Main Killer Motive

Killer Motive

When a nurse is murdered, Detective David Grant recognises the hallmarks of a serial killer called Travis. 

Twenty-five years ago, Grant caught Travis for the murder of five women and the murderer has been incarcerated ever since. A frail sixty-year-old, Travis is in the terminal stages of cancer. The problem is, he was at the hospital in the custody when the nurse was murdered.

Determined to solve the case, Grant recruits a specialist to his team, Ruby Silver, a top criminal profiler. But Ruby is hiding something from her colleagues.

Who is the killer and what is their motive? 

Grant and the team must work quickly to solve the case as the body count rises.

The end is just the beginning…

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Killer Motive

Ann Girdharry


Nurse Mandy Jones

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

A note from Ann Girdharry


A note from the publisher

Love crime, thriller and mystery books?

You will also enjoy:

Copyright © Ann Girdharry

The right of Ann Girdharry to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First Published in 2019 by Bloodhound Books

Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publisher or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Print ISBN 978-1-912986-78-1

Nurse Mandy Jones

Nurse Mandy Jones had been trying hard not to do another pregnancy test. She’d been trying so hard, the effort made her ache. This morning she could not bear it any longer. Three weeks was long enough.

That’s how it was when you desperately wanted a baby. And after too many disappointments and o; ne terrible miscarriage, they didn’t keep any test kits in the house. Her husband had banned them after he came home to find her crying again, a stick showing a negative result abandoned on the bathroom tiles.

She decided to buy one on her way into the hospital. Then not actually use it until she got home in the evening. It would be a difficult promise to keep.

She tossed her blue nurse’s uniform onto the bed. She wouldn’t tell her husband until she was absolutely sure. Not until she had the positive result in her hand. The idea of it made her giddy.

There was one other thing she had not told him. He didn’t know she was a volunteer on the treatment team for the convicted killer, Travis. Definitely he would have objected. But she figured what her husband didn’t know wouldn’t harm him.

Travis was a multiple murderer. In the past, he’d strangled at least five women. With their own tights. Twenty-five years earlier, the South Coast Killer was hated by the whole country. But it happened well before Mandy’s time. She knew the story, yet to her he was simply a sick old man with terminal cancer. A monster, yes, and also in need of treatment. And that was her job.

When they’d asked for volunteers, her hand had gone up. It was a mixture of passion for her work and an understanding of how the senior nurses still remembered the Travis days. They lived through it, and as far as they were concerned, Travis was as dangerous and evil now as he was then. Which meant Mandy, as one of the younger ones, had a chance to help out her colleagues. It was usually the other way around, so this made a nice change.

The closer it got to seeing him, the more wound up she felt. In a few hours she would face him. What would Travis be like? What would she see in his eyes? Would she feel he was a calculating killer? Would his soul be cold? The idea of it made her sweat. Maybe she was too addicted to crime series because it was nerve-wracking and sort of exciting at the same time.

She applied a little make-up and did a final check in the mirror. On impulse, she swiped up her amethyst necklace. Her sister had given it. For good luck, her sister said, and Mandy knew it was meant as good luck for a baby coming along soon. Wearing jewellery at work wasn’t a good idea but she decided to make an exception, for the test. She fastened the clip and slipped the cold purple teardrop inside her uniform.

Several hours later, nurse Mandy Jones knew she had made a mistake joining the Travis team.

As soon as she entered the supplies room, someone sprang out from behind the shelves. Taking one look at the face in front of her, she flung herself at the door, wrenching at the handle. She screamed and kicked as she was dragged backwards. Her attacker pulled her to the floor. She tried to sink her teeth into the hand held over her mouth.

Though she fought with everything she had, her attacker was stronger. She was punched and pulled by her hair into the corner. He took off her shoes. Ripped off her tights. The vinyl floor was cold against her bare legs. Something was being put around her neck. She brought up a hand. It was her own tights. They were being wrapped around tighter and tighter. Shutting off her air supply.

She tried to twist. Her fingers tore at the material and at the flesh of her own neck. Staring at the light in the ceiling, her vision started to dapple. Darkness moved in as she felt the life being strangled out of her.

Time slowed. Everything was going black. Oh God no, these were her last moments. Her life was ebbing away. Soon it would be down to a trickle. And then, nothing. Her body convulsed.

Her last thought was of the second life inside her. She imagined a tiny being, its heart beating. She’d done her desperate best to fight not only for herself but also for the new life she nurtured. And she would never be able to tell her husband the wonderful news.

Chapter One

One day before

Detective Inspector David Grant sat on one side of the desk. He wore a dark grey suit and a crisp shirt. He had grey hair and steely grey eyes. Strangers often knocked years off his age and clocked him, wrongly, as under fifty. Friends said he didn’t look lined, he looked experienced and seasoned. He was a man who had aged with grace. They wanted to know how he pulled it off.

On the other side of the desk, the doctor sat trim and straight. She seemed small in comparison to the detective. She wore her white hospital coat unbuttoned to show a chic chocolate-coloured dress. Her hair was tucked neatly behind her ears. What she lacked in stature, Doctor Susan Hawthorne made up for in authority.

‘Mr Travis might be a convicted killer to you, Detective Inspector. To me and my staff, let me be very clear, he is first a patient. And the treatment he requires can only be provided by this facility.’

Grant wasn’t fazed. He spoke softly, a habit of his to detract from his height, his experience and his rank. He gave the doctor an apologetic smile.

‘I completely understand.’

He didn’t intend to bully her. What he wanted was to build bridges. After all, this was her domain and he needed her co-operation. They had already batted it backwards and forwards several times. In fact, the other two in the room, the hospital manager and Grant’s sergeant, had both fallen silent a good ten minutes earlier.

‘The prison hospital has limited facilities,’ she said. ‘As you well know, Travis is in his final stages of cancer and I won’t have his treatment schedule messed around by you.’

‘That’s not my intention, doctor.’

She tapped her finger on the desk. ‘He will get the same level of care as all our patients and your request to interview him on hospital premises is out of order, DI Grant.’

Her lips were pressed together, signalling this was very likely her final word.

‘Doctor Hawthorne, I have to say I respect your principles. The last thing I want is to interfere with his treatment plan and I don’t want to cause Travis unnecessary distress. I’m asking for a short interview, that’s all. You, and the entire nation, know his brutal history, and I’ve always been certain he killed more than the five he was convicted for. It might be my last chance to get information. You said yourself that Travis knows he doesn’t have long left, and I believe this might be the right moment to get a confession.’

The doctor’s eyes fell to a photo on her desktop, where a little girl rode her bicycle, stabilisers sticking out on either side, her red coat flapping. Contemplating a family photograph was always a good sign. Grant hoped Hawthorne was thinking about the young women who had been lost, and the suffering of the mothers left behind.

‘She’s got a lovely smile. How old is she?’

Doctor Hawthorne glanced away and out the window. Grey clouds hung low. She sighed. ‘They’re predicting snow before Christmas, aren’t they, Inspector? Flora is four. Would you believe how excited kids get about building their first ever snowman?’

Grant let the idea of it hang in the air.

He had taken the precaution of doing his homework. Susan Hawthorne might have the appearance of being a tough cookie. He knew better. At age nine, her best friend had suffered an asthma attack on the playing field and died in front of her. It was the event which inspired her to pursue a career in medicine. Before she married, she spent three years at a refugee camp in Kenya, working with a skeleton staff and next-to-zero facilities. Oh no, she might play it cool, but the doctor had a liquid compassionate centre, and he was counting on it.

‘This is a nightmare,’ she said.

‘A quagmire, doctor. I don’t envy you.’

She had already told him the difficulties she faced briefing her staff, and how one technician refused to treat Travis, two of her best nurses had cried and Susan now had a counsellor on permanent standby to help those of the team who had agreed to do it. Doctor Hawthorne intended to be there to personally oversee the session and support her staff.

Even with two prison officers escorting Travis at all times, and the man in handcuffs, she told him her team didn’t feel safe. He didn’t blame them. The fact Travis was now a frail sixty-year-old man didn’t change much.

Travis was a shell of the person he had been, but Grant knew his mind was the same and it was the calculating cold mind of a killer. A psychopath who had murdered multiple times and almost got away with it.

Grant glanced at his new young sergeant. Delaney seemed relaxed. At the time, Grant hadn’t been much longer in the job than Sergeant Delaney. Twenty-five years earlier, Grant had nailed Travis, except not for everything. This case was exceptional. Grant could never let this one go, because for him it was personal, and it had been personal for twenty-five years.

The doctor shuddered. ‘Damn it, and just before our busiest time of year. I don’t understand why you can’t interview him at the prison.’

‘As I explained, he’s comfortable on the prison hospital ward. He’s spent years in the same place. Here at the public hospital he’ll be on unfamiliar ground.’ Grant gave her a smile. ‘It’s basic psychology, doctor. I’ve more chance here than anywhere.’

The atmosphere in the room was getting less tense. Doctor Hawthorne was starting to thaw.

‘Those young women and their poor families – I really hate to think about it. It must have been dreadful. There’s no medical reason to refuse your request. It’s simply not protocol.’

‘It’s your call, doctor.’

She gave him such a direct look, he couldn’t help but admire her. She must be a great team leader.

‘Correct, Inspector, and as senior consultant in charge of his treatment, I have full discretion to adapt to the circumstances.’

The hospital manager, Tony Tanner, cleared his throat. He was against allowing the police access to Travis on their premises and he had said so loud and clear.

‘Tony, do you have any final comments?’ the doctor asked.

‘As I said, I d-don’t recommend we agree. Travis is enough of a s-s-security risk as it is.’ Mr Tanner was having difficulty controlling his emotions and Grant was glad the manager didn’t relaunch into another obstructive rant.

‘And I have two families who have never known what happened to their daughters.’

Tanner shook his head. ‘Not our problem, detective.’

‘This is going in circles and Mr Tanner is right,’ Hawthorne said. ‘Christmas and New Year is our worst period. We’re going to be bursting at the seams. And to make it worse we’ve got the threat of a flu epidemic. In two weeks’ time it’ll be crazy.’

‘Then let me see Travis straightaway, before your peak. He’s due for his first visit tomorrow.’

Susan Hawthorne tapped her fingers on the desk. She took another look at her daughter’s picture.

‘All right, Detective Inspector. I’ll give you access for a short interview. And only one.’

‘Thank you, doctor, thank you very much indeed.’

The wave of relief Grant felt was almost physical. His palms were sweaty as he shook hands with the doctor and he was glad to be out of the small office.

‘That went well, boss,’ Delaney said. ‘She warmed to you.’

‘It’s always important to build genuine trust, Sergeant. Colleagues respond to it and it makes your life easier. Remember that.’

