High Moor 2: Moonstruck. First Chapter
HIGH MOOR 2: MOONSTRUCK by Graeme Reynolds
26th October 1996. Böhmerwald Forest, Germany. 18.06.
Megan leaned against the window and watched the sky darken above the silhouetted outline of the forest. She let out an exaggerated sigh and stomped back into the cabin’s main living area with her arms folded, flopping down on the threadbare sofa. “It’s not fair, Marie. Why couldn’t I go with Connie, James and Isaac?”
Marie stood in the kitchen area, slicing vegetables for the evening meal. “You know why. Because your Mam and Dad said so. Now stop your moaning and get me the tinned tomatoes from the pantry.”
Megan groaned, got up from the sofa and shuffled towards the cupboard where the food was stored. “Well, can’t I at least go outside and play before dinner. I won’t go far.”
“No, and you know the reason for that as well.”
A shadow passed across the young girl’s face. “Because of the bad man?”
Marie put down the knife and turned to face her, then crouched so that their eyes were level. “Yes. Because of the bad man. It’s dangerous out there, Megan, and I promised Connie that I’d take care of you while her and your Dad are out getting food.”
The girl’s brow creased. “The bad man will never find us all the way out here, though, will he? Not this far in the woods.”
“I hope not, Megan. I really do.”
“Marie, when can we go home? I don’t like it here. My bedroom smells and I miss my friends.”
Marie turned her head so that Megan wouldn’t see the damp sparkle of tears in her eyes, but couldn’t control the waver in her voice when she spoke. “We can’t go home, sweetie. Not back to where we were. The others will find a new place for us to be safe, but until then we need to stay out of sight. Do you understand?”
Megan put on her most serious face. “I think so. Do you miss them? Michael and the others?”
She nodded and wiped the moisture from the corners of her eyes. “Yes. I miss them and I’m looking forward to seeing them all again. In the meantime, though, I’m supposed to be making dinner. Do you want to help?”
Megan shook her head and made a face. “No, those vegetables smell like sick. Do I have to eat them?”
“Yes, you have to eat them. If you’re not going to help then go and play with your dolls or something. Your Mam won’t be happy if the food’s not ready when she gets back.”
Megan considered her options for a moment, then turned and ran to her bedroom, slamming the door shut behind her.
Marie couldn’t help but grin. Megan reminded her of herself at that age, and she was beginning to understand what her poor mother had to put up with.
Half an hour later, Marie poured herself a large glass of wine and collapsed on the sofa. The evening meal bubbled away on the stove and she’d cleaned the kitchen area, although Megan was supposed to have helped with that. Now she thought about it, Megan had been very quiet since she’d gone to her room. “Megan, come and help set the table for dinner,” she called to the closed door.
When no response was forthcoming she got to her feet and called again, louder this time. “Megan, I’m not going to tell you again.”
She walked over to Megan’s room and knocked on the door. “Megan, are you alright?”
The front door burst open and slammed against the cabin wall. Connie and Isaac stumbled inside. Connie was holding her husband up. Blood gushed from a huge wound in his chest and bubbled between his lips. Isaac’s eyes were glazed black orbs and he was barely conscious. Connie glared at Marie. “What are ye standing there for ye daft cow, fucking help me.”
The sound of Connie’s voice broke Marie’s trance. She rushed forward, and helped to lay Isaac across the large wooden table in the centre of the room, then closed and bolted the cabin door.
Connie ripped open Isaac’s shirt and choked back a sob. While the entry wound was small, the exit wound was the size of her fist. Blood pumped from the gaping hole in her husband’s back and his eyes rolled up in their sockets. She turned to Marie. “Get me something to stop the blood. Oh God, Isaac, don’t you fucking die on me you tosser.” Marie grabbed a clean white sheet from her bedroom and tore it into makeshift bandages which Connie used to staunch the flow of blood. Then Isaac’s entire body shuddered and he lay still.
