Powderfinger by Keller Yeats

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Chapter 11

When he was a much younger man, he had envisaged Police work being something like this, one crime follows another, the police solve every mystery. They always get their man. An innocent man is never wrongly convicted and the sun always shone on the righteous. In the daydream there were no patches of grey, only black and white. However, in the real world, if two murders happen in rapid succession on your patch, you start looking for connections. Yesterday’s news of a second female body, discovered after an anonymous phone call, had led his officers to find the corpse of a second victim, on the same stretch of water and with what appeared to be, similar injuries. The words, “serial killer,” leapt into his mind, rapidly followed by images of throngs of media types and flashing camera’s everywhere you looked. The 24 Hour Television News channels and the Press Corps, would be all over the story, just as soon, as they could attach a catchy epithet to the killer.

The ramp on the entrance to the car park, jerked him out of his musings. He brought the car, to a halt in his allotted spot and quickly got out. Grabbing hold of his briefcase and shutting the car door, he marched statesmanlike into his office and shut the door behind him. He sat himself down and sighed resignedly. Deep inside, he knew they were dealing with a very rare individual, one made to appear common place, due to the feeding frenzy of the media and endless cop shows on TV. His team were dealing with a multiple offender and the last thing they needed right now, was distracting from their main objective, the detection and apprehension of the brutal multiple killer. “I really must get this lot organised,” he said to himself, as he riffled through the pile of envelopes that almost covered his desk. “Now where is it,” he thought absently, as his search continued “Ah, gotcha,” he triumphantly exclaimed, as he successfully located the preliminary information on the first body.

DCI. Findlay, was quickly reading through the report that “Jinx,” had hand delivered earlier in the day. He gave only a cursory glance, to all the usual additives, that came with all official reports. The stuff drove him mad, for every complaint, there was a counter claim possibility and as for any embarrassing questions, there was always the reminder for Senior Officers, to always use the 'Ongoing Case' defence. “Ye God’s Almighty,” he cursed and screwed up the offending pieces of pressed dead tree and threw them in the waste paper recycle bin. “I wonder how many, 'Areas the size of Wales,' it took to produce that load of crap,” he wondered. When he finally reached the 'Cause of Death' section of the report, there was a piece of official paper, with “Phone me when you’ve read this report. We’ll need to talk.” and it was signed “Jaqueline.” He’d known her for a long time, years in fact and she only ever used that name, when something appeared to be seriously questionable, or when some of the Pathology was giving counter indications and she needed to confirm something that she felt was important.

As soon as he could find a spare moment, he took out his phone and gave “Jinx” a bell. Her phone rang five times and he was beginning to think that he must have missed her, when she picked up. “Medical Examiners Office, Dr Jacqueline Pinnock speaking” the voice said and then added “how may I help you?” Findlay paused and laughed quietly,

“Hi Jinx, I got your note, what’s up?” She sounded somehow different, there was none of the usual irreverence in her voice, that he always enjoyed.

“Hello, DCI Findlay. Thank you for calling.” This wasn’t the “Jinx,” that he knew so well.

“What’s up Jinx and don’t say, nothing.” There was just silence on the other end of the line, until she had gathered her thoughts.

“I think that it might be a good idea, if you popped over here and we talked.”

Findlay, was somewhat perplexed by the whole conversation, it seemed that it had the ring of something serious. “Christ, Jinx, you’re sounding like some old girlfriend, ham fistedly attempting to call last orders on a relationship, just spit it out.”

Then, quietly, almost surreptitiously, she stated, “I’ve got the results of the first autopsy here and there are some very interesting findings, which I believe we should discuss. Also, we are about to get underway on the second victim and I would appreciate it if you were present.”

Findlay understood from that small exchange, that she wished to talk face to face with him and quickly. “OK Boss, be with you shortly” with that he hung up the phone and informed Ronnie “Just nipping to the morgue, if anybody wants me” then made his way through the incident room on his way out of the station.

He turned the ignition of the car, reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, plucked out his Mobile and speed dialled the number required. The theme from 'Morse,' the bit near the beginning, with the code, began chiming out, but Arch did not instantly pick up.

“Oh, for God’s sake, come on, Arch answer the fucking phone.” He was tempted to hang up before it went to voicemail but he really wanted to talk to Arch Deacon to get the latest on the second body search and to let him know he was on his way to see Jinx to get the latest medical information on the case. Just as he was running out of patience, he heard Arch who sounded as if he were out of breath.

