Authors: Sarah Masters
Tags: #Erotic Romance Fiction
Conrad shook his head. “No, no. It isn’t me. No, I wouldn’t want that.”
Good job I don’t think you’re our man then, isn’t it.
Langham gave a curt nod and left the room.
David waited twenty minutes for the medicine to kick in. Leaning on the jamb of the bedroom doorway, he watched Cheryl’s chest rise and fall, seeing by the deepness of her breathing that she was ready for transportation. It was earlier than he usually headed out, but that was okay, he had yet to wash her so that would take up some time.
He tweaked the bra strap and smiled as it snapped back onto his shoulder. Did the same with the side of the knickers. That snap wasn’t as satisfactory, but no matter.
It was time to bathe her in bleach again, get as much of this place off her as he could. If anything remained after that, the stream would hopefully take care of it. And it had with the other women, so he shouldn’t have thought ‘hopefully’. The stream
sort things. It was his accomplice, the element that put the cherries firmly on top of the cakes he made. He smiled at thinking of himself as a baker. Maybe when he got home later he’d make a batch of cookies, sit and eat them on his bed with Sally.
He shoved off the jamb. Bent down to pick Sally up. He took her into the bathroom. Lowered the toilet lid then sat her on top so she faced the tub and could watch everything he did. Then he returned to collect Cheryl. Lifted her. She was easy to carry, such a light weight. She still smelled of bleach from her last bath, although the scent had faded a bit, the aroma of sleep and inactivity overlying it.
In the bathroom, he put her into the tub, the beautiful smell of new bleach in the hot water filling his nose. It reminded him of swimming pools, of the strong stench of chlorine he’d loved so much as a kid when they’d had lessons in the school pool. He let her go, the level low enough that her face didn’t go under but high enough that it reached her collarbones. Satisfied she was submerged enough, he bent her legs then placed his hand on her head. Took a second to fully feel the tickle of her hair on his skin. Her brittle, bleach-ruined blonde hair. Pushed her beneath the water so her head was completely under. Every bit of her needed a bleaching, so he kept his hand on her head and stared at his watch until fifteen seconds had passed.
The medicine had rendered her so out of it she didn’t struggle, didn’t even know she was in the bloody bath. Didn’t appear to even be breathing. He eased her up again and straightened her legs, putting her feet flat against the end of the tub so she didn’t slip. At this point he usually let them remain under the water until they went
, then pulled them back out so he could hold one of their eyes open with finger and thumb to check for the gray clouds over the blue iris moon. This time he wanted to do it differently. Mr Clever hadn’t said he couldn’t, and that was always a good sign.
“It’s good to have a bit of a change, isn’t it, Sally?” He glanced over his shoulder as he knelt.
Sally gave him her vacant, skew-eyed stare. He turned back to face the bath. He lifted the soap from the ceramic pig holder on the corner of the tub and created froth in his hands. He washed her face, paying particular attention to her cheek where he’d stroked it. Some bubbles went up her nose as she inhaled, and he was glad. It saved him the trouble of scrubbing up there with a cotton bud. He rinsed her face, replaced the soap, then picked up a metal nail file. David chose the pointed end to scrape beneath her fingernails, doing the same with those on her toes. He used the green scouring pad of a kitchen sponge to wash behind her ears and the creases of her neck. It took half an hour to clean her thoroughly, inside and out, but needs must.
Next, he pulled out the plug and watched the water drain away. Once it had all gone and she lay with her head at an awkward angle now she wasn’t buoyant, he reached for the shower head. He switched the water on, sluicing her down so no scum from her nails or fibers from his flat clung to her. Satisfied she was clean, he shut off the water and left her to dry naturally.
In his bedroom, he donned his black boiler suit and tucked his hair into a navy blue beanie.
“I don’t think she’ll wake, David, but you might want to take precautions.”
David didn’t think she would wake up either but folded his mask into four and slipped it into his pocket along with a capped syringe of medicine. Mr Clever had been right with his advice. You could never be too cocky, too sure of yourself, and sometimes people did the strangest things. Cheryl might not be like the others. She might wake up on the way to his car or at least stir as she hung over his shoulder, and if he could jab her with the needle before she woke fully and possibly caused a fuss, that would be good.