Connie scrunched her eyes tight closed and turned away from the body of her husband. Marie put a hand on her shoulder, but she shook it away. When she opened her eyes, the grief had been replaced by a cold fury. “We’ve got to get out of here. He’s found us.”
The realisation hit Marie like a hammer blow. “Where’s James?”
Connie shook her head. “Ah’m sorry. He’s gone. Come on, we need to get going. We don’t have much time.” She looked around the room, then up at Marie. “Where’s Megan?”
“In her room. She went in there to play while I made dinner.”
Connie strode over to her daughter’s bedroom and flung open the door, to find the room empty and the window wide open. She turned back to Marie, her lips curling into a snarl. “Ye were supposed to be watching her, Marie. She’s gone and that fucker is out there, hunting us. If anything’s happened to her, ah’ll tear yer fucking heart out.”
Marie reeled at her friend’s outburst, a wave of guilt and surprise washing over her, and for a moment she didn’t know what to say. She shook the feeling off. “Come on, she won’t have gone far. I’ll check towards the river. You head down to the track. We’ll find her, and then get the hell out of here, okay?”
“Alright, but if anything’s happened to her…”
“I know, now stop wasting time. You can yell at me when we’ve found her.”
Marie unbolted the cabin door and opened it the smallest crack. The woods were dark and silent. The clearing around the cabin shone in the moonlight, but she could see nothing beyond the first row of trees. She listened for any sound that might help them find Megan, or would betray the position of their unseen assailant, but all she could hear was the chill autumn wind whistling through the threadbare branches and, in the distance, the lone cry of a solitary owl hunting. There could be no-one there, or the hunter could have the door fixed in his crosshairs. She had no way of knowing.
As she forced the fear down, Connie shoved past her and darted from the doorway, disappearing into the darkness within seconds.
Marie stepped back into the room and undressed as quickly as she could, throwing her clothes into a crumpled pile on the floor. The change swept through her almost immediately. Blinding pain seared through her as her bones splintered and reformed. Fangs burst through her gums as her jaw elongated into a razor-filled muzzle and her ears elongated. After less than thirty seconds, the woman had been replaced by sleek, muscular, brown-furred monster.
She burst from the open doorway and zigzagged her way across the clearing, until she reached the relative safety of the treeline. The sounds and smells of the forest assailed her senses and as she ran she tried to sort through the myriad sensations.
Connie’s scent was distinct, strong and vibrant with a hint of fear. She sensed a family of deer quivering in a thicket to the North, and the musky odour of a female fox slinking back to her den, hoping to avoid the attention of the predators in its midst. Megan’s scent was vague, seeming to come from everywhere.
Marie knew instantly what the girl had done. She’d masked her true scent by spraying every bit of undergrowth around the cabin, making her scent harder to find among the others. The girl was playing the werewolf equivalent of hide and seek. She let out a small whine of frustration. She couldn’t have picked a worse time to torment her babysitter.
Marie darted through the woods as quickly as she dared, trying to get beyond the range of Megan’s scent markers. Once she was outside the circle, she’d be able to loop around its circumference and pick up the girl’s scent again, or at least she hoped she could.
A shot rang out to the south west and echoed around the trees, before the forest fell silent again. The faintest hint of blood hung in the air. Marie turned towards the gunshot and ran. The trees became a blur and the stench of blood steadily became overpowering, almost sending her wolf into a frenzy before she was able to calm it. She slowed her pace, moving through the forest like a ghost, a soundless mass of hair and muscle. The blood was overloading her sense of smell. Every time she tried to focus on something else, her instincts brought her right back to it.
As she drew close, she crouched in a patch of bracken and strained her senses to no avail. The stench of the fresh blood saturated her mind and her wolf snarled in the back of her psyche, eager to resume the hunt. It was no use. She’d have to get closer and hope the hunter did something to betray his location.
She reached the edge of the bracken and lay flat on her belly. Connie lay behind an ancient oak tree, clutching her left leg in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Part of her thigh muscle had been blown off and fresh blood pumped around her fingers, glistening black in the moonlight.