Outside, a wintry wind blew as Grant and Delaney got in their car. Grant didn’t talk on the way back to the station. His mind was on the serial killer. Only Grant’s wife, Lily, knew what Travis’s conviction meant to him. Most people saw it as the one which had made Grant. Only Lily knew it was the case which had almost broken him.

Chapter Two

Ruby Silver was working her way up the climbing wall. She moved from hold to hold, her fingers practised and her legs strong. She was almost at the top and her muscles had the half-burn half-ache of a good climb. As she stopped to shake the fatigue out of her free arm, her best friend Soraya called up from below.

‘Your phone buzzed.’

Ruby waited for the circulation in her shoulder to do its job. Then she took the strain again with both hands. She didn’t glance down. One foot was dangling in space and the other was perched on a tiny hold.

‘A few more moves and I’m there,’ she called back.

This was the most difficult part of the whole ascent. It required a seeming leap across in mid-air to grab a tiny lip on the other side.

On the ground, Soraya had her legs firmly planted and both hands on the rope threaded through the carabiner, which attached to the harness around her waist. Securing a climber needed all your concentration. It was the same at a climbing wall as on a rock face. One mess up and your partner could be dead. Soraya pulled any slack through the carabiner to secure Ruby, who had one hell of a long way to fall. But this was no sweat. They had been climbing together since they were at the children’s home and they knew how to keep each other safe.

Ruby inhaled the familiar scent of the climbing space. It was a mixture of other people’s sweat and the tart resin they all used to stop their grip from slipping. Gathering her strength, she lunged, catching the lip with one hand. She felt a buzz and a spike of elation as she pulled herself across.

‘Yay, way to go,’ Soraya called out.

A few minutes later and Ruby abseiled down. She swept dark strands of hair from her face, smearing white resin across her temple. Soraya wiped it off.

‘That lunge at the end is a tough one,’ Ruby said. ‘You’d better watch yourself.’

‘Yeah, I saw you struggling.’ Soraya grinned.

‘Like hell you did.’

Taking the chance on the last lunge made Ruby happy, and she was even happier for having made it. She was better at taking risks on the climbing wall than Soraya. In real life, it worked out the other way around – Ruby was the cautious one.

Since their days together in the children’s home, Soraya was forging ahead, building up her own beauty business. Soraya seemed fearless, whereas Ruby had stalled. She was the first to admit how, in real life, she lacked confidence. Which was why she was mouldering away at the university, stuck as a research assistant while her professor took all the credit for her work. When she’d always dreamed of so much more.

Sometimes Ruby felt she was a pot boiling and boiling, but the lid was firmly stuck on and there was nowhere for all the passion to go. She couldn’t break out of needing to be safe and needing to be careful. Soraya knew why. And she understood.

Once they unlatched the rope, Ruby snatched her phone out of her backpack. The message was from Professor Caprini. Could she make it back for an important meeting even though she was on her day off? Texts from him were getting so regular, sometimes she felt like his nursemaid. She never protested, though she knew she should.

‘Please don’t tell me it’s Caprini again,’ Soraya said.

Professor Caprini was one of the world’s leading experts on criminal psychology. Over the course of his career, he had been called in on the highest-profile cases in the UK and across the Atlantic. It was his worldwide reputation which had first attracted her to study with him.

‘That bastard,’ Soraya said. ‘How dare he spoil your time off. What’s he want this time? Help in the restroom?’

‘He’s not that bad.’

Ruby avoided her friend’s eyes. They both knew exactly how bad the professor could be. After Ruby graduated in criminal psychology, Professor Caprini had taken Ruby on as one of his two assistants. She and her colleague Mark had taken on more and more of Caprini’s work. Until it got to the stage where Mark got fed up and left, and the professor now used Ruby as his prop whenever he needed to. She and Mark had written Caprini’s last research paper on serial killers, but their names weren’t even credited.

‘He’s not well,’ Ruby said. ‘The professor can’t help it.’

Soraya snorted.

Only those closest to Caprini knew how much his brilliance had faded in recent years. Ruby suspected dementia or some other degenerative disease, but Professor Caprini never confided in her.

‘I’m sorry. I’ll have to go.’

‘How about I come with you and knock some sense into him?’

Ruby didn’t rise to the argument, because she knew Soraya was right. She was about to toss the phone back in her bag when a name jumped out from the screen.


Oh God.

Her mouth was suddenly dry and she felt like gagging. Her hands started shaking. Ruby’s body overheated like she’d stepped straight into a steam room and sweat ran down her face.


It was difficult to breathe as she fought the wave of panic. Ruby’s heart beat fast enough to burst. Black dots danced in front of her eyes. She knew she might pass out. Or scream.

She’d spent years overcoming her panic attacks and she fought for control.

Soraya recognised the signs. She waited, toying with the ends of the rope. When they’d first met as little girls, Ruby had been crippled by panic. She would bolt for no reason and lock herself inside a wardrobe or inside a cupboard. Once, at the children’s home, Ruby got stuck in the freezer and almost died.

Then came the years when Ruby vomited and shook and passed out in front of people at school.

These days Ruby could deal with the panic on her own. It had taken years of effort and therapy and it had been a long and hard-fought battle and Soraya was proud of her friend for having got this far.

It was a few minutes before Ruby took a deep breath. The sweating died down. She slowly retied her ponytail though her fingers still trembled. When she was ready, Ruby returned to Professor Caprini’s message.

The police wanted to reinterview Travis and they were asking for Professor Caprini’s input.

The South Coast Killer. The one man Ruby had spent her whole life dreading ever seeing and yet wanting to meet.

‘It’s important. Professor Caprini has been contacted by the police. A Detective Inspector Grant has read the professor’s latest research and he wants an urgent meeting.’

Soraya had her hands on her hips. ‘Great,’ she said sarcastically.

‘There’s a convict who’s dying. It seems the inspector wants to get information from him before it’s too late. He’s asking for Caprini’s help.’

‘Of course Caprini wants you there, the treacherous toad. He’s going to be clueless otherwise, isn’t he?’

‘The professor’s ill,’ Ruby said, though she was fed up making excuses for him.

‘Yeah, and he needs to own up to it because meanwhile he’s a fraud. You and Mark are the ones who did every scrap of the serial killer research. And it’s Caprini’s name all over it. How I wish you’d drop him in it one of these days.’

Ruby could feel Soraya getting angry.

‘And you’ve got more brains than Caprini ever had, haven’t you, sweetie? And he takes full advantage of it.’

She blushed. Soraya was right. Soraya was always right.

‘I’m sorry, I’ll have to cut this short to get back in time.’

‘Bloody hell, who am I going to climb with now?’

But Ruby knew her friend’s annoyance would be short lived.

She still remembered how lost she’d been when she’d arrived at the children’s home. She was put to share a room with Soraya. It had been her one bit of luck.

They’d each lost their families in horrible circumstances and they both had their secrets. They didn’t talk about any of that for a long, long time. For reasons Ruby never knew, Soraya took the new girl Ruby under her wing. Soraya who was strong and tough and who stood up to the other girls. Soraya who had guts and could give it back as good as she got. Soraya was followed around by a funny little boy called Hawk and yet Soraya never made fun of him like the others.

Over the years, the three of them formed an unbreakable bond – Soraya, Ruby and Hawk. A strange trio who learned to rely on each other. Without them, Ruby would never have survived.

She packed away her things while Soraya watched, huffing and puffing and tossing back her hair.

But her friend wasn’t someone to be knocked off her stride as easily as losing her weekend climbing partner. She was already checking out the rest of the possibilities, and the talent. That was another thing Soraya was much better at than Ruby.

Her friend caught the eye of a gorgeous-looking man over the other side of the room. Dressed in tight leggings, which didn’t leave much to the imagination, he was smiling back. Unlike Ruby, Soraya was never short of admirers.

‘I don’t think you’re going to have much problem without me,’ Ruby said. ‘Looks like I’m already redundant.’

‘You’ll never be redundant to me, darling.’

Her friend was messing with her hair, a sure sign of serious flirtation. Soraya’s eyes had a mischievous glint and Ruby almost felt sorry for the guy.

Soraya kissed her on the cheek and spoke close to her ear.

‘And don’t forget what I keep telling you, Mark is a bloodsucker too. I bet you’re helping him out in his new job, aren’t you? Well, you’d better cut it out.’

She gave a weak nod. How the hell had Soraya guessed Mark kept phoning for advice?

While her friend swayed her hips and wandered over to the other side of the room, Ruby went to take a shower.

She had more important things to concentrate on. Travis. The idea filled her with dread but this could be another chance to meet him.

Chapter Three

Here is a truth – you can never hide your inner nature.

I give myself as an example.

In my time, I’ve been subjected to countless hours of psychiatry. I’ve been paraded in front of a stream of psychologists, therapists and eminent specialists who’ve all attempted to change me. In short, they have all tried to exorcise my darker urges. To wipe me clean.

This has not been easy. This has not been successful.

The proof of this came when I set eyes on Detective Inspector David Grant. The man has not become bent in his senior years. He still holds himself broad-shouldered and upright, looking life in the face. I always hated that about him. How he could simply walk into a room and eyes would naturally gravitate towards him.

My hatred runs deep and dark like a black-blood river. I’d have liked to see Grant bowed down, worn out, the life crushed out of him by years of failure and toil.

Seeing the detective was like the flick of a switch. Everything in me, which other people had tried so hard to extinguish, came alive. The disguise I had so carefully constructed, was shattered. And I was exposed again as who I truly am.

In fact, I’m fairly certain the darkness in me sprang back with greater strength than before. As if it had been forced into a tiny box for too long, then, like a jack-in-the-box, it was released.

All those years of therapy wiped out in an instant.

All those years of pretending to be someone I have never been, evaporated.

I can’t say I’m sorry.

I became again who I really am. And perhaps worse than I have ever been before. But we shall see if that is true or not.

And what am I?

I am a human being full of hatred and rage. And driven by a blood lust few can imagine.

Nobody sees me as I really am.

Let me put it another way, by telling you how some killers wear a mask. When they murder they become someone else. Whereas with me, my mask is the face I wear every day. That everyday face over which people’s eyes flit when they hardly care to register me.

And here’s my other secret. Underneath my everyday face, I am who I really am and only a few people have ever seen that. And none of them have lived.

Seeing Detective Inspector David Grant awoke my demons. Oh, I felt an excitement I’ve not felt for years. That detective made a serious mistake, thinking he can come back to taunt me.

But it’s better than that. There’s the inspiration of having the serial killer Travis coming to the hospital. Of having his DNA freely available for those of us with a desire to use it.

It’s given me a wonderful idea. Have you guessed what? Yes, you probably have. And all my wonderful ideas require a victim.

So, I set about locating one.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. I was spoilt for choice. Should it be a doctor? A technician? A member of the public? Or how about a nurse? Yes, a wonderful caring soul who has agreed to care for a monster. Yes, I think a nurse would be fitting, don’t you?

Chapter Four

Detective Sergeant Tom Delaney made sure he arrived early.