“Sorry about that Sir but we’ve already lost one mobile today, gone to the great sink hole in the sky, if you get my drift. So I left mine up on the bank, while I was looking along the edge.” Then he continued, “Yes Sir, and what can I do you for?” Findlay cringed at this pub humour then brushed it off because he knew Arch would never notice his distaste, he was far to eager for that kind of thing to bother him.

When his phone rang, Arch was puzzling over the lack of blood in the location where the second victim appeared to have been attacked. “Fine, Sir and would you mind asking her, if she has any ideas why there is so little blood, down here at the crime scene. I’d expect a lot more, considering the victims multiple injuries.” He paused then continued, “ You know Sir, I can’t help feeling there’s something wrong with this one....” he tailed off.

Findlay, ignoring the last remark and assuming his official voice, informed Arch that he would “mention the blood to Jinx, and see what she had to say on the subject.” He was about to terminate the call, when Arch’s voice, sounding unusually disturbed continued as if to himself.

“Jesus, it’s amazing what a bunch of hungry Ravens can do to a body. They ripped it apart.” Responding to the disquiet in his DS’s voice, Findlay softened his stance,

“OK Arch, I’ll let you know what I find out, just as soon as I know more myself.” With that, Findlay clicked his phone off, gathered up the folder that Jinx had dropped off earlier and, after securing it on the passenger seat, set off for The Morgue.

The traffic today, was light and he covered the distance to his destination in next to no time, only having to stop at one set of lights on the way. PC Colin Jeavons was on the desk and he greeted him, smiling as he went through the swing doors and turned left, down the stairs towards Jinx Pinnock’s office. Upon politely knocking on the glass and seeing that she was alone, he marched in, with a hearty, “Hi Jinx. Your wish is my command.”

Jinx was standing by the hot water geyser, lazily stirring her Coffee mug and looking pensively at the brown liquid, as it spun around. The Morgue always struck him as a cold place, with all its white tiled surfaces, cold stainless steel and body fridges. A clean, cold and clinical setting quite befitting it’s function. Here in the office Jinx had attempted to humanise the place with a couple of plants and landscape posters.

“Thinking about the second autopsy?” he offered weakly, attempting to ameliorate the obvious silence of the moment. She stiffened and spun around, miraculously retaining all the liquid in her mug.

“Hi Alex. Sorry, no actually I was just thinking about the first one.” She carefully placed her coffee down on the desk and turned again to face him. “Can I get you one, it works a treat in preventing the nausea?” Relieved, Findlay acquiesced and when he was sat down opposite her, cradling the brown nectar, she continued. “When I initially examined the body of the first victim at the crime scene, with that savage cut to her throat completely severing the windpipe and vessels in her neck it seemed obvious to me, that we were dealing with a murder and a nasty one at that. The four penetrating wounds to her chest, any one of which could easily have killed her, were really obvious and the blood loss should have been massive. One of the chest wounds, indicated that the weapon, passed straight through her heart and on its own would have been lethal. Another, entry point, cut straight through her Aortic Artery and exited via the rib cage at the front. Also lethal in itself. Then come the final two incursions, one through each lung and again exiting the body via, the rib cage, either side of the spinal column. This was no accident, this killing was brutal and precise in its execution.”

At this point, Jinx pushed a photograph of the victim, under his nose. Findlay, looked down at the photo of the corpse of Debra Foxx and slowly shook his head, as if regretfully recalling a fond, though melancholy memory of the dead girl. “Any interference?” He pointedly asked.

“Not that we’ve found, yet.” She replied “I’m afraid, that initially, this does appear to be one of those straight forward, frenzied killings.”

Alex Findlay’s response to Jinx’s conclusion, was not unfamiliar. After all, the murder had apparently taken place on a Friday night, so it was very likely, that alcohol was involved but non the less, the sight of a brutally slaughtered young woman, always catapulted him back to his second case as a 'Rookie,' fresh out of college. At the time, there had been this chap, who specialised in murdering potential glamour models, but he wasn’t averse to doing away with the occasional prostitute when his inner demon demanded some more blood. Then one day, as he was attending an incident which was thought to be another victim of 'The Weighbridge Beast,' the forensic photographer lifted the shroud in order to take a picture of the deceased girl, and Findlay had recognized her. It was Karen Alderley, the girlfriend that he had mercilessly dumped, just before he went from University to the Police Training College. He could still see her face, tearful, confused and hurting, as she left his room, after their last night together. “I’m sorry, Karen, I didn’t know. Please, forgive me,” he had whispered to her lifeless body and then his words had tailed off.

Debra Foxx, had brought those memories back again and he became aware of the pregnant pause, that had descended on the place as he simply offered a silent prayer for all the murder victims he had known and waited for Jinx to continue. She dutifully obliged and the curtain of mysterious melancholia parted.