She looked up and her eyes met Marie’s. Connie shook her head, almost imperceptibly and nodded in the direction of a thick patch of brambles a few hundred feet away. Megan lay at the edge of the clearing, just before the bramble thicket. A silver bear trap gripped her rear leg and Marie could see the white gleam of bone through her blood-soaked fur.
Megan sensed Marie and her tail thumped on the ground, despite her agony. Marie let out a low warning growl and tried to locate the hunter. Her senses were still clouded, but a change in the direction of the wind brought another scent to her. Human sweat against metal and wood. Beyond the brambles in a makeshift hide.
She thought of Isaac, lying dead in the cabin, and James, who’d looked out for her when she first joined the pack and had become her lover, now a corpse somewhere in the forest. She felt a cold rage build inside her. If Connie and little Megan were to have any chance of survival, she needed to eliminate the threat. She moved away from the clearing, back into the woods. Circling the hidden hunter. Imagining the taste of his blood in her mouth.
The scent became stronger, tinged with fear and anticipation. The bastard knew that there were other werewolves in the area and he was waiting for them to stumble into his trap, oblivious to the fact that the game had changed and he was now the prey.
A thick, sharpened branch slashed out from the darkness and plunged into her side, pinning her against a fallen tree. She yelped in agony and tried to pull herself free as the wound healed around the makeshift trap, but it was no use. She wasn’t going anywhere.
The hunter broke cover and moved through the undergrowth, keeping his rifle aimed at her. He moved past Megan, whimpering in the bear trap, towards the tree where Connie lay. He stepped around the tree in a wide arc, with the weapon covering his approach. As he rounded the tree, his shoulders sagged. “Son of a bitch.” He scanned the undergrowth for signs of movement, then turned back to Megan and removed an ornate pistol from his jacket.
Megan had reverted to her human form and looked up at the approaching hunter with tear filled eyes. “Please, Mister. Please don’t hurt me. I just want to go home. I just want to…”
The hunter paused and appeared uncertain, then he shook his head, aimed the pistol at the young girl and shot her between the eyes. Blood and brains sprayed across the mouldering leaves of the forest floor, and Megan slumped to the ground.
Marie screamed and thrashed against the wooden stake embedded in her stomach. The pain was dreadful, but it paled beside her need to tear the hunter into ribbons. The flesh of her abdomen split open and blood poured from the wound, but Marie did not stop. She welcomed the blinding agony and used it to fuel her rage.
The branch tore loose with a wet ripping sound and Marie lurched free of the trap, to stand face to face with the hunter. Steven Wilkinson. The man who had stalked and slaughtered dozens of her kind over the last decade. The monster that had just killed Megan in cold blood.
She hurled herself towards him, giving herself to the animal ferocity of her beast. Feeling it rush through her system like a drug. Letting it take control. She covered the distance in less than a second and leaped into the air in a flurry of teeth, claws and muscle.
Marie didn’t hear the gunshot. She felt herself propelled backwards in mid-leap, to crash to the forest floor. She struggled to rise, but had no strength in her limbs. Her bones cracked back into place, and her thick brown fur retreated into the pores of her skin. She raised her head and saw the face of the hunter, triumphant, then watched as his face contorted into a mask of terror when distant howling echoed through the forest. He turned and looked at her with disgust in his eyes, then he spat on the ground. “Fucking werewolves.” Then he shouldered his rifle and walked away into the woods.
Megan lay a few feet away, and Marie dragged herself over to the body of the young girl. She took one of Megan’s hands in hers, and gently closed the dead girl’s eyes. “I swear to you, Megan. I’ll get him. I’ll find that fucker and I’ll tear his heart out.”
Then, with the last of her strength, she laid her head against Megan’s chest and let the world go dark.
15th November 2008. Newcastle Airport. 10.30
Gregorz leaned back on the hard wooden chair. He watched in amusement as the red-haired woman wove her way through the milling crowds, three large coffees balanced on a brown plastic tray. A small boy darted between the tables, the woman having to lurch to one side to avoid him. She deposited the tray on the table, then sat in the empty seat.
