Whisper softly or you're dead

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Chapter 18

Succour after a bleak day.

Defoe decided to concentrate on the ‘collector,’ that afternoon. He first decided to look at Chase’s file. He just felt he was hiding something which might prevent him doing his job properly. The guy went through life as if he carried a burden on his shoulders and couldn’t relax unless he was hunting criminals. He had little social life as far as Defoe could see and no love life. It was if he had no existence outside of work.

He had spoken to Chase that morning. Defoe’s gut feeling was that Chase was not the murderer. Mixed up and angry he had embraced his mother’s Victorian attitudes to women thinking they should remain virginal until marriage. He partially blamed Mary Jane’s behaviour for her murder but that did not make him want to murder her.

As he read through the file he felt sorry for the fellow. He carried a burden of guilt that any man would find difficult to live with. It coloured the way he did his job, but he had still tried to remain objective about Dave Britt and not arrest him in a knee jerk reaction. He began to warm toward the fellow. But then the next page made him sit upright and question his former feelings.

Chase had been a medical student for two years. An outstanding student, expected to come out top in his final year, he had left at the end of the second year and changed his major to law and his minor to criminology. It had delayed his graduation but he had graduated cum lumae, choosing to enter the police instead of the law. He had said he wanted to make a difference.

This opened up a new ball game. Defoe was going to run a check on all the men he knew had attended med school in the area against any other connections with the murders and Chase would have to be checked alongside any others who had attended Med school. Cradley would be displeased but would accept it. It was just procedure.

He was clustering similarities between the deaths of the women. They were all under twenty-five and virgins but for Sherylee and Sara. Some were loners or outcasts from society, the man tending to pick on vulnerable women, easy targets and easily hoodwinked.

He wondered if Louise’s striking colour had made the man pick on her. That natural shade of red hair could rarely be found anywhere. She would have made a killing if she had modelled with her hair and height and figure. Cherry was liked in her community but was shy and naïve and had few close friends, another vulnerable girl. He had picked her for her gorgeous limbs.

He wondered why Mary Jane had been picked. He worked through her college history. Something must have attracted the killer. Why her hands in particular? Her hands were particularly long and slender and she took great care of her nails, one of her only vanities. He looked to see if she had entered any modelling competitions and there was what he was looking for. She was a hand model for an agency. That was her only claim to fame and it brought her a small amount of money and she had won a competition for the best hands in the region.

What else did the killer need? He had a face, hands, hair, ears and limbs. No eyes yet nor torso from these latest girls. In fact, he had two pairs of ears. Why two pairs when he had only wanted one of each pair of limbs or body parts before? Defoe was on red alert. Again, Sherylee seemed to be an anomaly amongst these girls.

What was enticing to the killer about the girl who was nearly entrapped at the bus-stop? She was pretty like the others and came from a difficult home, easily flattered and manipulated by a smooth killer. He questioned her teachers and parents. She had recently passed her life-saving certificates and gained a job at the local pool. She had been photographed on the front page of the local newspaper in a bathing costume for all to gawp at. Defoe would bet his hat the killer was after her torso.

Anna could add little to their information except the woman’s accent had changed on one occasion when she was quoting a scene from a book; as if she had slipped back to her original voice. It sounded as if she came from the nearest big city, something they could match against their suspects.

He racked his brains for the missing link between the murdered girls. He checked on the murders where body parts had been taken. He had found two bodies of virgins had been dismembered and laid out in the same way as their vics and body parts taken.

The same parts were however discarded two years later in a disused quarry as if they were no longer useful or even relevant to the killer. They would have provided useful clues if they had been carefully examined but the forensic department of the next state where they had been found had not known their significance as the bodies had been buried years before. The murderer had appeared to have stopped his ghoulish collecting. The department was also less scrupulous and conscientious than the one run by Kate. He thanked God for her thoroughness.

He ran a list of all the clinics and the hospitals in the area and then he would match them against medics who had changed their jobs and moved back. It could also be a medic who had retired but the list would shorten as he increased the criteria by which he searched for the U.N.S.U.B. Defoe asked for the names of any medic who had worked in this locality and moved away in the last six years and then came back. It was a long shot, but Kate said the U.N.S.U.B. had had medical training.He was mainly confused by the relationship between the first man and the woman. Friends, partners, lovers, siblings. Who were they and what was the motivation that drove them?

Defoe sat listening again to the tape of the U.N.S.U.B.’s voice. Something was not quite right. The voice was clearly disguised but there was something else which did not fit. He was waiting for the lab technicians to send their results. He didn’t feel like going home to a lonely house and sharing a TV dinner with his cat. He went to the coffee bar opposite the precinct feeling lonely for the first time in ages. He attracted women like a magnet especially when they knew he had been a marine, but many were put off when they knew his day job. He conjectured they expected to find an axe under their bed someday.