He looked at himself in the mirror beside his bedroom door, pleased at his calm expression, his blank eyes. Even if someone stopped him when he carried Cheryl out, by his face they’d see he wasn’t anyone to fear, and his explanation that she’d gotten drunk and he was taking her home would surely be believed.
“But she’ll be naked, David,”
Mr Clever so rightly pointed out.
“Why would you be carrying a naked woman home?”
Mr Clever had brought a valid argument to the table, but David had never encountered anyone before so why would this time be any different?
“Maybe because you’re changing the pattern? There’s a first time for everything, David.”
That unnerved him and he winced. Ruined his previously calm features. Should he take that as a warning or just as something people said?
David thought for a moment, glanced at his watch—almost one-fifteen in the morning—and decided on the former.
Back in the bathroom, he was pleased to see Sally had kept a sharp eye on Cheryl. He took Sally into his bedroom and placed her on the bed, settling her against the fluffy pillows. One of her eyes blinked, making a click, and he smiled at her.
Such a good girl.
* * * *
Langham was shattered. He’d eaten some of the cookies but they hadn’t filled the gap. He sat at his desk, wishing he could be out looking for Cheryl like Oliver wanted, but knew his team were working their arses off while he held the fort here. Oliver munched on another packet of crisps, sprawled out as well as anyone could sprawl on an office chair, the gray shadows under his eyes bordering on black.
Langham glanced at the wall clock. Well after midnight and time they headed home. He hated to leave, in case something came up, but there was sod all he could do there now. Officers had visited the stream and had found nothing. A couple of strategically placed, unmarked cars were positioned on the road at the housing estate, where Langham suspected the killer parked before taking the bodies to the stream. They’d remain there throughout the night. Cheryl’s parents had been informed—police in Scotland had been given the grim task of visiting their home and breaking the news. The field was being watched—there was always the possibility the killer would change his pattern and go there, to revisit where he abducted, for no other reason but to be at a place that held importance to him. Every avenue was covered. Cheryl hadn’t made contact again, and Oliver hadn’t been given any more information dumps. If Cheryl was going to be placed in the stream they’d catch the fucker before he got the chance to do it. And, if tonight was the night, Langham would be a phone call away should he be needed.
He shouldn’t even be here now. Another lead detective, Fairbrother, had arrived fresh-faced and raring to go at shift change, ready to take over where Langham left off, but, like Higgings, Langham hadn’t been tired—too wired—and hadn’t wanted to go home. Higgings had finally given in around eleven, saying he’d better get going if he was to be of any use to anyone tomorrow morning.
Yet tomorrow was now, albeit the early hours, and a Saturday at that. Langham had been due a weekend off, but that had gone out of the window as soon as Oliver had turned up with news of Cheryl. It was the nature of the job and something he had to deal with. Didn’t mean he had to like it, though.
He sighed and stood. “Come on, you. Home.”
Oliver frowned, tossing his empty crisp packet on the desk. It landed near the edge then sailed off, hitting the carpet with a soft crackle. If Langham could be arsed he’d pick it up, put it in the bin, but he couldn’t—and wouldn’t.
“Home? But what about—”
“Nothing we can do tonight now,” Langham said gently. “Until she makes contact or someone calls in that they’ve spotted him, we may as well take the opportunity to get a bit of shut-eye.”
“I doubt I’ll sleep. Not until she’s found.” Oliver got up and scrubbed at his hair, then his face. His stubble made a rasping sound against his palms.
“Well rest then. Just get into bed and relax a bit.” Langham handed Oliver his jacket. Then he reached for his own. Put it on. “And I’m hungry. The Indian on Blackwater Road will still be open. Closes at two. Fancy a nice korma?”
“I don’t want anything.”
Langham held back a sigh. “I don’t suppose you do, but I’ll buy something anyway. Got a habit of saying you’re not hungry then nicking mine, you have.”
Oliver huffed out a laugh. Langham winked, pleased to see Oliver with a smile on his face, even if it wasn’t full-blown and showing his teeth. Even if it didn’t reach his tired eyes.
