Authors: Val McDermid
Tags: #Hill; Tony; Doctor (Fictitious character), #Police psychologists, #England, #Serial murders, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction, #Criminal profilers, #Suspense, #Jordan; Carol; Detective Chief Inspector (Fictitious character), #General
The Wire in the Blood
Table of Contents
Murder was like magic, he thought. The quickness of his hand always deceived the eye, and that was how it was going to stay. He was like the postman delivering to a house where afterwards they would swear there had been no callers. This was the knowledge that was lodged in his being like a pacemaker in a heart patient. Without the power of his magic he’d be dead. Or as good as.
He knew just from looking at her that she would be the next. Even before the eye contact, he knew. There had always been a very particular combination that spelled perfection in his thesaurus of the senses. Innocence and ripeness, mink-dark hair, eyes that danced. He’d never been wrong yet. It was an instinct that kept him alive. Or as good as.
He watched her watching him, and under the urgent mutter of the crowd, he heard echoing in his head the music.
‘Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown
…’ The chiming tune swelled and burst then battered his brain like a spring tide against a breakwater. And Jill? What about Jill? Oh, he knew what happened to Jill. Over and over again, repetitious as the barbaric nursery rhyme. But it was never enough. He had never quite been satisfied that the punishment had fit the crime.
And so there had to be a next one. And there he was, watching her watching him sending her messages with his eyes. Messages that said, ‘I’ve noticed you. Find your way to me and I’ll notice you some more.’ And she read him. She read him, loud and clear. She was so obvious; life hadn’t scarred her expectations with static yet. A knowing smile quirked the corners of her mouth and she took the first step on the long and, for him, exciting journey of exploration and pain. The pain, as far as he was concerned, was not quite the only necessity but it was certainly one of them.
She worked her way towards him. Their routes varied, he’d noticed. Some direct, bold; some meandering, wary in case they’d misread what they thought his eyes were telling them. This one favoured the spiral path, circling ever inward as if her feet were tracing the inside of a giant nautilus shell, a miniature Guggenheim Gallery compacted into two dimensions. Her step was measured, determined, her eyes never wavering from him, as if there were no one else between, neither obstacle nor distraction. Even when she was behind his back, he could feel her stare, which was precisely how he thought it should be.
It was an approach that told him something about her. She wanted to savour this encounter. She wanted to see him from every possible angle, to imprint him on her memory forever, because she thought this would be her only chance for so detailed a scrutiny. If anyone had told her what the future truly held, she’d have fainted with the thrill of it.
At last, her decaying orbit brought her within his grasp. Only the immediate circle of admirers stood between them, one or two deep. He locked on to her eyes, injected charm into his gaze and, with a polite nod to those around him, he took a step towards her. The bodies parted obediently as he said, ‘Delightful to have met you, do excuse me?’
Uncertainty flitted across her face. Was she supposed to move, like them, or should she stay in the ambit of his mesmerizing stare? It was no contest; it never was. She was captivated, the reality of this evening outstripping her every fantasy. ‘Hello,’ he said. ‘And what’s your name?’
She was momentarily speechless, never so close to fame, dazzled by that spectacular dental display all for her benefit. My, what big teeth you’ve got, he thought. All the better to eat her with.
‘Donna,’ she finally stuttered. ‘Donna Doyle.’
‘That’s a beautiful name,’ he said softly. The smile he won in response was as brilliant as his own. Sometimes, it all felt too easy. People heard what they wanted to hear, especially when what they were hearing sounded like their dream come true. Total suspension of disbelief, that’s what he achieved every time. They came to these events expecting Jacko Vance and everyone connected to the great man to be exactly what was projected on TV. By association, anyone who was part of the celebrity’s entourage was gilded with the same brush. People were so accustomed to Vance’s open sincerity, so familiar with his very public probity, it never crossed their minds to look for the catch. Why should it, when Vance had a popular image that made Good King Wenceslas look like Scrooge? The punters listened to the words and they heard Jack and the Beanstalk—from the little seed Vance or his minions planted, they pictured the burgeoning flower of a life at the top of the tree right alongside his.
In that respect, Donna Doyle was just like all the others. She could have been working from a script he’d written for her. Having moved her strategically into a corner, he made as if to hand her a signed photograph of Vance the megastar. Then he did a double take so exquisitely natural it could have been part of De Niro’s repertoire. ‘My God,’ he breathed. ‘Of course. Of course!’ The exclamation was the verbal equivalent of smiting himself on the forehead with the heel of his hand.
Caught with her fingers inches from his as she reached out to take what had been so nearly offered, she frowned, not understanding. ‘What?’
