May 16 2014 3:00pm
The Stranger You Know: A New Excerpt
The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey is the fourth thriller in the Maeve Kerrigan series where a hunt for a London serial killer leads the police detective to her main suspect: her partner (available May 20, 2014).
He meets women. He gains their trust. He kills them. That’s all London police detective Maeve Kerrigan knows about the man she is hunting. Three women have been strangled in their homes, and it appears to be the work of the same sadistic killer. With no sign of break-ins, every indication shows that the women let their attacker in willingly. The victims' neighbors and friends don't seem to remember anything unusual or suspicious, and Maeve is almost at a loss about how to move forward with the investigation.
Then the evidence starts to point to a shocking suspect: DCI Josh Derwent, Maeve's partner on the police force. Maeve refuses to believe he could be involved, but how well does she really know him? Secrets Derwent has long kept locked away are coming back to haunt him, and the more Maeve learns about her partner's past, the more difficult it is to dismiss him as a suspect. After all, this is hardly the first time Derwent's been accused of murder.
I’d seen enough dead bodies to know they can look peaceful. Calm, even. At rest.
Princess Gordon was not that sort of corpse.
It wasn’t her fault. Anyone would have struggled to look serene when they had been battered to death, then shoved into the boot of a Nissan Micra and left to stiffen into full rigor mortis.
“I’m going to need to get her out to give you a proper cause of death, but from a preliminary examination she was beaten with something hard but rounded, like a pole, sometime within the last twenty-four hours.” The pathologist stood back, touching the back of one gloved hand to her forehead. “I can’t narrow it down for you yet, but I’ll have a look at stomach contents during the post-mortem and make an educated guess.”
“I can make an educated guess for you now. It was her husband.” The voice came from beside me, where Detective Inspector Josh Derwent was taking up more than his fair share of room in the little ring of officers and crime-scene technicians that had gathered around the back of the car. The garage door was open but it still felt claustrophobic to me to be in that small, cluttered space. The air was dusty and the lighting cast long, dark shadows. I felt as if the piled-up junk was reaching out to grab me. Derwent had his hands in his pockets, with his elbows jutting out on either side. I had already inched away twice, to get out of range, but there was nowhere left to go.
“She wasn’t married,” I said.
“Partner, then. Whoever that bloke is in the house.”
“What makes you say that?” The pathologist was new, earnest and heavily pregnant. I wished she would just ignore Derwent. She had no idea what she was dealing with.
“Bound to be him.”
“If you’re basing that on statistical probability—”
Derwent cut her off. “I’m not.”
One of the response officers cleared his throat. I thought he was going to raise his hand and ask for permission to speak. “He said he came back and she was missing. He said someone must have come into the house and attacked her.”
“Yeah, he’d know. He was the one who did it.” Derwent waved a hand at the body. “Say this wasn’t a domestic. Say it was a burglary gone wrong or a random murder. Why bother putting her in the car? Why not leave her in the house?”
“To hide her,” the response officer suggested.
“Why, though? It’s hard work, moving a body. And she’s a big girl, too. Look at that arse.”
“Sir.” I didn’t usually try to manage Derwent’s stream of consciousness but I had seen the look of shock on the pathologist’s face. Dr. Early, who had arrived late and made a joke about it. Derwent hadn’t laughed.
“What is it, Kerrigan?” He glared at me.
I didn’t dare say why I’d actually interrupted. It would only provoke worse behavior. “Just—why would Olesugwe move the body?”
“He was planning to get rid of the body but then her sister came round.”
It was Princess’s sister, Blessed, who’d found the body and called 999. Last seen in hysterics being comforted by a female officer at the kitchen table, she’d been too incoherent to interview.
“Why would he want to kill her?” Early asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine. She was having an affair, or he was, or she didn’t do the ironing.” He looked down at the pathologist’s rounded belly. “She was four months pregnant, according to Olesugwe. Women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence when they’re up the duff.”
“That’s a myth.” Dr. Early put a protective hand on her stomach, as if she was trying to shield her unborn child from Derwent’s toxic personality. I personally felt lead-lined hazard suits should have been standard issue for anyone who came into contact with him, pregnant or not.