“Ye can get your own bloody coffee next time, Gregorz. If ah have to dodge out the way of another screaming brat, ah’m gonna rip the little shit’s head off.”
The table’s other occupant; a tall, grey-haired man in a business suit, picked up his steaming cup and chuckled. “But I think you’d make an exceptional waitress, Connie. Perhaps you’ve missed your calling in life?”
Connie glowered at him. “Ye can fuck right off, Daniel. Make another comment like that, and ye’ll be wearing that damn coffee. It might even improve your cheap suit.”
Gregorz leaned forward. “Come now, children, playtime is over. We’re here to work. Daniel, have you heard from Oskar’s team?”
Daniel nodded. “They landed at around nine this morning, on the Munich flight. Oskar is assessing the situation, but it’s not looking good. The moonstruck is in police custody, so it’ll be hard for them to get near. Especially before the next full moon.”
Gregorz scratched his chin. “It’s a serious problem, but we have one of our own to deal with. We need to retrieve Marie’s body from the hospital, and make sure that no blood samples or DNA tests survive. If things go well, then we’ll join up with Oskar’s team later on and help them deal with the moonstruck.”
Connie blew the foam from her coffee and took a sip. “Ah don’t see why we’re on corpse cleanup duty. This team’s taken down a lot more moonstruck than Oskar’s, with fewer casualties. We should be taking care of things, while they take what’s left of that stupid bitch Marie back to her brother.”
“We’ve been over this, Connie. Oskar has Gabriela and Troy with him. Michael felt that a more subtle approach was called for. It’s a delicate situation, and we need to be careful not to make things worse than they already are.”
Connie snorted. “Subtle? Is Gabriela going to screw her way to the moonstruck?”
Daniel laughed. “And how would you handle the situation, Connie? With your trademark tact and diplomacy? I suppose you would have us attack the police station head on and simply kill everyone inside?”
Connie shrugged. “What’s wrong with that? Simple, effective and no witnesses.”
Daniel nodded to Gregorz. “See, Connie can be subtle when she feels like it. If you ignore the pile of half-eaten corpses, no one would ever know that we’d been there.”
Gregorz shook his head and let out a sigh, very much aware of the nervous glances they were getting from the other people in the coffee shop. He lowered his voice so that it was barely above a whisper. “That’s enough. Both of you. We need to focus on the task before us. Marie died over twelve hours ago. While I doubt that an autopsy would have been performed yet, they may have taken blood samples for analysis. Connie and I will retrieve Marie’s body from the morgue. Arrangements are in place to ship it back to Russia. Daniel, you will make sure that any evidence is destroyed.”
Connie folded her arms. “Does it not make more sense for Daniel to help shift the dead bitch’s body? Ah’ll take care of the evidence. It’s not like ah haven’t done it before.”
Gregorz sighed. “Okay, Connie. If you are adverse to a little heavy lifting, then Daniel and I will deal with Marie, while you take care of the evidence. But please, no killing. We need to be in and out of this hospital without arousing any kind of suspicion. Can you do that for me?”
Connie took a sip from her coffee and gave Gregorz her sweetest smile. “Why of course. Didn’t you know? Subtle is ma middle name.”
15th November. High Moor Police Station. 13.00.
John wished that he were dead. White hot lances of agony burned into his nerve endings, despite the painkillers. Worse than this though, was the realisation of what he’d lost, and what was going to happen next.
He closed his eyes and held his head in his hands, seeing the same image play across his mind, over and over again. Marie, lying dead on the cold concrete paving slabs, riddled with silver bullets from Steven’s Mac-10. A wave of grief surged up from his stomach, and he fought to hold back the tears.
Oh God, Marie, you stupid cow. If you’d just told me, then we could have avoided all this. You’d still be alive. Malcolm and the others, too. Deep down, John knew that wasn’t true. He realised it as soon as the thought flashed through his mind. Marie might have tried to draw him out, but he was the one that took the bait, infected Malcolm and killed Billy, Simon and Lawrence. He deserved everything that was coming.
