was behind bars, had been for two months, but it wasn’t over. Not yet.

She still had one girl to find.

The young woman’s face had been a shadow, following Jane wherever she went. She picked up the file and two memory sticks and pushed them into her bag. It would take months – years – to erase the images that she and the rest of the team had witnessed. The killer’s two-bedroom semi could have been wallpapered with all the photographs found in his home-made darkroom. The majority were shots of his victims, names and faces Jane knew well, but there were a handful of pictures showing girls that no one knew. It was her job to identify and find them, to make sure they had been photographed – and nothing more. Two girls had been found safe and well, but the third? Only time would tell. Jane looked up and spotted her boss, DI Mike Lockyer, walking towards her. He returned her smile, but his pale skin and shadowed eyes didn’t match his expression.

‘Jane,’ he said, resting his arms on the partition that separated her desk from the rest of the open-plan office. ‘How are you getting on with the Schofield case?’

‘We’re pretty much there, sir,’ she said, reaching for the corresponding case file on her desk. ‘The husband’s with the custody sergeant downstairs. I don’t think it’ll take much to get him to talk.’ She watched Lockyer nod, rubbing his eyebrow, his fingers tugging at the skin around his eye. He