Derwent shook his head. “They did a study in the States. Murder is the third most common reason of violent death for pregnant women.”
“What else kills them?” I asked.
“Car accidents and suicide. Women drivers, eh?”
“Well, this lady didn’t die in a car accident and she certainly didn’t beat herself to death.” Dr. Early folded her arms, resting them on top of her bump.
“That’s my point. He killed her,” Derwent said. “He gets angry about something, he beats her up, it goes too far, he dumps her in the car, starts to clean up, gets interrupted by the sister and all bets are off.”
“There was a smell of bleach in the kitchen,” I remarked.
“And no sign of a break-in. Wherever she died should look like an abattoir but I didn’t see a speck of blood in the house.” Derwent pushed past a couple of officers and peered into the back seat of the car. “Bags. If you forensic boys would like to do your jobs and get them out for us, I bet we’ll find blood-stained clothes in Olesugwe’s size.”
Dr. Early looked down at Princess’s body. “I’ll need some help to get her out of the boot.”
“Nice to hear a woman admit she needs some help,” Derwent said, and walked out without waiting to hear what Dr. Early had to say in response, or, indeed, offering any assistance.
The doctor’s lips were pressed together and her eyes were bright. I recognized the signs of someone trying not to cry. I’d been there, many times. “Is he always like that?” she asked me.
“Not always. Sometimes he’s worse.”
“I don’t know how you can stand it.”
“Neither do I,” I said.
The reason I could stand it was because in addition to his numerous personality defects, Derwent was a brilliant copper. He left the SOCOs to their work and took both Olesugwe and Blessed to the nearest police station, Great Portland Street, where Blessed confessed to the affair she’d been having with Olesugwe, and Olesugwe admitted that Princess had found out about it. The murder weapon—a metal pole that had been used as a clothes rail in the couple’s wardrobe—turned up in a shed in the garden of the small house, stuffed in a bag behind a lawnmower. Olesugwe had the key to the shed’s padlock on his key ring, as well as the only set of keys for the Nissan. When I pointed out that neither the padlock nor the car boot was damaged in any way, he admitted moving the body and hiding the weapon.
“But he still won’t admit that he killed her,” I said to Derwent as we left the police station, heading back to the office to get the paperwork underway. I shivered as the cold hit my face. We were on foot because Derwent had flatly refused to drive through central London to Somers Town, where Princess had breathed her last, when our new offices were in Westminster and it was twice as fast to go by public transport.
“He’s still looking for a way out. I bet he’ll say it was Blessed who attacked her and he was just trying to help her.”
“Do you think that’s what happened?”
“Nope. Doesn’t matter, though. He’ll still lie about it.”
“I don’t think Blessed would have called the cops before they were finished tidying up if she’d been involved.”
“She might have. She might be thick. Most criminals are.”
“I’ve noticed,” I said. I was only a detective constable but I had seven years of experience behind me. Derwent tended to forget that.
Instead of answering me, he sighed. “What a waste of fucking time.” It wasn’t my imagination: Derwent’s mood was darker than usual.
“We got a result,” I pointed out.
“Anyone could have got it. Even you.”
“We did a good job.”
“The local murder team could have handled it.”
“They were too busy.”
“Is that what the boss told you?” He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets and walked faster. I lengthened my stride to keep up.
“Why else would he send us up there?”
I realized I wasn’t going to get an answer out of Derwent. Besides, I wasn’t sure I wanted one. There was a chance he was referring to the fact that I was out of favor with the boss, and I couldn’t imagine that Derwent would be pleased if he knew about it. Especially if he knew why.
I’d have been sensible to keep my mouth shut and walk in silence, but there was something I wanted to know. “You were a bit off with Dr. Early. What was the problem?”
Derwent’s jaw clenched. “She shouldn’t be doing that job in her condition.”
“She’s more than capable of doing it.”
“If you say so. She probably won’t even be able to reach the table to do the PM.”
“I’m sure she’ll manage.”
“She shouldn’t have to.” Derwent flipped up the collar of his coat, hunching his shoulders as a scattering of rain spat in our faces. “It’s no job for a woman anyway. But when she’s got a baby on board, she shouldn’t be near dead bodies.”