Tom’s desk was in a corner. He shared the team space, or cubbyhole as they called it, with Detective Sergeants Diane Collins and Steve McGowan. Detective Inspector Grant had an office with a door opening onto the cubbyhole and he got a view over the back end of the car park, something Grant made sarcastic comments about whenever he mentioned the perks of seniority.

The boss was a creature of habit. He liked a mug of tea on his desk, with two sugars. On those rare mornings Tom arrived only slightly before Grant, he sprinted to put the kettle on while his boss parked his car.

Tom wasn’t sucking up, he was simply grateful Grant had picked him. And a little confused about why. He had a decent track record but he didn’t see himself as outstanding, and every detective in Sussex county had been fighting for the chance to be on Grant’s team. Looked up to by everyone on the force, Grant was the top of the top.

Tom wanted to squeeze out every drop of experience he could before the inspector retired. Or, as DS McGowan dryly commented, before the boss dropped dead from a heart attack. Tom glanced at the birthday card collecting dust on Grant’s shelf. It was difficult to believe the boss was fifty-five.

While he had the place to himself, Tom put in earplugs and played back his notes on the Travis case. As he listened, he could imagine each victim – Edith, Grace, Diane, Sandra and Amy. He rarely read from the screen. Instead, he used text-to-audio software to listen to files. He didn’t write that often either, and had a habit of dictating his own notes.

Perhaps his dyslexia was one reason Tom had such a clear memory. He had no problems recalling entire conversations and he remembered all the little details of cases, stacked in his brain in visual format. When he got taken on by Grant, the inspector hadn’t commented on the dyslexia except to say how having an eye for detail was the mark of a good detective. For once, Tom hadn’t felt embarrassed by it.

DS Steve McGowan came in wearing his cycling gear – Lycra shorts, even though they were in the middle of winter, fluorescent top and helmet, special shoes, the lot.

McGowan acted like he didn’t notice Tom’s difficulties with reading, though he definitely did because he had never mentioned it. That was McGowan’s style, rough around the edges but basically solid. McGowan had been taken on by Grant after he faced a disciplinary charge. The gist was McGowan had been alone with a child rapist who had mysteriously fallen down a flight of concrete steps. It had landed the suspect a serious head injury. The details of how and why it happened were distorted by station gossip and McGowan himself was silent on the issue.

Collins breezed in. ‘You listening to those original interviews again? I bet you know every word off by heart, don’t you? Wow, it’s cold out there this morning.’

Collins flung her coat over the back of her chair. ‘You lucky beggar, getting to meet Travis. I bet he’s as sinister as the media always made out. They say he’s got it all – hooded eyes and a look to chill you to the bone.’

‘No such luck for us. It’s you and me on the paperwork today,’ McGowan said. ‘Yeah Delaney, looks like you’re the chief’s new favourite. Or maybe he just wants to see what you’re made of.’

McGowan gave Tom a slap on the back which might have cracked the rib of a lesser being. Tom laughed. He was used to McGowan’s double-edged comments and he hadn’t been on the rugby squad for nothing. He knew how to deal with the testosterone-fuelled jostling for position, and he was relieved the older man was secure enough not to be properly jealous of the new recruit.

Tom popped out an earbud. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll fill you both in on the juicy details when I get back.’

McGowan dragged his finger across his throat. He wasn’t smiling.

‘You’d better,’ Collins said.

Tom had a lot of admiration for Collins. With three teenage children and a full-time job, it was amazing she kept her good humour. Underneath her motherly exterior, she was above all a cunning detective. She could easily have gone further up the ranks, but she told Tom she wasn’t interested in more responsibility. She liked her job the way it was.

Grant came into the cubbyhole wearing one of his pristine grey suits. There was no banter and no start of the day small talk, which meant he wasn’t in a good mood. Tom exchanged a glance with Collins.

She went to stand in Grant’s doorway. ‘Hello, sir,’ she said. ‘Ready for the big one?’

Tom placed a mug of tea on Grant’s desk. ‘Today’s the day then, boss.’

Grant gave Tom a sharp look. So sharp it made Tom’s insides contract. It reminded him why Grant was feared by his enemies.

‘I’ve been able to squeeze one interview out of the doctor,’ Grant said, ‘and I’m certainly not counting on a second. Which means, as you so rightly say, Sergeant, today’s the day. No cock-ups.’

‘Yes, boss.’ Tom was relieved he’d not be saying much during the actual interview. Grant would take the lead.

Grant was swigging from his scalding hot mug.

‘McGowan and I will slug our way through the paperwork,’ Collins said. ‘Don’t worry, sir, we’ll have it down to half by the time you get back.’

‘I wouldn’t expect any less.’

Tom could see dark bags under the inspector’s eyes. He didn’t look in good shape. Had he slept? If Tom didn’t know better, he’d say the boss looked like a man with several ghosts standing by his shoulder.

The inspector finished his tea.

‘Let’s get this show on the road. Why don’t you drive, Delaney?’

As soon as he entered the hospital room, Tom could smell something unpleasant. It took him a moment to accept the stink was coming from the man on the bed. It was the convict’s rank body odour.

Travis lay stretched out and his large bare feet poked out from under the sheet. Travis was near bald, his cheeks were sunken and his face had an ashen pallor. It was shocking. The illness must have been sucking the life out of him.

Before they entered the room, Doctor Hawthorne had taken Grant aside and told him the treatment had been more complicated than she’d expected. They’d encountered medical difficulties and Travis was exhausted by the session.

‘You’ll have to keep it as brief as possible,’ she said. ‘I can only allow you a few minutes maximum.’

Tom pulled up a chair, making sure he stayed out of the way. Grant would want to fill Travis’s line of vision.

It was difficult to believe the man in the bed had been capable of multiple murders. Air rattled in and out of his chest and he was so gaunt, his bones stuck out. It made his six months’ life expectancy seem optimistic.

Travis was handcuffed to only one prison officer, and flanked by another. Tom was a big guy and not easily intimidated, but he still felt one or two twinges of anxiety. This was a public facility. Wasn’t Travis supposed to be cuffed to both officers at all times?

Travis didn’t respond to them entering the room. His eyes were bloodshot and unfocused.

When he finally recognised Grant, Travis pulled his lips back in a sneer. He lifted his head slightly as if to protest before flopping it back on the pillow.

DI Grant introduced himself as if he and Travis had never met. He explained this was an informal interview and asked if Travis objected to them recording it.

‘I’d like to ask questions about the two missing women.’ Grant held up pictures of Meredith and Isabella. Though he positioned them in front of Travis’s face, the man seemed not to notice.

‘I have a new witness. She places you with Isabella the day of her disappearance. I’ve pieced together Isabella’s movements that day, minute by minute. In fact, the testimony of my witness shows you were the last person to be seen with the victim.’ Grant’s voice was cold and clipped. ‘You murdered her and we both know it. You murdered Meredith too.’

Travis fought for breath, yet he appeared unrattled and undisturbed, coiled like a snake with two red eyes fixed unblinking on Grant.

Tom watched carefully. The files detailed how this man was a master at deception. Twenty-five years earlier, the police had floundered. They had no idea who the killer might be. Forensic technology then wasn’t what it was today, and detectives relied on interviews with witnesses and potential suspects to narrow down the field. It had been a fraught time, with the media and the public whipped into more and more of a frenzy as the bodies mounted up. Young women had been virtually housebound by fear.

‘Is it comfortable at the prison hospital? I had an interesting talk with the warden yesterday. He reminded me how they kept you separate from other prisoners for years. In fact, it’s the longest he’s known for someone to remain in isolation for their own safety. Strange how inmates can react to another prisoner, isn’t it? Being alone for that length of time must have taken a terrible mental toll on you.’

The prison officer cuffed to Travis jerked the metal cuff.

‘Pay attention, Travis. The inspector’s got questions for you.’

‘Don’t worry, officer. I’m sure I have his full attention. After all, if it became known we have new information linking him to Isabella, well, who knows if it would be enough to reignite the other inmates.’

Travis’s red-veined eyes stayed fixed on Grant. They were cold and reptilian. This man was an animal and he hadn’t changed. Travis was extremely ill, yet Tom could feel the power rolling off him. His stare was hypnotic. It was as if Travis was laughing inside – laughing at Grant, laughing at the parents of the dead girls.

‘Despite the warden’s best efforts, I understand one prisoner ends up in intensive care most years, from beatings or gang rape. Isolation is the only remedy.’

Grant looked at the picture of Isabella. ‘Such a pretty young woman and she has a lovely smile. I think it’s those blue eyes which are so appealing. I’d say she could be everybody’s image of their ideal girlfriend. What do you think?’

Travis said nothing, gave no reaction, and still his face and eyes seemed to be communicating. Was he winding them up? Was he being true to form and acting like they said in the reports, by being a son of a bitch? No wonder Grant hadn’t brought McGowan. McGowan would likely have planted his fist in Travis’s face, given half the chance.

Tom marvelled at the inspector’s patience.

‘All I want to know is where to find their bodies.’

‘You’ve asked me before.’

Like on the tapes, he spoke with a drawl and his lips barely moved.

‘Is that all you’ve got to say, Inspector? What’s the matter, you lost your touch?’

‘I’ll ask you one more time. Where did you put them?’

Grant folded his hands in his lap.

Tom sat listening to Travis’s breathing.

Travis had come up on the radar after the first murder but not as a major suspect. He’d come up again on the third murder but the police only had some strange comments in his interrogation to raise suspicions.

It was those comments which convinced the young Detective David Grant that Travis was linked to the crimes. He believed Travis was purposely taunting the officers and trying to obscure their judgement. Psychology wasn’t highly regarded in those days but it seemed Grant had an instinct for it. Fortunately, Grant’s senior officer gave him the benefit of the doubt and from that one small suspicion, Grant slowly and painstakingly pieced together a trail of clues.

After the fourth murder, Grant was able to convince the team Travis was their man. Grant was given free rein and he became the brains behind the operation. Travis was caught due to brilliant detective work by the newbie Grant. Tom sincerely hoped he’d be up to the same standard, he really did.

‘Those young women fell within your catchment area. They fell within the timescale before your final arrest. And they went missing where you were most active.’

‘You always thought you were so clever,’ Travis rasped. ‘Strutting around like a peacock. You were a sorry excuse for a detective then and you still are now.’

‘I believe you did murder them, Travis.’

In the past, the care with which Travis treated each crime scene meant he was highly intelligent and scheming. He had led the original investigative team on a dance and seemed to extract pleasure by dropping hints about his activities. Playing with the police was as much a game to him as selecting and murdering his victims.

Tom was waiting for Travis to do the same thing. He wanted him to drop an enigmatic comment or two or make a sly remark.

Grant showed photographs of the last-known locations of the women. ‘Seem familiar?’