John opened his eyes again, unable to bear the memories, and looked around the room. Its floor, ceiling and walls were solid concrete, walls painted a dull olive green and the floor covered with threadbare green carpet tiles. A table was bolted to the floor, as were the chairs, and the only way in or out of the room was through a heavy steel door. The thick floral stench of cheap disinfectant hung in the air like a cloud.
The door opened, and two people, a slightly overweight man in his mid forties, and a younger blonde woman with a severe expression on her face, stepped inside. The man placed an ancient tape recorder on the end of the desk and pressed the record button.
“Interview with John Simpson, tape 1. 15th November 2008. 13.10hrs. DI Fletcher and DC Garner are present in the room, along with the suspect.”
They both sat down, and the man leaned back in the chair. “Good afternoon, John. I’m Detective Inspector Phil Fletcher, and this is my colleague, Detective Constable Olivia Garner. Can I get you anything before we start? Tea? Coffee?”
John shook his head.
“No? Alright, then I suppose we should get down to it. My colleague and I were wondering if you’d like to tell us about what happened last night?”
John raised his head and looked into the other man’s eyes. “Phil, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. How’s Steven? Is he alright?”
DC Garner scribbled something down on a notepad and showed it to her colleague. He nodded and turned back to John.
“Mr Wilkinson is alive, but as I understand it, is critically injured.”
John leaned forward in the chair. He had to ask, even though he knew the answer. “And Marie? Is she…”
DI Fletcher shook his head. “If you’re referring to the young woman that was found at the scene, then I’m sorry but she was pronounced dead on arrival. You say her name was Marie? Marie what?”
John sucked in a breath. Hearing her name was like sandpaper on his soul. His voice cracked when he spoke“…Williams. Her name was Marie Williams.”
DI Fletcher sat back in his chair and interlocked his fingers behind his head. “I have to say, John, it’s not looking too good for you. There were several unregistered firearms found at the scene, including the one that killed Miss Williams, and they have your fingerprints all over them. Not only that, but you were found with half of Mr Harrison’s throat in your mouth, lying naked over his corpse.
“Even possession of a weapon like that Ingram will get you five years, and that’s before we take the deaths into account. So come on, John, why don’t you tell me what happened, so we can sort this mess out?”
John sat back and exhaled a deep breath. “You want to know what happened? Really?”
“No, John. We’re just sitting in here because we like the decor. Why don’t you start from the beginning.”
John managed a lopsided grin, despite the stitches in his face. “Be careful what you wish for, Phil. You might just get it. You want the truth? OK, I’ll give you the truth.”
15th November. University Hospital of Durham. 13.00
Doctor Henry Pearce pushed the pieces of grey meat around his plate without any enthusiasm. The food in the hospital cafeteria was barely edible at the best of times, and judging from the thin gruel on his plate, masquerading as Lancashire Hotpot, today was not one of the good days. Of course, given what he’d witnessed during the autopsy of Malcolm Harrison that morning, he doubted that even a meal in a five star restaurant would have done much for his appetite right now.
The injuries to the corpse had been horrific. In twenty years as a pathologist, he’d never seen anything like it. The police report that accompanied the body stated that the injuries were caused by another man, but everything about the corpse indicated that the terrible wounds were the work of a large animal. Henry honestly could not imagine how another human being would be able to inflict that amount of damage.
The mental image of the eviscerated cadaver caused his stomach to churn, and his mouth filled with the aftertaste of the hotpot. It wasn’t any more appetising coming up than it had going down. He pushed his plate away in disgust, cleared the table and poured the remains of the meal into the waste bin. From the notes he’d been given that morning, this afternoon was not going to be any better either. Gunshot wounds never were. He left the cafeteria, and moved along the cheerfully painted corridors to the elevator that would take him to the basement pathology lab.