“You are so old-fashioned it’s untrue. Are you worried her unborn child will see the corpses and be upset? Wombs don’t come with much of a view.”
“It’s just not right.” His voice was flat. No more arguing.
I held my tongue until we got to the tube station and discovered that two lines were closed, just in time for the evening rush hour. We forced our way onto a packed Metropolitan line train to Baker Street, switched to the Bakerloo line and suffered as far as Charing Cross. It was a positive pleasure to resurface from the super-heated, stale depths of the Underground, even though the cold autumn air made my head ring as if I’d just been slapped.
Even with the inspector as a companion it wasn’t a hardship to walk through Trafalgar Square and on down Whitehall as the lights came on. It had rained properly while we were on the tube, a short but sharp cloudburst, and the pavement had a glassy sheen. Fallen leaves were scattered across the ground, flattened against it by the rain, looking as if they had been varnished to it. The going was slick and my shoes weren’t designed for it. Opposite the Cenotaph I slid sideways and collided with Derwent, clutching his arm for support. He bent his arm so his biceps bulged under my fingers. I snatched my hand away.
“Steady on,” Derwent said.
“It’s the leaves.”
“I know you, Kerrigan. Any excuse to cop a feel.” He crooked his arm again. “Come on. Hang on to Uncle Josh. I’ll look after you.”
“I can manage, thank you.”
“It’s not a sign of weakness, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s good to recognize your shortcomings. Look at Dr. Early. She knew she couldn’t shift that body on her own so she asked for help. You could take a lesson from that. Accept help when it’s offered.”
“Is that what you do?”
He laughed. “I don’t need any help.”
“Of course not. The very idea.”
“Seriously, if you need to hold on to my arm, do it.”
“I would if I did, but I don’t.” I would rather take off my shoes and walk barefoot than reinforce Derwent’s ideas of chivalry. He would see it as proof of what he’d always thought—women need looking after. And I was junior to him, as well as being female, so he was totally comfortable with patronizing me.
It made me want to scream.
We turned the corner into Parliament Square and I gazed across at the Houses of Parliament, not yet tired of staring at them even though I saw them every day on my way to work. They were a Victorian idea of medieval grandeur and there was something fantastic about them, something unreal about the delicate tracery, the honey-colored stone, the soaring gilt-topped towers. From here, Britain had ruled the world, temporarily, and the buildings remembered. They were a physical manifestation of the superiority complex that was bred into the British, my father had said once. He had little time for the Empire and less sympathy for the country he lived in. I didn’t think you could characterize a whole nation that way, but then I wasn’t in the comfortable position of being foreign. Nor could I count myself as British. I was born in London of Irish parents, bred and raised as an Irish girl, despite the fact that we lived in Carshalton rather than Killybegs. I’d learned to dance the Walls of Limerick and played “Down by the Sally Gardens” on the tin whistle and struggled into thick, sheep-smelling Aran jumpers knitted by relations and swapped the soda bread in my packed lunches for my friends’ white crustless sandwiches. I’d played camogie, badly, at weekends, and played hockey equally badly at school. I was Irish by blood and English by accident and I didn’t belong to either tradition, or anywhere else. I’d grown up feeling as if I’d lost something and it was only now I was starting to wonder if it mattered.
Derwent threw out an arm. “Look at that. What a disgrace.”
“The Houses of Parliament?” I asked, surprised. I should have known Derwent was unlikely to be experiencing post-colonial guilt.
“Those fuckers. Shouldn’t be allowed.” He was referring to the protesters camping on the grass in the middle of Parliament Square, occupying the space where the anti-war crowd had maintained their vigil, and where the demonstrations against globalization had raged. There were regular police operations to clear the lawn, but somehow the campaigners came back in ones and twos, and it was rare to see it empty.
I tried to read the banners but it was hard to see them in the dusk, especially since they were rain-sodden. “Capitalism is evil?”