In his smooth and even voice, Grant proposed a theory on how Travis had chosen each woman, how he stalked them and plotted their movements over the weeks before their deaths, just as he had with his other victims.

‘Those women always meant something to you, didn’t they, Inspector? How quaint.’

‘You and I have played games for long enough. Make your confession while you can, or are you really prepared to spend your last days alone?’

Travis took a few rattling breaths.

‘Have you any idea how exhausting these treatments are? Chemo, radiotherapy, endless punctures and tests, I’ve had the lot. Makes you sick as a dog. Isabella had beautiful blonde hair. She never wore it down. Except when she was strangled. Whereas Meredith, I couldn’t tell you a thing about her.’

‘Were they your first two?’

Travis coughed but there was no nurse at hand to offer water. Tom and the two prisoner officers stared at Travis with dislike and it was Grant who reached for the jug to pour out a beaker.

‘Is that why you didn’t flaunt about killing them when we arrested you? Because you used them to learn how to murder? Is that why you didn’t confess?’

Travis took tiny sips and swallowed with difficulty. ‘Does everyone still think you’re a hero?’

It was so unexpected and said so softly, Tom wasn’t sure he heard it right.

Travis rolled his gaze over to the sergeant. ‘I see no-one’s worked out the truth yet.’

Tom’s muscles went solid, partly from the shock of looking into Travis’s eyes and partly from the realisation Travis was lobbing shit in Grant’s direction. How dare he. Grant had been brilliant.

‘Come now, Sergeant. You shouldn’t believe everything you’re told.’

Travis rolled his head back in Grant’s direction. ‘It’s smart how you’ve covered up your mistakes.’

Then Travis made a strange sound, his chest jerking up and down. Tom stared. It was a very sick man’s attempt at laughter.

‘Cut that out, Travis,’ one of the officers said.

‘This might be your last chance to set the record straight.’ Grant sounded icily calm.

Travis pulled back his lips in a sneer. ‘Reflect on your failings, Inspector Grant.’

Tom had to stop himself from reacting. Beneath the man’s pain and his exhaustion and the ravages of his disease, he was enjoying himself. He was enjoying Grant coming to talk to him. He was enjoying the efforts Grant was making. Of course, Tom thought, they had played a deadly game in the past and Grant had won. This was Travis’s way of punishing Grant. His only way of getting his own back. Tom understood Travis had always and would forever withhold details of Meredith and Isabella for that one and only reason. To make Grant suffer. And he was attempting to dirty the inspector’s reputation in whatever way he could by flinging out insinuations.

Travis fought for breath. When he managed to draw enough strength, he smiled at the inspector. All of Tom’s detective’s principles and reasoning fell away. He suddenly loathed the man.

‘I’ll see you in hell,’ Travis said.

Chapter Five

I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to feel alive again.

The need has been like a hunger inside me. A hunger which eats at me and burns and flares white hot. And now it demands to be satisfied, like a beast. Oh yes, it shall have its fill. Today is the big day.

The hospital has assembled a select team – nurses, technicians and one doctor as physician in charge. They move around the hospital bed with practised professionalism, making a lot of eye contact with each other, and I suppose it’s for reassurance. Their fingers work the equipment. Gloved hands touch the patient’s skin. There are needles, tubes, injections, monitoring.

I watch my chosen victim, nurse Mandy Jones. Her neat blue uniform is smartly zipped to the top. I wonder if she always takes it up so high, or is it especially for today? She’s wearing sensible shoes and flesh-coloured tights. Her auburn hair is tied back in a ponytail which swings as she moves. I always did like young women with auburn hair, though appearance has never dictated my choices.

I’ve always been much more led by opportunity.

I bide my time. If I am to avoid detection, I must choose my moment to strike with care.

Chapter Six

The sergeant at the main desk, Wilson, had a box full of tinsel. He was taking the chance of a quiet moment to hang some Christmas cheer around the reception area, when David Grant and Tom Delaney returned to the station.

‘How’d it go with that bastard Travis?’ Wilson asked.

Grant kept walking. He was never a man to give much away and certainly not to Sergeant Wilson, the mainstay of the gossip tree.

‘Okay,’ Tom said.

‘You know how to keep a man begging for details, don’t you, Sergeant Delaney?’

At the cubbyhole, Grant told McGowan and Collins to gather round.

‘You recorded the whole conversation?’ Grant asked.

‘Yes, boss.’

‘Then let’s watch it through again and see if we missed anything. Also, Delaney, I want you to become an expert on Travis. Study the man. Listen to all the tapes, watch the videos, until you know every detail of how he operates.’

‘It was strange because he hardly spoke. But he was able to stir me up.’

‘It’s one of the traits of a psychopath, and don’t forget Travis is a master at mind games. It’s what he did to the whole investigating team. Everyone so loathed him we could hardly think straight.’

‘He made me angry, even furious. He was laughing at us.’

Grant nodded. ‘Anything else, Sergeant?’

McGowan and Collins were hanging on every word.

‘It seemed to me he got a rise out of stringing you along, boss, and er, from making insinuations about you. He suggested you made some kind of mistake, didn’t he? I suppose he means with the original investigation.’

Grant grunted. Tom Delaney had a nose for the job and he didn’t even know how good he was. And he wasn’t scared to say it like it was. He’d been right to bring Delaney into the team. He had the makings of a fine detective. Maybe one of the best.

‘It’s a good job I wasn’t there,’ McGowan said. ‘I might have been tempted to–’

‘Yes, it’s a good thing you weren’t there, Sergeant,’ Grant said.

He hung his coat over the back of his chair. Glory was what appealed to Travis in the past. Glory and recognition and national press coverage. The media interest had been fuelled by the nation’s hatred but it had been perceived by Travis as a strange type of adoration. Yet Travis already lived all of it for the murders he’d been convicted for.

The problem being Grant had no lever to put pressure on Travis for this final confession. And Travis realised he could use withholding information on Meredith and Isabella as a method of punishing the man who had put him away.

A dog-eared copy of Professor Caprini’s research lay on Grant’s desk. He had passed a second copy around the team. Delaney, predictably, had listened to every word online, probably several times. Very likely he knew the section on Travis off by heart. Collins had read it and McGowan had used it as a coffee mat.

Grant picked up the report. Criminal psychologists always had interesting things to say. Not always things which were right, or which fitted in with how a detective was trained to think, but nevertheless, it gave another angle.

Professor Caprini had delved into the early life of Travis. Might he know something? Might the professor have a nugget of information about Travis which could prove useful? Which might turn into a lever? Grant was hoping so. Professor Caprini had an uncanny insight into the minds of killers, that was for sure. His writing proved it and Grant was looking forward to pumping him for information.

‘The video’s ready, boss,’ Delaney said.

Grant brought his screen to life and flicked through a list of e-mails, ignoring an urgent one from Detective Chief Superintendent Angela Fox asking for an update on Travis. Three envelopes lay in Grant’s in-tray and he ripped open the first two and shoved the letters to the bottom of a teetering pile. When it finally fell over, he’d deal with it, most likely binning half of them as being out of date or no longer relevant.

That left the third envelope. Call it instinct or intuition, Grant hesitated before he touched it. It was perfectly ordinary looking, made of brown recycled paper, with a local postmark. This one he slit carefully with the letter opener. He tipped it, making sure not to touch the contents. Out slid a photograph.

It wasn’t an ordinary shot taken in daytime. It looked like a night-time photograph of a house and it must have been taken with special equipment or some sort of filter.

Collins was the one with the best vantage point looking into Grant’s office.

‘You ready for this video, sir?’

When he didn’t answer, she came to the other side of his desk.

‘It looks like it was taken with infra-red technology or something like that,’ she said. ‘Or maybe with a specialised lens. Do you know the house?’

Grant noticed how Collins didn’t reach out to inspect the writing on the envelope. Collins had worked with him for the best part of ten years. Like him, she knew the signs. This was strange, this was important, and she didn’t want to add her contamination.

Grant felt his pulse accelerating. He hadn’t spent decades on the job to not recognise a bad omen when he saw one.

‘DS Collins, please put gloves on and get this straight over to the lab. I want to know all there is to know about it.’

‘Yes, sir.’

From the corridor came the sound of someone running towards the cubbyhole, followed by the thud of them tripping over McGowan’s cycling gear.

‘Who the hell put that shit–?’ Sergeant Wilson crashed through to the team office.

‘Inspector Grant, sir, we just got a call from patrol.’ Wilson was out of breath. ‘They found a body. There’s been a murder at the hospital.’

Chapter Seven

When they arrived at the hospital, the first thing they learned was the body had been found on the third floor. That was Doctor Hawthorne’s cancer treatment area. Grant saw Delaney jerk.

An early response patrol officer was stationed at the entrance to the corridor.

‘Tell me your name and give me an update, please,’ Grant said.

‘Constable Karen Smith, sir. The body is down the corridor, sir. It’s in a supplies cupboard. We’ve been unable to isolate this corridor completely because there are patients undergoing essential treatment and the equipment they require can’t be moved. But the supplies cupboard is secure.’

‘Do we have a name for the victim?’

‘She’s been identified as Mandy Jones.’ The officer consulted her notes. ‘She’s a nurse on this ward. Found by one of her colleagues. Been missing for around an hour before she was discovered.’

‘Good work.’

‘All hell broke loose when she was found, Inspector. Apparently it triggered some kind of mass hysteria amongst the staff. We’ve got a bunch of them in a room down the hallway. They’re pretty shaken up.’

‘That’s to be expected. For your information only, a convicted killer, Travis, was on the premises this morning. Has any word of the murder leaked out to the public?’

‘Not as far as I’m aware. We’ve tried to keep it under wraps. Patients are being led in and out of treatment rooms via a service stairwell and secondary corridor.’

‘Well done, Constable.’

Further along the corridor, a second officer and a line of tape cut off the room where the victim had been discovered. Grant led the way. The patrol officer was averting his face from the body on the floor. The first thing Grant saw was Mandy Jones’s toenails which were painted a pretty pink.

‘Collins, please go to meet the person who found the body and see what she has to say. After that I want to know everything there is to know about our victim,’ Grant said.

Of average height and weight and with auburn hair, Mandy Jones looked to be thirty-something. Her uniform had been pushed up to her waist. Her knees were twisted to the side to fit the body into the corner behind a stack of boxes.

Grant knelt and visually examined the woman’s neck. She’d been strangled with a pair of tights, most likely her own, the same modus operandi as the South Coast Killer. Grant felt a cold shiver run up his back.

He took his time and did not allow himself to speculate. He was here for the facts and it was important to take in the scene as it had been freshly left.

Mandy Jones would have been nice-looking alive, but the means of death had contorted her face. Her tongue was swollen and protruded and her eyes bulged. She wore a wedding ring. A trail of urine ran across the floor.