The doors slid open, and he stepped out. Here, the bright decoration adorning the public areas was conspicuous by its absence. Instead, cold white ceramic tiles covered the lower part of the walls, while the old beige paintwork above them blistered with age and salt residue from the brickwork. The air smelled thickly of disinfectant and formaldehyde. Harsh fluorescent lighting ran the length of the corridor, buzzing and flickering.
He’d reported the fault to the maintenance department numerous times and so far no one had bothered to come down here to fix it. He’d speak to them again about it, once he’d performed the next autopsy, and his mood was sufficiently foul.
A door swung open, and his assistant, Susan Turnbull, stepped into the corridor. She already wore her hospital scrubs, ready for the afternoon’s procedure.
“How was lunch, Henry? Did they manage to come up with something edible today?”
He shook his head. “Not even close. It was the hotpot again, but I have no idea what meat they put in it. If it was lamb like they claim, the poor thing must have had something very wrong with it. Are we set for this afternoon?”
Susan nodded. “Jenkins brought the body down from the morgue about ten minutes ago. It’s still bagged up, so I’ve not had a chance to see how bad it is yet,” she winked at him, “I thought I’d save the honours for you.”
He groaned. “You’re too kind. I’ll go scrub up, and meet you in the lab. Don’t start without me.”
Susan smiled sweetly at him. “I wouldn’t dream of it, Henry. I don’t want to deprive you of all the fun.”
Five minutes later, Henry entered the pathology lab. The black body bag rested on the metal table in the centre of the room. He sighed, put on a pair of rubber gloves, and waited while Susan turned on the light above the autopsy slab. Steeling himself, he unzipped the bag.
The corpse was in remarkably good condition. He noted several bites and scratches, but it was nowhere near the horror show that he’d been expecting.
“So, we have a female. Mid-thirties. Hmm, the police report says the cause of death appeared to be multiple gunshot wounds, but I can’t see any evidence of that, just several contusions that seem to be from an animal attack,”
Susan pursed her lips in annoyance. “It’ll be that idiot, Jenkins. He’s fucked the paperwork up again. I’m going to put my foot up his arse when we get done here.”
“Well, never mind that now. Let’s see if we can establish exactly how Miss Williams, if that is her name, really did die. Susan, can you pass me the scalpel?”
Henry took the blade and pressed it against the dead woman’s stomach. The scalpel sliced through the flesh easily as he opened her up. Blood welled up from the cut.
Susan looked puzzled. “What’s the matter?”
“Look, she’s bleeding! Dead bodies don’t bleed. This is a living person. Get a crash team down here now, and tell intensive care to get ready to receive a patient, while I sew this incision closed. Then tell that cretin Jenkins that I’d like a word with him in my office.”
15th November. High Moor Police Station. 16.25.
The door to the interview room swung open, disgorging the two police officers into the corridor.
Olivia turned to her boss. “Well, that was quite a story, wasn’t it? Do you believe any of it?”
Phil laughed. “What? That he’s a werewolf? Don’t be daft. Mr Simpson should really check his facts. Last night wasn’t even a full moon. He’s taking the piss out of us, and angling for an insanity plea, that’s all.”
“So what do you think really happened?”
Phil shook his head. “Damned if I know. Given that most of the casualties were naked, I’d guess that it was some sort of sick, drug-fuelled sex act gone wrong.”
Olivia grinned. “You think they were dogging?”
“That’s not funny, Olivia.” He smiled in spite of himself. “OK, maybe a little. I don’t want a word of what he said repeated. There’d be hell to pay if the press got hold of the werewolf angle. Franks would nail both our arses to the wall.”
“Fair enough. So, what do you think we should do next?”
“That’s the question, isn’t it? I want you to go to the magistrates and get a search warrant authorised for John Simpson’s house in High Moor and, while you’re at it, get one for the Wilkinson place as well. I want to have forensics teams in both properties by the end of the day.”
“We might struggle for resources. Do you want to pull one of the teams out of the Harrison house?”