“It would be quite normal to expect a cadaver with such extensive injuries, to have pretty much bled out but when I cut into this one, the blood went everywhere.”

Findlay, looked at Jinx with a puzzled look on his face and said, “Down at the station, we sometimes get cases, like this one, that don’t seem to fit the bill and if you’re not careful just lead you off down the wrong road.” After that, he wasn’t quite sure what to say but added quickly, “I know that look on your face Jinx, it’s how I must have looked, when I saw the Foxx girl for the first time. Believe me, it’s just how they get to you sometimes, they simply catch you off guard.” His look of puzzlement faded and was replaced by one of curiosity.

“Thanks Alex.” Jinx smiled at him then cleared her throat and continued, “On closer inspection, we observed that all the wounds were 100% cauterised. This appears to have occurred almost simultaneously the wounds were inflicted and hence, little blood loss.” She paused and looked Alex straight in the eye, “we’re now trying to figure out, what kind of weapon could do that?”

Findlay considered but had no answer, he was beginning to feel uneasy. The weapon was a problem and he never really cared for autopsies. He sent Arch to most of them, he had the stronger stomach. Seeing his discomfort Jinx continued,

“Oh by the way, I can confirm, she died sometime between 12.30 and 2.00 am. Sorry that’s as close as we can get because of the immersion in the canal. As for the actual weapon, well that’s got us pretty stumped at present. It appears to be some curved, roughly triangular narrow stiletto like implement. I can show you the cast later if you like. There is one more strange artifact associated with the wounds and that is a white particulate, powder like matter which appears to be calcium based. We’re running further tests. Now let’s go look at the second victim.”

Before they moved into the area that she called, 'The Carvery,' Findlay put on the items that she had supplied him with earlier. The face mask was just claustrophobic, he had never got used to the sensation, in his own mind he imagined that this was akin to being slowly but relentlessly suffocated. The surgical gloves were like Purple Condoms with fingers and the pale blue jumpsuit known locally as the BBG or Big Baby Gro, was a bit snug these days. The rubber booties made him feel like Paddinton Bear and altogether it was not a good look. Jinx, watched him pulling at this and poking at that, like some spoilt child who was about to have his school photo taken. She couldn’t help it, seeing a grown man having a hissy fit, over the cut of the articles of clothing he had been forced to don, was hilarious.

“Oh, stop complaining about the garb, everybody wears the same stuff. Perhaps Sir, would prefer some items from our bespoke catalogue?”

Findlay, could see the humour in his position and started to laugh himself. “Sorry,” he said shamefacedly, “but I always get a little nervous about cutting people up and then sewing them back together again”

For a moment they both pretended to be serious but it was hopeless, “We do have a range of fitted garments, in Cashmere, or Silk, that are very popular with the better heeled of our clients,” said Jinx. “They also prefer, the knitted woolen coffin for their last journey. I mean, there is little worse than an uncomfortable casket, now is there?”

They could hold it back the tide no longer and the laughter just flowed. For a minute or two, they were utterly helpless and the tears simply rolled down their cheeks. As the mirth subsided and Findlay was now ready for this small ordeal, Jinx, couldn’t resist it and casually commented, “That’s why we wear all this 'fuck me' clothing, it’s deadly on a night out, sometimes you have to beat them off with a stick.”

Alex was now a blob of giggling putty in her hands and to make conditions worse, his nose began to run. He appreciated her dark humour and it’s ability to distract him from the melancholia of Karen and the ordeal to come. Jinx, strode over to the entrance of examination room two and as she opened the door said, “ I wanted you here for this second autopsy because there are issues around the first one, that should not become common knowledge and we can’t afford any leaks, given the expected press interest.”

Jinx walked on, then stopped, at the covered body of the first victim. Fully aware of his dislike of autopsy’s and their sometimes gory procedures, she paused and asked, “You ready for this?” He hesitated, took a deep breath, shifted him mind to business mode,' nodded his head,

“Let’s get on with it.” All his old feelings of remorse, vanished in the cold light of functionality, as Jinx removed the shroud like cover that was draped over Debra Foxx lifeless corpse. The four puncture wounds in her chest, were as nothing, when compared to the gruesome, raggedly cut tear, that had been inflicted on her throat. She was a shade of white, that only death could bring. Her lips, were cold purple and there was a touch of putrefying pale yellow about her skin. Findlay, was unsteady for a second or two and held on to the edge of the table for balance. He regained control of his legs and, thanking the coffee, mentally squashed down the bilious feelings. “Thought I was a gonner there for a second.”