The room was lined with neatly labelled shelves. Nothing had fallen from them and not many of the boxes stacked on the floor had been disturbed either. It meant there had been a bit of a struggle but not much of one. Which was curious.

It looked as if she might have come here willingly and entered the supplies room not expecting trouble. With so many people on the ward, it would have been difficult to drag the nurse here without anyone seeing and she would have put up more of a fight to stay out of the confined space. Did it mean she freely came there with another person? Or had she been lured there? Or ambushed?

His mind kept going to Travis, but jumping to conclusions at a crime scene was entirely wrong.

‘We’ve got to cover all bases before the shit hits the fan. McGowan, I want you to check with the prison. Get the prison officers in for interview. You and Delaney see them separately. Find out if there were any windows of opportunity. Look for anything which seems off. Do full background checks on them. I want to know why they weren’t both cuffed to Travis when Delaney and I interviewed him. Find out who Travis spends time with inside. And if anyone has been recently paroled.’

‘Right, sir, onto it.’

Grant spoke over his shoulder to thin air. ‘Any other witnesses, anything unusual reported by the hospital staff?’

The patrol officer spoke up. ‘The nurse was on the treatment team for a man named Travis. The victim was noticed missing but colleagues assumed she was in the ladies’ toilet, or they assumed she might have found dealing with Travis too much to handle and taken herself off. She was discovered by accident when the other nurse came to get supplies.’

‘Anyone else reported missing?’

‘No, sir.’

‘You’re absolutely certain? You already checked on it?’

‘Yes, sir.’

The pathologist, Luke Sanderson, arrived. Everyone cleared a space. Grant had punched through a text to Luke, hoping he’d be able to drop everything for this one. It seemed he had.

Luke didn’t bother with pleasantries. He nodded to the inspector and began examining the body.

‘Thanks for getting here so quickly, Luke,’ Grant said.

He always used the pathologist’s first name. The pair had been firm friends ever since Grant had caught a couple of officers snickering about the idea of the new pathologist being gay. Luke’s predecessor had been one of Grant’s oldest and most trusted colleagues and Grant had not been looking forward to a young replacement himself. But quite a lot of station jokes irked Grant, including the ones about sexuality. And Grant had made that clear. Afterwards, when Luke finally arrived, they naturally hit it off, which had been an unexpected bonus.

They both knew the time of death would be crucial.

‘Delaney, make sure we keep all staff from this floor for questioning,’ Grant said. ‘Don’t let anyone go home. As a priority, I want to see everyone from the team who treated Travis.’

‘Let me through. I said, let me through!’

Grant gave a nod and Doctor Hawthorne was allowed to enter the corridor. She ran, her hospital coat flapping. Grant could see the whites of her eyes. It would take a lot to shake the doctor because she was used to remaining calm in panic situations.

‘I got the news and I was caught in an emergency. I couldn’t get away any quicker. Oh my god!’

‘That’s far enough. You can’t cross the line, doctor. This is a crime scene,’ Grant said evenly.

‘They said it’s Mandy. It can’t be!’

‘She’s already been positively identified. Please stay calm, Doctor Hawthorne,’ Grant said.

No-one else said anything. It was best to let people absorb the shock in their own way. You could never predict how people reacted to the initial impact. Grant watched Dr Hawthorne carefully. It seemed she was about to vomit.

‘Inspector, how can he have done it?’

Grant found a receptacle and pushed it into her hands.

‘We can’t draw any conclusions,’ he said firmly. ‘The proximity of Travis to this crime is one factor amongst many.’

‘But… but surely it must have been him!’

One look at Grant’s expression stopped the doctor’s protests.

Susan Hawthorne shook her head, as if she was trying to shake some sense into herself.

It was disbelief and denial, Grant had seen it many times before.

‘We need to collect as much information as we can about Mandy Jones,’ Grant said. ‘Can you help us with that, doctor? And we need statements from all staff on this floor.’

‘Wait. We were assured he was low-risk, Inspector. You promised me! You promised me my staff would be safe.’

Whatever assurances Hawthorne had received, they hadn’t come from him. But Grant didn’t bother to remind her.

The hospital manager arrived. He was pale and his tie was askew. He stayed well back from the yellow and black cut-off point. Grant thought he could see the man shaking.

‘I told you! I said we should never have allowed him here.’

Doctor Hawthorne shrank back against the wall. ‘Tony… I-I had a duty of care.’

‘Our primary duty is to our regular patients and to staff. And now Mandy Jones is dead!’

The doctor started crying.

‘That’s enough, Mr Tanner. Recriminations won’t achieve anything.’

‘And you, Inspector, you encouraged her. The doctor trusted you.’

Grant motioned for Delaney to take Susan Hawthorne someplace else.

‘This is a murder, plain and simple, and as yet, we have not identified a suspect,’ Grant said. ‘No-one could have foreseen this.’

‘Are you stupid as well as arrogant? Of course it was him!’

‘Calm down, Mr Tanner. This is my jurisdiction now and I understand how emotions are running high. Let us do our job. My sergeant will take your statement later, thank you. Why don’t you go and get some fresh air?’

Tanner straightened his jacket and tie. He retreated a little unsteady on his feet. When he reached the end, he took a glance back but his accusing gaze didn’t quite make it to Grant’s eyes.

Grant walked back to the supplies room. Luke was standing up slowly. He had finished his preliminary investigation. Now it would be photographs and swabs, and it would all depend on analysis back at the lab.

Never jump to conclusions was a detective’s number one rule. It was impossible for Travis to have carried out the murder. Or was it? He was a clever man. In the past, he’d been inspired in escaping his crimes.

Everyone did their level best not to crowd the pathologist. It seemed Travis had left the hospital two hours previously.

‘What’s your estimate on time of death?’ Grant asked.

Luke peeled off his gloves and the rubber snapped as he tugged them over his wrists. It was unfortunate but, as he waited, Grant could smell Mandy Jones’s urine.

‘Within the last four hours,’ Luke said.

The pathologist’s words were measured and fell like a lead weight.

It put Travis squarely in the window of opportunity.

Chapter Eight

By the time Detective Inspector David Grant left the hospital, he had interviewed everyone who had direct contact with Travis, and his team had taken statements from staff on the third floor.

According to her colleagues, Mandy Jones was a young woman who led an ordinary life. She and her husband had recently bought their first house. She was happily married and trying for children. There were no rumours of an affair, or a problem marriage, or any financial difficulties.

Mandy’s husband was an accountant. He arrived at the hospital before Luke got Mandy into a body bag. It was unfortunate for the poor man but it gave Grant a chance to see his first reaction.

The husband was distraught. One of the uniformed officers had to accompany him home and Grant sent Collins along too. Collins was superb with victims and terrific with upset witnesses. She was also a savvy detective.

It was a cliché the husband was always a prime suspect, but it was also the truth. Grant could rely on Collins to nose out any discrepancies in the husband’s behaviour.

Whoever murdered Mandy Jones had been clever and no-one saw a thing. It had been planned. The murderer had picked a little-used storeroom at the end of a corridor. The room was the backup storage for the smaller supply cupboard kept on the main ward. The killer knew these facts. They knew it was unlikely they would be interrupted. Mandy Jones hadn’t stood a chance.

Grant had a decent picture of the victim. What he didn’t have yet was any idea why she’d been targeted. And why now? Find the motive and he would find the killer.

David Grant was the last to leave. He had a nasty feeling in the pit of his stomach which wasn’t anything to do with hunger. He hoped it wasn’t anything to do with stomach ulcers either, which his wife and adult children kept warning him about.

He also hoped it was nothing to do with déjà vu and some kind of horrible link to the previous Travis crimes. It was difficult to think clearly because of how close Travis had been to the murder. Grant’s mind kept linking the two together and the strangulation only emphasised it. But then a second killer, not Travis, would know that. They could use it as a smokescreen. The number one priority for Grant’s team must be to eliminate Travis from the list of suspects. Then they would be able to concentrate on finding the real killer.

Starting the engine, he tried to ignore the little voice in his head which kept saying, “But what if it was him?”

Detective Chief Superintendent Fox was demanding to see him. When this hit the press, it would explode big time and nothing he nor his superintendent could do would stop it. They were living on borrowed time. But there was something he had to do first.

Grant pulled in next to the local primary school. Decorations were up in the windows – giant elves and gold Christmas angels. He stepped out and quickly buttoned his coat and turned up the collar. Children were screaming and laughing in the playground, all dressed up in mittens, hats and scarves.

Meredith’s sister, Carys Evans, lived in a bungalow on a quieter side street. Carys had a garden full of wintering rose bushes. Unlike most of the houses in the road, she hadn’t put out Christmas decorations.

On the doorstep, Carys blinked several times. Grant thought she swayed slightly at the shock of seeing him. He was careful not to rush her and he complimented her on the garden and then mentioned the snow forecast. By then, Carys had got herself back to normal and said how lovely it was to see him. It was a lie. The Evans family had always been so courteous. It was one of the things which felt like it turned the knife.

Sure enough, he was invited in as a welcome guest. Grant sat on the settee in a lounge full of bowls of old rose petals. They’d long since stopped giving off any fragrance and the musty smell reminded Grant of a funeral parlour. Carys pottered in the kitchen and Grant heard cups and saucers clinking onto a tray.

A while later, Carys was sitting in an armchair alongside him. She checked the contents of a teapot, wrinkling her nose as she peered inside.

‘That monster was the one to blame for my sister, David, not you. And if he’s killed again…’ she gave a visible shudder, ‘… words fail me.’

The living room clock was ticking in the background. Then came the sound of tea pouring into his cup. It was true, Carys Evans never blamed Grant for the loss of her sister. Only she didn’t need to blame him because Grant blamed himself.

‘As I said, we don’t have an idea yet who is responsible for the death at the hospital. But I thought it fair to warn you because I didn’t want you hearing about it through the press.’

The parents of the Evans sisters had died a few years previously. He remembered their funerals and the deep regret he felt about not being able to bring them peace. Or was it more guilt than regret? Since then, Carys kept in touch. He tried to avoid meeting her too often.

The scent of Earl Grey tea wafted towards him. She was always so full of politeness, just like her parents, who offered him tea and biscuits while their hands shook and their eyes filled with tears. They hadn’t blamed him either.

‘I hope you’ve let Isabella’s parents know.’

Isabella Rees’s parents had moved away from the area. Grant had already contacted the Devon police force to ask for an officer to visit Mr and Mrs Rees and break the news of the murder.

Carys arranged chocolate biscuits on a little plate and her façade slipped a little as she offered him one.

‘He took my sister. He ruined my life. My brother went off the rails and then emigrated and we never heard from him again; my parents died without peace. Is the same thing going to happen to me? And Mr and Mrs Rees, what about them? Are they going to die never knowing? You don’t know what it’s like trying to carry on a life when…’

‘Calm yourself, Carys.’