After he’d looked over his shoulder once to make sure Oliver followed, he led the way out of his office and down the stairs. He wouldn’t put it past Oliver to have stayed in the office all night, thinking that since Cheryl had contacted him while he’d been there then that’s where she’d be able to get through to him again. But Oliver was often contacted while he was in bed, relaxed, as if his being in that state between awake and asleep was what spirits or people needed in order to reach out and make him hear them.
They walked across the car park, and Langham remembered—with a shiver that rippled up his spine so violently he shuddered—that Oliver had almost been lost to him from this very place on a previous case.
He filed away a mental Post-It note to give Adam and Dane a ring sometime, to catch up, see how they were doing out in that odd little hamlet of Lower Repton. Those two had been a massive help in solving the Queer Rites case—Langham doubted they’d have been able to solve it as quickly without them—and all four of them had gotten together a couple of times since, for a few bevvies and traditional pub grub.
Adam and Dane had moved to Lower Repton from the city, ready to start again after Adam had encountered a rough gang who’d beaten the shit out of him and left him for dead in an alley. Then they’d witnessed one of the sex rituals in a barn up the road from their new home, and Adam had thought his life would always be one bad turn after another. He’d been wrong. Now, the couple worked their days on a local farm and enjoyed their nights and weekends like any other couple. Nice, that.
At the car, Langham clicked it open with his key fob and got into the driver’s seat, waiting for Oliver to join him inside. After picking up a couple of curries, some naan bread and pilau rice at the Indian, he drove them home in silence. His mind was going a mile a minute with thoughts on this case so he gave himself a bollocking for not switching off. He glanced across at Oliver a couple of times, satisfied to see his frown had gone and he’d leaned his head back on the seat, had closed his eyes. Poor bastard was knackered, he’d bet. It was almost a sin to rouse him and make him leave the warmth of the car once he’d parked up.
Inside their place, Langham went into the kitchen to dish up their meals, leaving Oliver to get comfortable on the sofa. When he joined Oliver in the living room with two full plates he’d expected to find Oliver asleep, completely crashed out, but he was staring at the wall above the TV. Langham stood just inside the doorway and held his breath for a second or two, steam rising off the food and the scents it carried wafting up his nose. He was bloody starving and torn between hoping Oliver was getting something in his head and wanting to at least be able to eat before they had to go out again. Selfish of him to think like that when a woman’s life hung in the balance, but if he didn’t treat his work as just a job he’d never have a fucking life of his own. Never have any sane moments.
Oliver didn’t have that look he’d had earlier, when he’d been fixated on the office wall, and Langham released his breath.
“Right, food then bed,” he said, sitting beside Oliver and passing over his plate.
He’d wanted to sound as normal as possible, to get Oliver to relax and understand this was how things worked in Langham’s world. Shit was going on—nasty, gut-churning shit that no one should have to deal with or see—but there was a time and place to deal with it. Yes, he knew this was different for Oliver, that the victim was someone he knew, but still, his man needed a chance to recharge his batteries, because if she got hold of him now, Langham didn’t think Oliver would have the strength to keep her with him.
Oliver began to eat. After a couple of minutes he said, “We’ll find her, won’t we?”
“I hope so. But you know the deal, how this kind of thing works—a bit about how the criminal mind works. Sometimes we don’t get there in time no matter how hard we try. You know that from the other cases. It’s a wanker to accept but there’s nothing we can do about it.” Langham gave him an apologetic smile, toyed with some sauce-covered rice. “You know me, I won’t sugar-coat things. It is what it is.” He half-shrugged. “I hope we manage it this time, I really do, but if we don’t? We tried to save her.”
“But sitting here doesn’t feel like we’re trying to do anything.” Oliver stabbed a piece of chicken and put it in his mouth. Chewed slowly, staring down at his plate.
“No, it doesn’t, does it, but there are other officers and detectives on it at the moment. You know how we got when we worked Sugar Strands. We didn’t sleep, kept going through the whole thing, and look how shattered we were afterwards. All because I didn’t want to hand the reins over, let someone else take charge so I could go home and get some sleep. And it was you who told me I ought to just work my hours, come home when I could. Remember?”