“Oh, them.” The Dads Matter group was the militant alternative to Fathers for Justice, a pressure group for men who felt they had been victimized by the family courts. Dads Matter was small but growing and prone to extravagant publicity seeking. Its leader was Philip Pace, a handsome, charismatic forty-year-old with a background in PR. He was a smooth talker, a regular interviewee on news and current affairs programs and had made the Top Ten Most Eligible Males list in Tatler the previous year. I didn’t see the attraction myself, but then I wasn’t all that keen on zealots. As the public face of Dads Matter, he made it his business to be reasonable and moderate, but as a group they were neither. “What’s their new campaign? Twenty-Twenty?”
“Someone hasn’t been paying attention to briefings,” Derwent said. “It’s Fifty-Fifty. They want the courts to split custody of children equally between parents. No exceptions.”
“Oh, that sounds reasonable. What about abusers? What about protecting children from that?”
“Dads don’t harm their children. They love them.” For once, Derwent’s ultra-sarcasm had a decent target.
“You don’t think fathers have rights?” Derwent’s eyebrows were hovering around his hairline. “I thought you were a liberal, Kerrigan. If I said feminism was wank, you’d report me.”
“You say that frequently, and I haven’t yet. Anyway, it’s not the same thing. The courts make their decisions on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes the mothers get full custody because the dads aren’t fit to be involved with their families. These men are just sore losers.”
“Doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous. You know they’ve been sharing tactics with extremist anti-abortion activists in the States, don’t you?”
“I didn’t, actually.” I was amazed that Derwent did. He generally didn’t bother with reading briefings. In fact, I wasn’t aware of him having read anything properly since we’d been working together.
“Pace was over in Washington recently, trying to get a US branch up and running. He appeared on a platform with the pro-lifers at a massive rally, though he doesn’t want that to get out in this country in case it puts people off. They’ve got a lot in common, though. It’s all about the sanctity of the family, isn’t it? Two-parent happy families with hundreds of smiling, cheerful children. Fucking fantasyland. If you didn’t read the briefing notes you’ll have missed this too: they found a Dads Matter-affiliated messageboard on the Internet with a list of names and addresses for family court judges and their staff. Everyone is very jumpy about it. They’re expecting parcel bombs and anthrax and God knows what.”
“How did I miss all of this?” I felt as if I hadn’t done my homework and I’d been caught by my least favorite teacher—which was basically what had happened.
“Dunno. Maybe you’re too busy concentrating on what’s right in front of you to get a decent idea of the big picture. That’s why you’re a DC. You do all right at the small stuff, but you need a bit of a flair for strategy at my level.”
Maybe if you didn’t leave all the paperwork and form filling to me I’d have time to read about the big picture. “Thanks for the advice.”
“Freely given,” he said. “Listen and learn.”
“I do. Every day.” It was true. If I wanted to know about misogyny, right-wing conspiracy theories or competition-grade swearing, working with Derwent was roughly equivalent to a third-level education.
Our route took us close to where the protesters stood, rain-blasted and pathetic, huddled in their anoraks like penguins in nylon hoods. Most were middle-aged and a touch overweight. They didn’t look dangerous.
“They can’t all be evil, and they must miss their children,” I said.
“Pack of whingers. If they loved their kids so much they wouldn’t have left them in the first place.” He glowered at them. “Anyone who’s got the nerve to sit under the statue of the greatest Englishman who ever lived and make it look like a gypsy camp has got no principles and no soul.”
“Who else?” He looked at me as if he was waiting for me to argue, but I knew better than to try. Derwent needed a fight occasionally, to do something with the aggression he seemed to generate just by breathing. But I was not going to be his punchbag today.
I could have sworn his ears drooped.
Back at the office, Derwent threw himself into his chair and waved at me imperiously.
“Go and find the boss and tell him where we are with the case.”
I felt a thud of dismay. “Don’t you want to do it?”
“I’ve got things to do.”
“So have I.”
“Mine are more important.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I’m senior to you so whatever I have to do is bound to be more important.” As he said it he was reaching over to pick up a copy of the Standard that someone had left on a nearby desk.
“Look, I’d really rather not—” I started to say.
“Not interested. Tell someone who cares.” He glanced up at me. “Why are you still here?”