He reached forward and patted her hand. The same age as himself, Carys seemed so much older. She wore a dress for someone ten years her senior. She lived the life of a widow though she had never married. She was bereft, always waiting for the return of her sister.

‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to… It was your terrible news, it’s brought it all back.’

‘I understand, I really do, and that’s why I wanted to see you before you heard it from somebody else.’

‘I know you did everything you could. You mustn’t take it on yourself like you do.’

This was torture. Every senior officer he knew had regrets. Secret doubts about how they’d conducted an investigation. Or questions about the route they’d followed and how long it took. The choices they’d taken as the one in charge. The mistakes they’d made and the lives it cost.

Funny how the mind always strayed to it, rather than to the successes. He supposed that was why he always carried such a terrible regret about Meredith and Isabella.

He took a biscuit and made a semblance of munching on a corner.

‘I suppose you’ve had no news of your brother?’

Meredith’s sister plunked two spoons of sugar into Grant’s tea.

‘Is it still two sugars you take? So bad for your health, you really should cut down.’ She shook her head. ‘There’s been nothing from Edwyn. Not a word in twenty-five years.’

Edwyn Evans had disappeared without a trace, seemingly to Australia. The enquiries Grant made over the years had all come back blank. And yet he’d always had a small suspicion.

Carys’s hazel eyes were fixed on the teapot.

‘I’m sorry I can’t stay longer, I really should get back to the station.’

‘Of course, you mustn’t let me keep you.’

She clutched a lace handkerchief in her lap and his heart twisted, knowing she would cry once he left.

As Grant got back in the car, Detective Chief Superintendent Fox sent Grant another urgent text and he knew if he didn’t get himself to Fox’s office soon, he’d be in for more than a wrist-slapping. Fox was insecure, ambitious, and she didn’t like to be kept waiting.

Grant was on his way back when the night-time photograph suddenly popped into his mind. It gave him another nasty feeling in the pit of his stomach. Grant did a U-turn and drove straight to Mandy Jones’s address. He sincerely hoped his guess was going to turn out to be wrong.

Pulling up outside a neat two-storey house, he cut the engine. It was a nice district. The houses in this road had their own garage and a driveway out the front.

There were two cars crammed into Mandy’s drive. One of them must be the officer from victim support and another was a patrol car, which meant they were all still inside with the husband.

True to form, his technology-savvy Sergeant Delaney had already sent through a copy of the night-time photograph. Grant held up his phone.

The driveway Grant looked at had the same angle as the one on his screen. The line of bushes running along the side of the drive had the same shapes. A cold prickle ran down his arms.

The houses on this stretch were all similar. He must make absolutely sure.

He looked up at the roofs. The neighbour’s television aerial was identical to the one on his phone. And the same treetop showed above the roof line.

Grant’s stomach dropped and he was glad he hadn’t stopped by somewhere for a burger. It was the same bloody house.

Chapter Nine

Professor Caprini’s office was tucked away in a quiet building at the back of the university campus, well away from the busier teaching blocks. It was plush and secluded and had its own dedicated parking space, which made Tom wonder if Caprini had the best office in the whole university. The professor was certainly treated as a VIP.

As they entered, Tom caught the mouth-watering aroma of real coffee, followed by the sight of an expensive tray of pastries. The professor invited Grant and Tom to take a leather sofa and offered them refreshments. Tom couldn’t help comparing this set-up to the box-like cubicle they shared back at the station. This was the life. Criminal psychology must pay much better than police work.

Tom chose a brownie and took a deep breath of chocolate as he bit into it. He noticed how Inspector Grant helped himself to a brownie and a doughnut. His efforts to educate the boss on sugar overload had obviously been ignored.

Professor Caprini sat on a giant leather armchair. He was bird-like in appearance, wearing a dark suit which hung over a scrawny frame. His long legs and long fingers added to the effect.

A young woman entered. She softly closed the door behind her, and Tom’s eyes followed her as she walked across the room. He couldn’t help himself – she was athletic and wore a short skirt for a start. And she had dark attractive eyes and long lashes and dark hair swept back from her face, with a few wisps trailing down her temple. Her hair was slightly curly and it bounced as she walked. Without speaking, she pulled up a chair beside Caprini and opened her laptop.

The woman had a reserved air about her, almost shy. She’d barely glanced at them.

‘This is my research assistant, Ruby Silver,’ Caprini said. ‘The other research assistant who helped me on this project, Mark Winslow, is no longer here. He recently got a job with New Scotland Yard.’

The man tended to run his words together. It almost sounded as if the professor slurred a little. Surely he hadn’t been drinking?

Tom sat back, ready to memorise every word of his boss’s tactics for future reference.

‘Thank you for bringing our meeting forward, Professor. I know I didn’t give you much notice,’ Grant said. ‘I’ve long been an admirer of your work and your recent report on serial killers made fascinating reading. It’s cutting edge.’ He glanced at Ruby, waiting for her to react. What a strange young woman. And so quiet, as if she tried to hide the fact she was in the room. She hadn’t even introduced herself. Ruby’s eyes remained glued to her keyboard.

‘Inspector, you’re very kind,’ Caprini said, accepting Grant’s flattery with ease. ‘Given the recent murder at the hospital, I’m willing to offer any assistance I can.’

‘Our investigation is ongoing,’ Grant said. ‘As you can appreciate, I can’t divulge any information today. As I said, your recent work was cutting edge regarding the mindset of killers. What I’m hoping for is some help on strategies and lines of attack for interviewing Mr Travis.’

At the mention of the name, for the first time, Ruby looked up and met Grant’s eye. She had a direct gaze, he thought. Very likely she was switched on regarding her work. And yet she was guarded.

‘Travis has a terminal diagnosis and I intend to requestion him before it’s too late. I want him to tell me about the women we never found. Any insight you can give on the man might help me get a breakthrough.’

Grant smiled at Caprini and at Ruby, and then he took a huge bite of brownie.

Caprini’s hands rested on his lap and he tapped his fingers. He gave Ruby a sideways glance and indicated her laptop.

‘You seem to have all our work at your fingertips, Ruby. Would you mind giving the inspector an overview?’

‘Of course, Professor.’

Grant turned his full attention to Ruby. He liked her voice. It had a musical quality to it. And she had a quiet air of mystery, which made her intriguing.

‘I’m looking forward to what you have to tell us, Ms Silver.’

They talked for almost two hours. Ruby was thorough. First, she went through Travis’s early life. She told them about his family and about the people and events which influenced him as a child. Then she listed the special characteristics of his mind which made him a psychopath and how these had been formed and developed by his upbringing. Ruby gave explanations as to how his impulses impacted his need to kill. She used plenty of examples from the interview Professor Caprini had carried out with Travis. Every time she used an example, it was detailed and specific to the point she wanted to illustrate.

Ruby Silver clearly knew Travis in depth and Grant was impressed. He was also impressed by how she drew insights. And he noticed how she was careful to always refer back to the research, as if she was hypersensitive to not stepping on the professor’s toes.

Then Ruby compared Travis to the other killers in the professor’s report, defining his similarities and his differences. It wasn’t only Travis she knew inside out, she knew the whole of the work by heart.

Professor Caprini wasn’t modest about joining in. After each of Ruby’s points, he repeated what she’d said over again, as if they might not have understood the first time. It had the effect of always drawing attention and credit to him. It was Caprini who stood out and Ruby was the minion. But Grant wasn’t fooled.

A little suspicion formed in his mind. Who had been doing all the work? Who had really written the cutting-edge report? Grant felt certain it had been Ruby Silver and not Caprini. How else had she been able to quote from the interviews with such precision? And the professor had not added one bit of new information in all the comments he’d made.

What Grant wondered at was why Ruby allowed herself to be used like that. It meant Caprini had been manipulative to be able to get a hold over her. But then, wouldn’t the country’s top criminal psychologist naturally be a master manipulator? A man used to the limelight would do whatever necessary to keep his own name at the top of the list.

By the time they stood to leave, Grant had made a decision. He wanted to bring Ruby in on the team. She had expertise he wanted. Expertise which might prove vital in cracking this case. A couple of hours wasn’t enough, no, he wanted her live contribution as the case evolved. And he knew how he would go about getting what he wanted. After all, Caprini wasn’t the only one who knew how to be manipulative.

The professor’s desk was huge. A fancy glass plaque sat to one side. It was probably some prestigious award. As they walked to the door, Grant admired the plaque, then as he continued on his way, he allowed the end of his coat, draped over his arm, to brush the plaque to the edge of the desk.

Caprini lunged to stop it falling. He had quick reflexes, beating Delaney, who leapt forward from several paces behind.

‘I’m so sorry, how clumsy of me,’ Grant said. ‘I really must apologise.’

‘No harm done,’ Caprini said tightly.

‘Oh yes, another thought occurred to me. I was wondering, given your expertise on Travis, if I might invite you to join my team back at Himlands Heath? Only for this investigation, of course. It really would be a great help.’

It was an old and effective tactic – spring a last-minute surprise just as your target thinks they’re rid of you. It was one of his favourites.

Caprini floundered for an excuse. ‘That’s not possible, Inspector. I have commitments here at the university, not to mention my international obligations. I simply don’t have time in my schedule.’

‘Of course, of course. Then perhaps you might be kind enough to lend me your assistant.’

He was careful to not use her name and not give her any importance, as if he was asking Caprini to lend him a book. In the mirror facing him, he caught the excitement on Ruby’s face and saw how it was quickly chased away by a terrible shadow of sadness. The sadness was so private, it made Grant uncomfortable to have seen it.

Caprini had his back to the mirror and hadn’t noticed anything. ‘Co-operating with ongoing investigations has always been one of the university’s priorities, except I don’t think…’

‘We really could do with all the assistance we can get. I’m sure the Detective Chief Superintendent would agree with me – the media will be all over this case once they get hold of it.’

Grant let the idea percolate around Caprini’s head. Of course, the professor would be interested in as much attention and name-spreading as he could get. Being involved in such a high-profile case wouldn’t be something the professor could resist. The natural step would be to send Ruby. He couldn’t get involved himself because Grant was pretty certain she was the one who wrote that damn report. Being on the ground like that would threaten to expose him.

Caprini laid a claw-like hand on Ruby’s shoulder. Grant resisted the urge to shove it off.

‘If you’d agree, Ruby?’ Caprini said in a paternal tone which set Grant’s teeth on edge. ‘I can be on the end of a phone at any time. When you’re out of your depth and need help, all you need do is ask. I’m right here.’

Ruby was smiling for the first time, and not at Caprini.

‘Detective Inspector Grant,’ she said. ‘I’d love to join you.’

On the drive back, Grant wasn’t the only one who was happy.

‘You’re in a good mood, Delaney. Is it anything to do with Ruby Silver?’

‘Of course not.’ Tom blushed and concentrated on the road.

Grant chuckled. ‘Did you notice anything unusual about the professor?’