Phil considered this for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, but send some uniforms round to Simpson and Wilkinson’s first. See if there’s anything obvious lying around, but tell them to look and not touch, and not to enter the properties unless there’s a clear means of entry. I don’t want to risk invalidating evidence because we didn’t follow procedure.”
“Okay, boss. What are you going to do?”
“Well, I’m going to get a psychiatrist to do an assessment of Mr Simpson, so we can head off the insanity plea that he’s working up to. We’ll get a blood sample and have them check for drugs. After that I’ll go to the hospital to see if the pathologist can tell me anymore about the casualties and, while I’m there, get an update on Mr Wilkinson’s condition. Apart from Simpson, he’s the only other witness. Maybe, if he survives, we’ll get more sense out of him.”
Olivia nodded. “What about Simpson? We’ve not charged him with anything yet.”
“Speak to the CPS before you go to the magistrates, and see if they think we have enough to get him on something. We’ll need to get him booked into the court for Monday morning so we can get him remanded into custody. In the meantime, ask a couple of the uniforms to stick him back in his cell. Maybe he’ll feel like changing his story after he’s had some time to think about it.”
Olivia nodded. “Okay, but you’ll have to attend the hearing. I’ve got a scan booked at the hospital.”
Phil smiled. “You’re still hardly showing. How far along are you now?”
Olivia put her hand against her stomach. “Almost seven months. I’m hoping she doesn’t take after her father. Matt’s mam says that he was tiny until the eighth month, then piled the weight and size on. Apparently she needed stitches. Not the sort of mental image you want of your mother-in-law. Ever.”
Phil winced. “Thanks for sharing. I’ve met Matt’s mother, remember. Come on, let’s get on with it. I’ve got a meeting with the pathologist in an hour, and the old bugger doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
Susan rubbed her eyes and leant back against cold concrete. The sound of Henry’s voice echoed off the unyielding ceramic tiles. The walls muffled the sound so that the details of his conversation with Jenkins were lost, but she could make out enough to tell her she wouldn’t have changed places with him for anything. Henry’s voice went up another few decibels, meaning she was able to make out some of the words. Idiot seemed to be cropping up on a regular basis, as well as prosecution, criminal negligence and fuckwit.
She massaged her temples. The last few hours had been a blur. No one was certain of the woman’s identity, what was wrong with her, or how she’d ended up on the pathologist’s table when she was clearly still alive. She’d called an emergency medical team and rushed the woman to intensive care. Henry had ordered a battery of tests to try and determine exactly what was wrong, but they would take time that Susan wasn’t sure the woman had. Her vitals were weak, and even in intensive care, they were struggling to keep her stable.
What she needed was a coffee. A real one, not the acrid sludge served up by the vending machine. She turned and began walking to the elevator, when the doors slid open, and three people, two men and a red haired woman, stepped out.
She hurried along the corridor to intercept the strangers. “Excuse me, but you’re not supposed to be down here. This area is off limits to the public.”
One of them, a heavy set man in his forties, smiled and flashed an ID card at her. When he spoke, it was with a thick eastern European accent. “I’m Detective Sergeant Pawlac, and this is my colleague, DC Braun from Durham Constabulary. We’re here with Marie William’s cousin, to formally identify the body. Were you not told that we were coming?”
Susan smiled. “Miss Williams, I’m afraid there’s been something of a mix up. I don’t want to get your hopes up, but there’s a chance that we have some good news for you.”
The woman looked at Susan and wiped a tear from her eye. “What do ye mean?”
“The person brought in last night isn’t dead. She’s in intensive care at the moment, but we aren’t completely certain who she is because her injuries don’t match the police report. If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to her and you can tell us whether she really is your cousin.”
The woman looked at Sergeant Pawlac and raised an eyebrow, then turned back to Susan. “That’s wonderful news. Please, ah need to see her. Ah have to be sure that she’s alright before ah call the rest of the family.”