I turned on my heel and stalked across the room toward the only enclosed office, where Chief Superintendent Charles Godley was usually to be found. I rapped on the door and it opened as I did so, Godley stepping toward me so that we almost collided. I apologized at the same time as he did. My face had been flaming already because I was livid with Derwent, but embarrassment added an extra touch of heat to my cheeks. I was aware of Derwent grinning at his desk on the other side of the room, and the speculative glances from my other colleagues across the tops of their monitors. I knew, even if Godley didn’t, that there was frequent, ribald speculation he had brought me on to his team because he wanted to sleep with me. I knew that Godley attracted rumors of that sort like roses attract greenflies; he was head-turningly handsome with ice-blue eyes and prematurely silver hair, and I was the first woman he had recruited in a long time, though not the last. I also knew that people had picked up on the fact that I was extremely awkward around him all of a sudden. The general theory was that we had had an affair and I had ended it, or he had ended it, or his wife had found out and she had ended it.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
“Did you want something, Maeve?”
“DI Derwent asked me to update you about the Somers Town murder—Princess Gordon. We’ve got one in custody.”
“Give me the details.” Instead of inviting me into his office he stayed where he was, standing in the doorway, in plain sight of everyone on the team. Maybe he did know about the rumors after all.
Briefly, I explained what we had found out. Godley listened, his blue eyes trained on my face. He had a gift for total concentration on whatever was in front of him, and it was a large part of his charm that he made you feel as if you were the only person in the world when he was listening to you. I could have done without the rapt attention, all the same. It made me too aware of my voice, my face, my tendency to wave my hands around while I was explaining things, my suspicion that my hair had gone frizzy in the damp evening air.
Not that he cared about any of that. He cared about the fact that I had worked out, beyond any doubt, that he was utterly, totally corrupt. He was paid by one of London’s biggest drug dealers, a ruthless gangster with an appalling record of violence, and I wasn’t sure exactly what Godley did for him in return. I didn’t want to know. I had worshipped the superintendent, blindly, and finding out that he was a fake made me more sad than angry. And for all that he was on the take, he was still a supremely gifted police officer.
I’d promised him I wouldn’t give him away, because it was none of my business and I couldn’t throw him to the wolves. He’d promised me it made no difference to how he did his job, and he’d also promised not to treat me any differently. But he had lied about that, and I was starting to change my mind about interfering. I still couldn’t reconcile the two facts: he was a boss who inspired total loyalty in everyone who worked with him, and he gave away inside information for money. He’d said it was more complicated than I knew, and I wanted to believe him, I really did.
I just couldn’t trust him.
“And the sister?” Godley asked.
“DI Derwent wants to interview her again, but he doesn’t think she was involved.”
“Unless she’s a fuckwit.” Derwent crossed the room, folding his stolen newspaper as he approached, and sat down at a desk that was currently unoccupied. He started casually, carelessly ransacking the desk, opening and closing drawers. “Who sits here?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I did know, in fact, but I didn’t want to tell him. The desk belonged to DCI Una Burt, his superior and emphatically not a member of the very select group of colleagues that Derwent could stand. Nor was she one of the even smaller group who liked him. “I know they don’t want you to go through their things.”
“That’s a nice stapler.” He clicked it a couple of times, very fast. “That’s better than the one I’ve got.”
“Josh. Concentrate.” Godley’s tone was mild but Derwent dropped the stapler and turned around to face the boss.
“The CPS were happy for us to charge Olesugwe but they agreed with me that we need to know more about Blessed before we decide what to do about her. I think Olesugwe will plead eventually but at the moment he’s still hoping for a miracle. Which he’s not going to get, because he’s fucked. Did Kerrigan tell you about the keys?”
“What about them?”
“Kerrigan had a look through his personal effects before we interviewed him. She spotted that he had the key to the shed and the car, and she just happened to ask him if there was a spare set of car keys anywhere.”
“The car was fifteen years old,” I explained. “I thought it was probably secondhand or third-hand and there was a good chance it was down to one set of keys.”
“Well done,” Godley said, without enthusiasm, and I blushed, wishing that Derwent had just said nothing.