‘Other than he’s got a great set-up and he thinks a lot of himself? Not really. His hands seemed to shake a lot of the time.’

‘Exactly. Did you see how he held them in his lap to make it less obvious? And if I’m not mistaken, he slightly slurred his words. If you ask me, the professor is suffering from an illness. Perhaps Parkinson’s since his motor abilities don’t seem to be affected.’

‘That’s why you pushed his posh plaque? I wondered what was going on. Doesn’t Parkinson’s affect thinking ability?’

‘It does. Which is why I suspect Ms Ruby Silver will turn out to be the real brains at Caprini’s end.’

‘Yes, sir.’

Grant smiled to himself. It definitely looked as if he wasn’t the only one who liked the idea of Ruby Silver joining them.

Chapter Ten

I wish I’d seen the look of horror on his face. The look of dread as he realised history was repeating itself.

Did the great Detective Inspector Grant shit his pants? Or hasn’t he realised yet?

It’s cold and dark out here. December is getting colder as the days go by. A chill dampness seeps through the seat of my trousers as I keep myself low amongst the ornamental shrubbery. The shadows are deep and streetlights don’t penetrate to my hiding place. It’s lucky for me how people find it important to live in nice decorated surroundings. How they enjoy beautifying their driveways and their communal spaces. How they’ve spent money on tall grasses and bushes and other shit like that where someone like me can crouch unseen.

I’m at the back of the house. My next victim is in her bedroom. It’s up on the top floor, directly in front of me, and there are no obstacles to my view, though it’s some distance away.

She crosses the room again. Net curtains obscure the details, but with my naked eye I see the curves of her body, the shape of her breasts. She’s slow and relaxed. What’s she doing up there? Getting ready for a bath? Preparing herself for an evening of intimacy? She really shouldn’t leave the light on like that. Anyone could be watching.

Preparation is the first key to success. That’s what my mentor said. I’ve had it drummed in to me.

I start setting up my equipment. Camera, lens, tripod. When will I send the next photograph? I’d like it to arrive like last time and give them a feeling of suspense. To give them an idea of impending doom and a ticking clock. And the fact they will be too damn late.

That’s not as easy to organise as you might suppose. I can’t use special delivery. It risks leaving a trail that could, however remote the possibility, lead back to me. No, I have to rely on the normal postal service. It’s anonymous but also annoyingly plodding.

I’ve done my research. I know the postal delivery times at the police station. And I know how the desk sergeant greets the postwoman and exchanges a bit of banter before he even gives each day’s deliveries his attention.

Sometimes he can let the pile sit on the side for up to fifteen minutes before he gets around to sorting it. Then again, I expect he’ll learn to jump as soon as he sees one from me.

I lift my camera to get a good view of the rear of the house. I use infrared technology and it makes the window glow, and I need to adjust the settings so it doesn’t spoil the picture. After all, they’ve got to be able to recognise the place and I know the police are a tad on the stupid side.

The excitement is making me want to rush. It’s almost making me want to piss my pants.

Just as she reaches to draw the curtains, I take my snaps. Perfect.

What could be better? Not just the victim’s house but the next victim herself caught in the frame.

Chapter Eleven

Detective Sergeant Diane Collins was busy setting up the incident room. Grant had managed, as usual, to get one of the best ones. It was light and airy and big, with plenty of space for the four of them. Five, with Ruby Silver.

Diane knew how Grant liked things done. He liked one huge whiteboard in the middle of the front wall for the victim. Diane started a map with the victim’s name in the middle and lines linking to possible suspects. So far, the husband was the only name she could fill in and all the other lines leading out went to question marks. She pinned up photographs of Mandy Jones’s body in the storeroom. Diane added up a headshot of the victim when she had been alive.

On another wall, a second whiteboard was devoted to Travis. Tom Delaney was adding details down the side about the prison officers and a list of paroled prisoners. Meanwhile, Diane wrote up a list of the five original victims and a map of where they’d each been found.

Meredith Evans and Isabella Rees had a board to themselves.

The night photograph of Mandy Jones’s house was on a fourth board on its own.

Each officer had a desk in the incident room and the technicians had linked up the technology. Diane put Ruby Silver’s place next to her own. Why shouldn’t the two women club together? It would make a nice change having another female working with them.

Diane felt the adrenalin rush she always felt at the prospect of a long and difficult investigation. This was where it was all going to happen. This was where they would find Mandy’s killer. And they would need refreshments. She picked up the phone to order in the first round of doughnuts.

Detective Chief Superintendent Angela Fox had a longish nose and auburn hair. David Grant often wondered why she didn’t dye it another colour. Or change her name. It would have been worth it to avoid the station jokes. Not least to avoid the inevitable myriad photographs of her tacked in secret places, such as the inside of lockers.

In those shots, her face was superimposed by the face of her namesake, or pointy ears had been added on, or the tail of a fox, or more likely pointed fox teeth. Dead chickens were a frequent feature. Often the faces of other officers had been added in place of the chicken’s head, for instance an officer she had recently reprimanded. Or someone whose head was due for the block. DCS Fox had a reputation for having a mean temper and a vicious bite.

Grant knocked on the door. In her three years at the station, Fox hadn’t endeared herself to anyone, though she showed a grudging respect for Grant which he tried to return.

There was no pause to acknowledge his entry. No friendly greeting. She launched straight in.

‘When I send a text, I expect a prompt reply.’ Ice laced her words.

Grant took his time pulling out the chair. He caught a glint of teeth and tried not to think of the desk sergeant’s most recent caricature of Fox standing over Grant’s limp body with her mouth dripping blood.

‘She’s after you,’ Sergeant Wilson had said. ‘Good job you’re in early. You’d better get yourself up there double sharp.’

Grant had come in at half six. He left Collins and Delaney setting up the incident room and plodded up the stairs. Under his wife’s instructions, he wasn’t supposed to be using the lift. That was, not if he wanted to have a Christmas full of mince pies and Christmas pudding and lots of helpings of turkey – which, of course, he did. Under that threat, Grant had complied to Lily’s no-escalator rule, though he did it with bad grace.

He’d been wheezing by the time he got to the third floor.

‘Please, David, don’t tell me I need to send you for a cardio check-up,’ Fox said.

‘What good will it do? Just work me until I drop dead, then my wife can collect the insurance.’

The superintendent gave a malicious grin. ‘If you say so. Now fill me in on the Jones murder. I’ve already got press interest and I need the facts.’ She gave him a hard look. ‘I don’t like being kept in the dark.’

Their exchange was short and efficient. Fox was sharp and she was ambitious. Grant could see her predicting the worst outcome and the best-case scenarios, just like a politician. It was the part of her he didn’t like, and why officers at the station didn’t feel comfortable with Fox. The problem was they could never be sure she was watching their backs, rather than putting her own as a priority.

At the end of his account there was an ominous silence. Grant could feel his heart still thumping from the stairs and he anticipated what she was about to say, steeling himself for it.

‘Are you sure you’re the best person for the job?’ Fox asked. ‘This is going to be intense. You nailed Travis the first time and that was a long time ago. Are you sure you’re up to it?’

Despite himself, Grant felt Fox’s words go in and leave a wound.

‘Let’s face it, keeping a distance on this one is going to be hard, David. I could always assign DI Crocker to the Jones murder and leave you to concentrate on the Travis interviews.’

Crocker was a decent detective. Grant liked his outspoken nature but Crocker had a reputation for rushing cases and blaming his team if things didn’t go well.

‘It has to be me on this case because I know Travis better than anyone. If there’s a link between Travis and the Jones murder, I’ll find it. And if there isn’t, then we’ve a regular murder enquiry. My age has nothing to do with it.’

This wasn’t the first time Fox hinted he was past it. Did she feel threatened by him and his clout and reputation? Was that why she took these opportunities to get the knife in? She was always asking the same questions – did he want early retirement? Was he ready to slow down? It was the only thing she had on him. Probably Fox was trying to wobble him. She needed to let him know who was boss. Maybe she thought he was after her job? Which he wasn’t.

Grant didn’t fall for it. Fox had no chance of undermining him. Yes, he would soon be fifty-six. And he certainly wasn’t as fit as he used to be. Then again, with Delaney and McGowan around he didn’t need to be. They had enough health lectures, diet and fitness advice, and high energy, to make a man feel exhausted. And he wasn’t ready for retirement yet. Oh no. He had murders to solve. And a successor to train up.

Grant waited. Fox wasn’t prepared for an open confrontation with him and perhaps she’d never be. Besides, it was his team who brought in all the good statistics. He felt confident Fox wasn’t ready to get rid of him yet.

‘And this Ruby Silver you’ve asked to join you as a consultant criminal psychologist – you think she can help?’

‘I’m sure of it.’

‘All right but I want to be kept properly informed. And I’ll want you in for the press conference. No, please don’t annoy me with excuses. And don’t try to get out of it, and don’t pull your usual trick of turning up late either. I expect you there. On time.’

‘Of course, ma’am.’

On the way down the stairs, Grant passed Sergeant Wilson.

‘How’d it go? Foxy eat you for breakfast?’

Grant laughed. ‘Not a chance. She called me old and she wasn’t wrong on that one. But I’m tough old meat and just like always, she had to spit me out.’

Ruby arrived at the police station as Grant entered Fox’s office. It was unfortunate. It was also unfortunate Collins and Delaney were occupied in the incident room because she found herself sitting in the cubbyhole with a scowling Detective Sergeant Steve McGowan.

‘Nailing killers is something you learn from years of experience in the field,’ he said. ‘Not from sitting behind a desk making up fancy theories.’

McGowan dragged Caprini’s research report across his desk and plunked his full mug on top of it. Dark liquid sploshed over. When he gave her a glare, Ruby felt herself floundering. She’d not expected hostility from Grant’s team. It had been stupid of her.

Ruby had travelled down the previous afternoon. She’d booked herself into a bed and breakfast room at a local pub called The Nag’s Head. She’d been so wired up it had been impossible to sleep. Whether by the prospect of Travis or by being part of the investigation, or both, she wasn’t sure. She was better as a loner. People always scared her too much. And DS McGowan was proving to her why.

Minutes before leaving The Nag’s Head, nerves overtook her as usual, and Ruby vomited in the toilet. Now she felt like doing it again. More than anything, no-one here must know what a gamble it was for her coming back to Himlands Heath. This was the place where it had all happened. She must be careful not to trip herself up or give herself away. As far as Grant and his team were concerned, they must think this was her first time in the town.

‘I’m here to add what I can about Travis’s mindset and a killer’s psychology. I’m not here to tread on anyone’s toes.’

McGowan gave her another rude stare. He crossed his arms in front of his chest so his biceps bulged.

‘As long as you don’t get in my way,’ he said. ‘And I’m sure you’ll be running back to the university in no time.’

Ruby silently prayed for Inspector Grant to walk through the door. Or for anyone to. It didn’t happen. Instead she had to sit in silence with DS McGowan, who seemed hell bent on treating her like the outsider she was.