He made a twisted little
of self-disparagement. ‘Ignore me. I’m sorry, I’m sure you’ve got much more interesting plans for your future than anything we superficial programme makers could come up with.’ The first time he’d tried the line, hands sweating, blood thudding in his ears, he’d thought it was so corny it couldn’t fool a drunk one sip from catatonia. But he had been right to go with his instincts, even when they had led him down the path of the criminally naff. That first one, just like this next one, had grasped instantly that something was being offered to her that hadn’t been on the agenda for the insignificant others he’d been talking to earlier.
‘What do you mean?’ Breathless, tentative, not wanting to admit she already believed in case she’d misunderstood and left herself open to the hot shaming flush of her misapprehension.
He gave the faintest of shrugs, one that hardly disturbed the smooth fall of his immaculate suiting. ‘Forget it,’ he said with a slight, almost imperceptible shake of the head, disappointment in the sad cast of his eye, the absence of his gleaming smile.
‘No, tell me.’ Now there was an edge of desperation, because everybody wanted to be a star, no matter what they said. Was he really going to snatch away that half-glimpsed magic carpet ride that could lift her out of her despised life into his world?
A quick glance to either side, making sure he wasn’t overheard, then his voice was both soft and intense. ‘A new project we’re working on. You’ve got the look. You’d be perfect. As soon as I looked at you properly, I knew you were the one.’ A regretful smile. ‘Now, at least I have your image to carry in my head while we interview the hundreds of hopefuls the agents send along to us. Maybe we’ll get lucky…’ His voice trailed off, his eyes liquid and bereft as the puppy left behind in the holiday kennels.
‘Couldn’t I…I mean, well…’ Donna’s face lit up with hope, then amazement at her forwardness, then disappointment as she talked herself out of it without saying another word.
His smile grew indulgent. An adult would have identified it as condescending, but she was too young to recognize when she was being patronized. ‘I don’t think so. It would be taking an enormous risk. A project like this, at so delicate a stage…Just a word in the wrong ear could wreck it commercially. And you’ve no professional experience, have you?’
That tantalizing peep at what could have been her possible future uncapped a volcano of turbulent hope, words tumbling over each other like rocks in the lava flow. Prizes for karaoke at the youth club, a great dancer according to everybody, the Nurse in her form’s reading of
Romeo and Juliet
. He’d imagined schools would have had more sense than to stir the tumultuous waters of adolescent desire with inflammatory drama like that, but he’d been wrong. They’d never learned, teachers. Just like their charges. The kids might assimilate the causes of the First World War but they never grasped that clichés got that way because they reflected reality. Better the devil you know. Don’t take sweets from strangers.
Those warnings might never have set Donna Doyle’s eardrum vibrating if her present expression of urgent eagerness was anything to go by. He grinned and said, ‘All right! You’ve convinced me!’ He lowered his head and held her gaze. Now his voice was conspiratorial. ‘But can you keep a secret?’
She nodded as if her life depended on it. She couldn’t have known that it did. ‘Oh, yes,’ Donna said, dark blue eyes sparkling, lips apart, little pink tongue flickering between them. He knew her mouth was growing dry. He also knew that she possessed other orifices where the opposite phenomenon was happening.
He gave her a considering, calculated stare, an obvious appraisal that she met with apprehension and desire mingling like Scotch and water. ‘I wonder…’ he said, his voice almost a sigh. ‘Can you meet me tomorrow morning? Nine o’clock?’
A momentary frown, then her face cleared, determination in her eyes. ‘Yes,’ she said, school dismissed as irrelevant. ‘Yes, I can. Whereabout?’
‘Do you know the Plaza Hotel?’ He had to hurry now. People were starting to move towards him, desperate to recruit his influence to their cause.
‘They have an underground car park. You get into it from Beamish Street. I’ll be waiting there on level two. And not a word to anyone, is that clear? Not your mum, not your dad, not your best friend, not even the family dog.’ She giggled. ‘Can you do that?’ He gave her the curiously intimate look of the television professional, the one that convinces the mentally troubled that newsreaders are in love with them.
‘Level two? Nine o’clock?’ Donna checked, determined not to screw up her one chance of escape from the humdrum. She could never have realized that by the end of the week she’d be weeping and screaming and begging for humdrum. She’d be willing to sell what remained of her immortal soul for humdrum. But even if someone had told her that then, she would not have comprehended. Right then, the dazzle and the dream of what he could offer was her complete universe. What could be a finer prospect?
‘And not a word, promise?’
‘I promise,’ she said solemnly. ‘Cross my heart and hope to die.’