Surprisingly, Kate was there. Perhaps she felt lonely and didn’t want to hit her apartment so early. He bought himself a latte and some apple doughnuts, one of his treats. He looked at Kate and she smiled and waved him over.

‘‘Needed a sugar rush,’’ he said shamelessly holding up his booty. ‘‘Don’t tell me it is unhealthy Doc, I know.’’

‘‘I ate the cinnamon rolls and a crème caramel toffee ice,’’ she admitted. ‘‘I missed lunch.’’

‘‘Fancy a Chinese? The one opposite does good food.’’ Seeing her hesitation, he said, ‘‘Take pity on me please. I can’t face another microwaveable meal tonight with the cat. Two more murders reported. A girl scout and a scout leader killed in two different places, but the deaths are related. The girl is messy. Her face was lifted, all but the eyes.’’

‘‘Oh, what harm could it do eating a meal with a man who registered ten out of ten on the hunk scale?’’ she asked herself. She had worked solidly all day without lunch or supper. It was nine o’clock and she deserved some fun. She’d bet Defoe would be a great dinner companion.

‘‘Come on, my treat,’’ he said grabbing her hand and pulling her up. He had broken up with his live-in girlfriend three years ago and since her death he had experienced the loneliness of one-night stands. He enjoyed going out with his friends, but he missed the company of someone to share a movie and a pizza and long lie-ins at the weekends. He liked the intimacy of a relationship with a woman. His job was by definition difficult and he had to distance himself from many of the police professionals he worked with. Inevitably, it meant he spent a large time working alone and yearned for company in the evening.

He marched her across the street and sat them in a booth, his take charge attitude now so different from his tendency to take a back seat in meetings at the precinct. She realised she hardly knew this man. For years she had worked on and off with him, but he was a closed book to her. She knew he dated unlike Chase. Most of the girls at the precinct had set their cap at him at one time or another but he had remained distant and aloof, giving the impression he saw himself as a brain, far above the lowly policewomen and admin assistants that kept the precinct going.

He was not an ungrateful beast. He bought wine and chocolates for all the admin staff at Christmas in appreciation for the long hours of overtime they worked to solve a murder. He bought more than his fair share of rounds at the drinking session the male staff insisted he engage in at Christmas.

He looked at the menu beneath the glass. It was a cheap and cheerful place, but the grub was good. He hoped she would not think he was a mean asshole. He could afford better but he wanted her to feel relaxed and not think this was a date although it might precede one if his luck was in. This woman was special. She earned a good salary but from her clothes and car she did not seem to be materialistic. She was kind and understanding and decent. He knew she had talked to Chase when he was having one of his dark spells.

Kate knew the restaurant and thought this choice was typical of Defoe. Despite his good salary, he did not forget his blue-collar roots and chose to come to work in a beat-up Jeep. Some days he brought his Harley or his Mustang, but neither were brand new. Things seemed less important than people and relationships to this unusual sensitive man.

He wore smart but casual clothes, excellent quality but not new unless he went to court and then she saw the smart sophisticated intellectual and academic in his hand-made suit. He knew when he needed to make an impression and played to the audience but generally she thought he didn’t care a fig for what people thought of his clothes or possessions. He was his own man, pursuing his own path, unless he could hurt people on the way.

‘‘Shall I order for both of us or do you have any preference?’’ he asked. ‘‘I know the menu inside out. They deliver to my house.’’

‘‘Do so please. I like anything except sweet and sour chicken. I will need to jog tomorrow to wear this off after the rolls and ices.’’

‘‘I run most mornings, a left over from my Marine days. Too many mornings getting up at the crack of dawn for training. I do hit the gym several days a week and have a room converted at home as well.’’

‘‘I don’t run every day. I practise Pilates and yoga mostly and aqua aerobics. Most of the time after work I eat sushi as it is healthy and convenient.’’ He pulled a face. ‘‘Raw fish doesn’t hit the spot for me. I prefer chicken or lean steak or seafood but cooked.’’

‘‘I don’t enjoy the real raw stuff but like the marinated fish.’’

‘‘We have something in common then. Do you know Tengis?’’

‘‘I love it and go there on Sunday after a long lie-in.’’

‘‘Perhaps we could meet there on Sunday then,’’ he said laying his cards on the table, keeping his fingers crossed she would accept. If they carried on boxing clever around each other they might never date and miss something wonderful.