By the time DS Collins came back to the cubbyhole, Ruby was almost ready to give up before she started. Collins shot McGowan an accusing look.

‘Welcome to the team, Ruby. I hope McGowan’s been making you feel at home.’

McGowan briefly met Ruby’s eyes. Ruby had seen that look many times at the children’s home. His meaning was clear – snitch on me and I can make life hell for you.

‘Yeah, sure he has.’

‘I’m DS Collins but you can call me Diane if you want. Why don’t you come on down to the incident room? Inspector Grant will be joining us there any minute.’

A few minutes later and she was settled in at a desk beside Diane. Ruby watched how the team operated. They seemed to know each other well. They didn’t try to score points off each other and McGowan was the only one she got a bad vibe from. Ruby did her best to ignore him and get a grip on where she might fit in.

Diane Collins was cheerful and friendly. Ruby had not dared take a doughnut offered by Diane, because, for certain, it would be coming straight back up.

As Ruby had seen at the university, Tom Delaney had the build of a sports player. He was tall and broad-shouldered and damn good looking, with dark hair falling into his eyes which he kept brushing away. And they were friendly eyes too, dark brown and warm. Just the sort of man Soraya would make a beeline for.

And then there was Grant. He stood quietly at the front through Diane’s report on Mandy Jones’s life. During Steve McGowan’s report on the prison, Grant waited by the side of McGowan’s desk, intent on every word. Like in Caprini’s office, Grant commanded respect without really doing very much. In fact, what he seemed to be very good at was listening.

‘Full checks on the two prison officers pan out,’ McGowan said. ‘They both have excellent employment records and say they were with Travis the whole time, even in the toilets. They uncuffed one wrist because the doctor told them it was getting in the way of his treatment. He needed to have one arm free for shots and stuff like that.’

‘You checked it out with Doctor Hawthorne?’ Grant asked.

McGowan nodded.

‘So we can rule Travis out?’ Collins asked, her pen poised over the whiteboard.

‘For now he seems an unlikely candidate,’ Grant said. ‘It seems highly improbable both prison officers would be involved in some kind of conspiracy with Travis. Strike Travis’s name through, DS Collins, but don’t remove it.’

All eyes turned to Ruby. She was the only one who’d said nothing so far. She licked her dry lips.

‘Go ahead, Ruby. This is a free for all,’ Grant said. ‘As I explained at the beginning, we all chip in and you shouldn’t hold anything back. Everyone’s angle is important. Having an input from a criminal psychologist isn’t an edge we usually have.’

McGowan cracked his knuckles and Ruby’s stomach flipped. She risked a glance in his direction. What she saw was a dusting of sugar clinging to his moustache. Everyone must have seen it – Diane, Tom, Inspector Grant, and they’d decided not to let him know. It helped take the edge off McGowan’s hostility and made him much less intimidating.

Diane gave Ruby a smile.

Ruby took a breath and plunged in.

‘It seems to me Travis is an influence on the killer, whether it’s remotely or directly. Or perhaps he’s been an inspiration. For sure, Travis has a place in this somewhere even if he isn’t a suspect.’ As she used her voice, she felt more sure of herself.

‘Good,’ Grant said. ‘The pathologist’s report tells us the victim had Travis’s DNA on her. He can’t say if it was transferred at the time of the murder or when Mandy Jones touched Travis as his nurse. So that’s inconclusive.’

‘Any potential suspects amongst the prison parolees?’ Collins asked.

‘There’ve been two people released for parole in the last year,’ Delaney said. ‘They could both be of interest. I’ve already contacted their parole officers and organised interviews. Both were in for manslaughter and both had contact with Travis on the inside.’

‘And their motive would be what?’ Grant asked. ‘Why would they risk their freedom again?’

‘Might Travis have threatened them in some way, or bribed them?’ McGowan said.

Collins shook her head. ‘Seems unlikely to me,’ she said, without making it sound in the least bit critical. ‘And you said Travis went twenty-five years with no visitors. So I don’t see him as someone with much influence in the outside world.’

‘A debt to be repaid?’ Delaney suggested.

‘Maybe. We’ll check in on that tomorrow. I’d like you to go ahead with the interviews on your own, Delaney. Nice work,’ Grant said.

The inspector walked across the room and tapped the board with the photograph of Mandy Jones’s house. ‘Any thoughts on this?’

‘The lab report on it will be ready later today,’ Collins said.

Ruby felt the inspector’s eyes on her. She tried to quell her anxiety at the idea the inspector might be able to guess her secret. That was impossible. The inspector couldn’t see inside her skin, nor inside her head. He didn’t know anything about her. And she had the upper hand because she knew all about DI Grant. Ruby knew every detail of how he’d captured Travis. In fact, she’d used her position as a university researcher to gain access to all kinds of records which were not strictly necessary for the analysis of Travis and his traits.

She knew how Grant had put together the pieces of the puzzle. About how the police had tracked the trail of carnage for years, lagging behind the killer, with no leads. Women’s strangled bodies were turning up every few months and the media was plunged into a frenzy every time. Grant had been inspired and he’d been the only match for Travis, who was skilled, and crafty and who’d got away with it. Oh yes, Ruby had all the information on David Grant. After all, she needed it to make her feel more secure.

Tom was offering her a doughnut. Ruby took one and left it on her desk.

‘Er well, one house photograph doesn’t say much about the killer.’

She was pleased her voice sounded steadier. Work was always where she felt strongest. ‘We know taking photographs wasn’t one of Travis’s traits. In assessing killers, I always look at common habits…’ She used the word “I” deliberately and made sure she was looking at McGowan when she said it. The sugar was still there.

‘Because habits tell us a lot about a killer. For instance, the setting of the crime scene or the items a killer deliberately leaves behind. In this case, they used the victim’s own tights to strangle her. They sent a photograph of her house to you. The killer gained something by doing those two things. If we can work out what the killer gained by each one, it will help build the profile. And that way, we can narrow down the field.’

‘Yes, carry on,’ Grant said.

‘Though we tend to think of killers as lacking in intelligence, actually many serial killers have a high intelligence, though they don’t have developed social skills. And er, another common trait is they plan meticulously.’

She hesitated, wondering if she really should put her next thought into words.

Inspector Grant had come to sit on the edge of Diane’s desk. Ruby could feel his full attention on her. His grey eyes were kind.

‘As far as I can see, the planning, the selecting of the victim, the taking and sending of the photograph, they were all meticulously carried out,’ she said. ‘The photo is especially important. And it says this isn’t some random killing. The motive of the murderer may well have very little to do with Mandy Jones. For me, this has the traits of a serial killer. Mandy Jones was simply a convenient target.’

‘You think this isn’t going to be the only murder?’ Delaney asked. ‘Is that what you’re telling us?’

‘Yes, that’s exactly what I’m thinking. I think we’re looking at the beginning of a pattern.’

Detective Inspector Grant was nodding.

‘Well, aren’t you the clever one,’ McGowan said under his breath.

Chapter Twelve

Doctor Susan Hawthorne lived in a leafy district of Himlands Heath. Her nearest neighbours on one side were lawyers who worked long hours, and on the other side, a retired pilot who spent most of his time running a charity bookshop in the town centre.

As senior consultant on the cancer ward, the buck stopped with her. Calls in the middle of the night were common. Everyone looked to her to know what to do and make the hard decisions, even when she sometimes didn’t know herself. On days like today, the responsibility could feel suffocating. ‘Come on, Susan, get your shit together,’ she muttered to herself. ‘People are counting on you.’

Susan’s husband taught Spanish at one of Himlands Heath’s sixth form colleges. He usually left early and, like he planned to do that morning, he dropped their daughter Flora at pre-school on his way in. As he bent to kiss Susan goodbye, she enjoyed the scent of his aftershave and of him. She caressed his jawline with her fingertip.

‘Was it a bad phone call?’ he asked.

‘Not one of the best.’

Then Susan gave Flora a kiss on the forehead, thinking about the roller blades they’d bought Flora as her Christmas present. Soon they’d be able to teach her, and the three of them could go out to the park at weekends and skate along the cycle path.

‘Have a great day, sweet pea.’

‘You too, Mummy.’

It was Doctor Hawthorne’s one good moment of the morning and she enjoyed it because she knew that day she would need all the grit and stuffing she’d got.

She went upstairs to get dressed. Overnight, a message had come through from the prison hospital. Travis needed to come in for more treatment.

They would have to accommodate him. The next nearest hospital with suitable facilities was hours away. Oh God, she would have to ask her team again, with Mandy not even cold in the ground. What the hell could she say? How could she face them and even dare to ask? The thought filled her with dread. Made her legs go weak. They were all good people but this was asking too much. If every single one of them refused she wouldn’t blame them.

Susan was used to pressure but this was off the charts.

She had a small office at the back of the house, equipped with video link-up, so she could talk to her junior doctors on site whenever she needed to. It would turn out to be one of those days with no time except for dealing with Travis and running from emergency to emergency, she could feel it already. If she didn’t deal with her emergency messages and eat something decent, she’d never make it through the next twelve hours.

She made her go-to breakfast for bad days and carried it through.

Desk Sergeant Wilson felt jittery. He was a man with his finger on the pulse and rumours were circulating – a new serial killer case, Grant’s team taking on a major investigation.

The house photograph from the first victim had arrived in a standard brown envelope. Sergeant Wilson had imprinted it on his brain and retina – the size, shape and feel of that type of envelope. Just in case. Like a whippet on the scent, he gave the new pile of mail a once-over. And that’s why he immediately spotted a brown corner sticking out amongst all the other brown corners.

Two seconds later his brain kicked in. Grant’s team was still on their morning briefing.

Sergeant Wilson crashed into the incident room, his gloved hand thrust out.

‘It’s the same. I swear it’s the same.’

It looked like every other brown envelope, yet the tension in the room notched up.

‘Make a space,’ Grant said.

They swept everything from one of the desks and Grant donned gloves. He made a conscious effort to keep his mind calm as he slit the envelope.

Out slipped a night-time shot of a house. Like the first, it had been taken with light-sensitive equipment. His team clustered around. This time, they could see a silhouette in an upstairs window. It was a woman. Grant heard Wilson swallow.

‘What are we looking at here? Are we looking at the next victim?’ Collins asked.

‘We must presume we are.’ Grant glanced around the circle. ‘I want ideas on how to narrow down the field.’

‘The first victim came from the hospital. It wouldn’t be a bad assumption the second one could be from there as well. Perhaps even from the same team,’ Ruby said.

‘Could we circulate a copy of this through hospital personnel?’ Collins asked. ‘What do you think, Delaney? Could it be sent around via social media?’

‘It could if we can get the co-operation of their HR department to start a phone cascade. What do you say, boss?’

‘I think we risk triggering mass panic and I do