She, just nodded and carried on with the task at hand. “You can see here,” she said, drawing his attention, to the chest wounds, “that there is a dusting of white powder around the wounds and if you look here at the neck, you will see that there is a similar effect going on here too.”

He was intrigued by this anomaly, “Do you know what it is yet?”

At this, Jinx straightened and now, it was her that was taking the opportunity, to draw in some air. “As I said, we’ve run some initial tests and it’s calcium based. I’ve ordered more tests and I’ll get back to you with the final diagnosis” She could see, that the DCI, was looking confused, so, she helped him with his tribulations, “keep this to yourself for now but you might be looking for a weapon with a bone blade. Highly unusual, fucking rare and I’ll be able to give you more, after the second Autopsy and tests are complete.”

Jinx, then stepped over to the second body. Alex reluctantly followed her over to the other table, he had almost thrown up when he had seen this one out in the field. Jinx, momentarily forgetting, that he wasn’t one of her Lab Rats, as she called them, or Laboratory Assistants, as they were officially known, just matter of factually, removed the white sheet and casually revealed the vision of even greater horror. Eleanor Ross, was barely recognisable as a human being, Alex, upon seeing the cleaned up remains involuntarily took one step backwards. He was aghast at the vision that lay before him on the slab. “Same again with the question about any interference,” Jinx commented. Alex involuntarily, wretched and had to turn away from the horror lying on the table before him,

“Yuck, sorry.”

Jinx, was patiently waiting for him to indicate his readiness for her to continue but nothing was coming, except an all encompassing feeling of revulsion. So she saved him from any more thoughts of dread by stating, “You are wondering, what could do that, to a cadaver and what kind of a sicko, would derive any pleasure from this kind of butchery.” She then nodded and finished with, “Correct?”

Findlay was transfixed, he’d seen some sights in his time but this was almost beyond belief. Both of her eyes were missing and much of the soft tissue on her face had been removed.

“Birds, and the odd rat” said Jinx, motioning towards what was remaining of Eleanor Ross’s head.

“What in less than twenty four hours?” he incredulously enquired. “Oh, yes,” she responded, “It’s a wonder that there’s so much flesh still remaining. I worked on a case a few years back, before D.N.A. testing and all we had to go on was a toothless skull, sitting on a handless corpse.

“Didyou get your man?” enquired Findlay.

“No, it was a woman and “Yes,” we got her. She got life but she’s probably been out for a few years now.” Jinx was lost in thought, staring at the body. “If you look at the torso, you will see that there is more white powder around the wounds but not on the eye sockets. A little more work with this one but Miss Foxx has given us a pretty good blueprint to work with. The damage to the Torso, was not done by the scavengers and the puncture wounds appear, superficially to have been made by a similar weapon to that used on Debra Foxx but the attack, was much more frenzied.” With that, she indicated the same cauterisation and white particulate matter. Findlay, was still looking at what was left of the ravaged face of Eleanor Ross and his stomach was doing somersaults, he dragged his eyes to the torso and commanded his stomach to be still. Then curiosity took over,

“Other than this white powdery stuff, how can you possibly get much info from this, it’s just a bloody pulp. It looks like something shredded her middle and then pulped it. Jesus, Jinx, you’ve got your work cut out here.”

Jinx, having shown Findlay the complexity of the situation she was required to investigate, made it clear that she was not going to be able to release the bodies for quite some time. Then she led him over to the bench and showed him, the rough casts, taken from the wounds. “See what I mean?” she continued “I think I’m going to have to try to get, some more extensive casts before we can understand this thing.”

Findley held up, one of the casts, it was a rough plaster model and fragile, he tried to use it in a stabbing motion. “Yes, I see what you mean, very strange.”

Jinx, simply looked at him and smiled, knowingly. “You see why, sometimes you guys want answers and we can’t just pull them out of our hats.” She said, with some exasperation and continued, “Sometimes, the apparently obvious, is anything but.” With that, Jinx returned the cast to the bench and continued “Before you leave Alex, I think that we should consider, how we’re going to play this one. If we go blazing in, they’ll either laugh us out of town, or put us in a home. I’ll call you tomorrow with the prelim’s on the second body and we’ll think about it,O.K?”

Relieved, he agreed and on leaving the examination room, removed his BBG, wellies, gloves and mask, dropping them into the labelled receptacles, waved at Jinx and asked just one question. “What exactly, was in that magical drink that you gave me?” He stutteringly added, “It just saved me, from a rather embarrassing moment.” Alex, receiving only a dismissive wave from Jinx, left the room in silence and mopped his sweating brow, with his handkerchief. He reached his car and wretched, again. Jinx’s coffee had stopped working and he was happy to be leaving this place with his dignity still intact.