Kate smiled. She felt more relaxed with this man than most others she had met before. A lunch date was worth the risk. Neither of them was vindictive or had huge egos. If the date didn’t work, they could pursue their working relationship in a civilised manner.

‘I would love that,’ she said. He felt warm inside. After all the aggression and horror, he faced in his day job, a relaxing lunch with this woman would ground him, exactly what he needed. He didn’t want to push his luck, but he ventured further.

‘‘If we met for lunch we could have a walk or a ride around the bay in one of the launches that visit the islands. Would you like that?’’

‘‘That sounds perfect.’’

‘‘I’ll pick you up from your apartment at noon or you can meet me at the restaurant. I promise it will be the Mustang not the jeep.’’

She normally met guys at restaurants for her safety, wanting her home to remain anonymous but she felt safe with him.

‘‘Pick me up please.’’

He kept his suggestion for a ride around the coast on his Harley to himself. He didn’t want to seem too serious. He had heard she had had a messy break-up with a former boyfriend and he wanted to keep this date light and casual. He didn’t want to frighten her off.

They ate the Chinese banquet and laughed at the fortune cookies which accompanied the tea.

‘‘Beware the woman who brings gifts. She is not what she seems,’’ read Kate.

‘‘The source of your future happiness is closer than you think,’’ stated Defoe. ‘‘It is time to go. We both have a court case tomorrow. I’ll walk you back to your car.’’ She began to protest his car park was a long way away from hers. He would not take no for an answer, folding her arm in his and marching her toward the poorly lit parking area where she had left her vehicle. She was not quite sure whether she liked this new domineering side of Defoe. He clearly had no difficulty taking charge when he thought he was in the right.

‘‘My granddad would have a fit if I let a lady walk in the dark on her own. He drummed it in to me that a gentleman looks after his lady.’’ She remembered his granddad and grandma had looked after his brothers and sisters when his widowed mother had to work. The children of Irish Catholic immigrants they had imbued old-fashioned principles and manners into their mischievous and wayward grandson.

She forgave him bossing her. He was merely behaving as he thought a gentleman should behave. In fact, she rather liked being called his lady if he treated her like porcelain. He released his hand from her arm but put it on the small of her back, in his own way a gesture of possession.

Getting to the car he watched her open it and put a hand on her arm and gently pulled her to him. ‘‘Thanks for making an awful day end well,’’ he said and pushed her chin up. He lightly kissed her on her hair and let her sit in the car watching her exit. He thought of driving behind her on the way back but chided himself. She was a grown woman who would resent him tailing her. He wanted to hold her tight and drag her home with him, but she was still skittish. She was no blonde bimbo he could dictate to or an easy lay he could easily discard. She was quietly growing on him and he did not intend to lose her. He would have to treat her with a kid glove.

Kate arrived at her apartment light hearted. He had brightened up a dreadful miserable day when her examinations were proving fruitless. He had not become too intimate too soon. She was `the cautious type who didn’t sleep with a man the first time they dated. She liked to know a man before she bedded him. She had found too many men were jerks when it was too late and had learned from her past mistakes.

Her long-term boyfriend had professed to date her exclusively and had moved in with her but had later started taking weekends away at short notice claiming work pressures. She had caught him out when he was seen by a friend taking a girl to a casino hotel in Las Vegas. He claimed she meant nothing to him, but Kate was not impressed. He was the type who wanted his cake and eat it. He had taught her a lesson not to trust everything even the most plausible man said.

Defoe was much more sensitive than other men, knowing how far to push. He did not talk about sport or cars all evening. They had common interests; a love of investigative science and criminology and psychology and animals. They both loved the sea and good food and enjoyed walking and cycling by the beach. Neither liked night clubs but enjoyed listening to live bands.

She hummed as she let herself into her apartment. It was a ground floor apartment and her friends thought it lacked sufficient security to be safe, but she was happy there. If a first-floor apartment came free she would put a deposit on it and sell this one quickly. She was three minutes from the sea path and her patio garden was designed with succulents and cacti like a secret Roman garden; a place where she could read and paint and relax with her cat who liked to hide and pounce amongst the ferns and pots. A high fence gave her privacy out the back and French windows let in light. Many people would fight for the privilege of living in this place.

She texted Defoe to tell him she had got home safely and ran a deep bath. She had to go to court to give evidence in the morning and there was a medical conference Saturday in the next big city. She liked to keep up to date with medical advances although she did not practise medicine herself. The occasional conference stretched her mind and allowed her to meet minds as acute as hers. She tried to relax with a good book and now looked forward to next Sunday.

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