Apparently oblivious, he grinned at me. “You see, you look vague, but you’re actually not all that stupid when you try.”
“Thanks.” For nothing, I added silently.
“Makes me wonder why you’re being left out of the big investigation.”
“What investigation?” I looked at Godley, whose face was like stone.
“Josh. That’s enough.”
“It just doesn’t seem fair of you to shut out Kerrigan. She hasn’t done anything wrong.”
“That’s not what’s going on and you know it.” Godley stepped back into his office. “Come in here and shut the door, Josh.”
Derwent was flipping through the newspaper again. He flattened it out on a double-page spread near the center and with a flick of his wrist sent it spinning toward me. It landed by my feet. “Have a read of that, Kerrigan. It’s as close as you’re going to get.”
I picked it up. The headline screamed: SERIAL KILLER TARGETING LONDON’S SINGLES. Most of the space below was taken up with pictures of two young women. One had red hair to her shoulders; the other was dark and had short hair. She was huge-eyed and delicate, while the redhead was a stunner with a full mouth and slanting green eyes. Both were slim, both attractive. And dead. My eye fell on a pull quote in bold type: “They lived alone. No one heard their cries for help.” And then, on the opposite page: “Mutilated and murdered.”
“It’s not our case,” Godley said, to me. “I’ve been asked to put together a task force in case they turn out to be connected, but I’m working with the local murder teams and they’re still officially investigating them. The victims didn’t know one another. They lived in different areas. The first woman died in January. The second was two months ago. This article is just speculation.”
I appreciated the explanation but it wasn’t really aimed at me. Nor was Derwent really complaining about me being left out. He wasn’t the type to care. He was absolutely the type to make use of a subordinate to get at his boss, though, and he wasn’t finished.
“Oh, come on. Of course they’re connected.” Derwent leaned over and snatched the paper back, flattening it out so he could read aloud: “‘Both Kirsty Campbell and Maxine Willoughby lived alone. They worked within two miles of one another in central London. Friends describe both of them as bubbly and outgoing, but unlucky in love—Maxine had never found the right person, while Kirsty had recently broken off her engagement to her fiancé, Stephen Reeves (28). He describes himself as “heartbroken” on the Facebook page set up in memory of Kirsty, but declined to comment for this article. Police have cleared Mr. Reeves of any involvement in Kirsty’s death.’”
“He declined to comment but they scavenged a quote from him anyway,” I said. “I bet the lawyers made them put in the bit about him not being a suspect.”
Derwent read on, this time with more emphasis.
“‘And the similarities don’t end with how they lived. Kirsty and Maxine were strangled in their homes. There was no sign of a break-in at either address, suggesting that in each case they may have known their killer. Most shocking of all is the anonymous tip-off we received that both women were horribly mutilated, their bodies desecrated, their eyes gouged out. Police had not revealed this grisly detail to the public, but more than anything else it seems to suggest that Kirsty and Maxine were killed by the same person.’”
I shuddered. “That’s horrible. I’m not surprised they didn’t want that detail revealed. But if no one knew, it can’t be a copycat.”
“It’s not proof of any connection between the two deaths,” Godley said. Derwent slammed his hands down on the desk.
“Like fuck it isn’t.”
“I wanted to talk to you about that article, but not out here, Josh.”
“Nothing to do with me.”
“Someone tipped them off. Someone who wants there to be a connection between the murders. Someone not particularly well informed. I don’t have to look too far to find someone who fits the bill.” I’d never heard Godley sound so stern. He turned and walked around his desk. Derwent jumped up and followed him. He didn’t even glance in my direction as he went past, his face set and pale, his hands clenched. He slammed the door after him, to make it absolutely clear, as if I hadn’t known it already, that my presence wasn’t required. The newspaper had fallen to the floor, forgotten, and I picked it up. Back at my desk, with one eye on Godley’s door to watch for Derwent’s return, I read through the rest of the article, and discovered two things. One: I knew the senior investigating officer in the Maxine Willoughby investigation all too well. Two: I had no idea whatsoever why Derwent was so angry.
But I would make it my business to find out.
Copyright © 2014 by Jane Casey.
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