Down on the canal bank, Arch and his team, were conducting the morning’s fingertip search of the area between the bridges. Yesterday, he had been concentrating on the murder scene itself, no blade of grass had been overlooked and nothing of apparent significance had been deposited in the evidence bags, until Arch had discovered the camera which had been immediately dispatched to forensics. This morning, the team had split into two separate units and each would comb a designated area.

“Right, you all know the routine, so let’s get this sorted out. Team two, you get yourselves down the bank to Ravens Gate and work your way along to Jenkins. Team one, you’re with me.”

Sometime later, as Arch reached Balaclava and the marble horses, that had so impressed Eleanor Ross the day before, he felt his phone vibrate in his pants back pocket. He undid the pocket button, whipped out the phone, and glanced at the screen. It was the expected return call from 'The Boss,' as he called DCI. Findlay, so he had to take this one.

“You guys carry on without me, I won’t be long,” He called and then turned, pressed the button to accept the call, found a convenient spot to sit down and observe his team as they continued to search the walkway. “Hello Sir,” said Arch and waited for DCI. Findlay to respond.

“Listen Arch, I’ve just been to see Jinx and this one is not quite so simple as it may seem.” Arch, thought that was given anyway, two murders in the same area with no weapon and no evidence of the perpetrator could hardly be considered 'simple,' but he let that go. Looking at the still waters of the canal, he was relieved when Alex intriguingly added, “Tell you what, get yourself back here and I’ll fill you in.”

DS. Deacon, was delighted not to have to continue this pointless exercise. He and several other officers, had spent the whole of yesterday afternoon crawling about on the canal bank and come up with bugger all but the camera. “That’s fine by me, we haven’t exactly found much. Well, to be honest fuck all,” the DS, continued, “it’s hard to believe, Sir but just like last time, like Joe said, it’s as if the place had been simply swept clean.” This case, with it’s two, as yet unconnected deaths, was getting more perplexing by the minute and Findlay didn’t like that.

That’s O.K. Arch, just get yourself back here and we’ll take it from there.”

Within fifteen minutes, the entire search party, were back on board the transports and was ready to go. “Damn it, I should have asked him, if there was anything useful, on the camera,” Arch thought aloud. The driver, assumed he was being addressed, just shrugged his shoulders, and grunted, as he slipped the van into gear and set off for the station.

The Local Media, had by now, seized upon the discovery of a second mutilated body on the canal bank, close to the location of the first victim and being short of any good stories, the newspapers let their imaginations, run wild. Two dead women, their bodies discovered floating in water, within a quarter of a mile of each other, both horribly mutilated. Obviously, this was the evil actions, of a ruthless serial killer. As Nick sat on his settee smoking a big one, dressed only in his underpants, dressing gown and slippers, he heard the presenter on local radio give a ‘sensational’ breaking bulletin. The radio hack proclaimed, in a ‘caring voice’ that, “The “Canal Cutter” had claimed a second victim. Nick took a deep toke, slumped back into the cushions, then exhaled with a long, deep sigh.

'That was a bit quick' he thought, then chuckled. “The Canal Cutter, eh? How ever so Victorian.” He was presently, having a great deal of trouble, with the whole press construct. Was that really, the best that they could come up with? It was just so hackneyed. It could easily have been written, way back in the days of 'Spring Heeled Jack,' or even 'The Ripper.'

“Is it me, or has the world, taken leave of its senses,” he enquired of himself? Obviously, some group of idiots, had met in a sweaty room and between them, they had agreed, over a few drinks, that, 'The Canal Cutter,' was an adequate nom-de-plume, to pin to the chest, of their latest banner headline maker. The fact, that until this miscreant had struck again, the epithet of “Serial killer,” was not applicable in this case. Two bodies, were considered by the law of the land, to be coincidence, no matter how non-coincidental, they appeared to be. It took three bodies and a distinctly discernible Modus Operandi, before a group of similar crimes, could be considered ‘serial.’ Nick considered this was one he would have to keep an eye on, what with the hostel being so close to the canal. The innuendo and suspicion that would soon be swirling around the area, could prove to be awkward in the weeks to come if they didn’t catch the killer quickly. Life at St. Joseph’s, was already already difficult and now it seemed, there was another corpse that had been found floating, close by in the canal. Nick smiled to himself, Vera would have her work cut out over this one. If it wasn’t very carefully managed, the reputation of the hostel would soon be sinking even deeper into the mire, than it already was.

Nick simply sat back and thanked the Great Maker, that he had been suspended, before this barrage of the smelly stuff, hit the wind machine.

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