Susan frowned. The cousin had almost sounded sarcastic. She shook the doubt away. People dealt with things in their own way and anyway, she was Scottish. They always sounded sarcastic. She smiled her best smile and motioned back along the corridor. “Of course, please follow me.”
She walked to the elevator and hit call. The two police officers and the woman followed her into the lift, and she pressed the button for the second floor.
It was large enough to hold a stretcher and a team of medics, and she used it every day, but for some reason a wave of claustrophobia washed over her. Her heart raced and her legs turned to rubber as adrenaline coursed through her system.
Sergeant Pawlac put his hand on her shoulder. “Are you alright?”
Susan flinched at his touch. Waves of gooseflesh surged across her back. “I’m fine, just a little tired.” Standing this close, her nostrils twitched at the smell of the man. Not body odour exactly. An earthy, musk-laden scent that was reminiscent of wet dog. She jumped as her back hit the elevator door. She hadn’t realised that she’d been backing away. She opened her mouth, intending to make a joke of it, when the door slid open and she stumbled out into the corridor.
The claustrophobia faded, although her heart still pounded. Cheeks burning with embarrassment, she straightened her smock and attempted a smile. “Please, follow me. She’s just down here on the right.”
She walked along the corridor as quickly as she could without breaking into a run. For goodness’ sake, Susan, get a bloody hold of yourself. The urge to walk faster surged up from within on another tidal wave of adrenaline, but she crushed the rising panic and forced herself to take steady, measured steps until they reached Marie William’s room. She opened the door, letting it swing open. She put out her hand and motioned for the others to go inside. Her heart fluttered again. For fuck’s sake, what the hell is wrong with me? Susan moved to follow the others, but found herself just standing in the doorway, unwilling to cross the threshold into the dark room.
Marie Williams, or the woman they thought was Marie Williams, lay on the bed with a saline drip attached to her arm. A thick plastic tube ran from the unconscious woman’s mouth to a ventilator by her bedside, while a monitor above her head displayed her blood pressure and heart rate.
Susan reached out and put her hand on the red haired woman’s arm, then recoiled in shock. Her skin was hot. Not warm, actually hot. “Miss Williams? Is this your cousin?”
The red haired woman stifled a sob and pushed past Susan, into the corridor. “Ah’m sorry, ah just…ah just need a moment. “ Then she turned and walked away, back towards the elevator, shuddering with barely suppressed tears.
Detective Constable Braun shrugged his shoulders. “It would have been nice of her to tell us if this woman is her cousin first, but I’m sure she’ll let us know when she comes back. So, tell me, what do you think is wrong with her?”
Susan shrugged. “They’re running some tests now, but they seem to suspect some kind of heavy metal poisoning. Possibly mercury. Is there anything you might be able to tell us about where she was found?”
Inspector Pawlac shook his head. “I’m afraid that I’m not authorised to comment on an ongoing investigation, beyond what was in the report. There’s no need for you to wait. We’ll stay here until her cousin comes back, and when we get a formal identification, we’ll let you know.”
Susan nodded and tried to hide her relief. She really didn’t want to wait in that room with these men, even if they were police officers. “I’ve been meaning to get a coffee. Can I get either of you anything?”
Both men shook their heads, and Susan stepped back from the doorway. She was about to leave, when she remembered something. “Oh, should I tell your colleague that you’re here when he comes down later? He’s with the other one at the minute, but he’s got a meeting with Doctor Pearce afterwards.”
The two police officers exchanged glances, then Inspector Pawlac turned and shook his head. “Oh, don’t worry about that. We’ll catch up with him later, and compare notes back at the station.”
Susan managed a weak smile and then scurried away, towards the hospital cafeteria. She’d never been so relieved to get away from two people before, but she couldn’t have said why.
15th November. University Hospital of Durham. 17.30
Colin Jenkins hunched over the microscope and felt the black cloud of anger well up again, burning behind his eyes until all he wanted to do was storm back into Dr Pearce’s office, and punch him right in his stupid fat nose. I wouldn’t mind, but I didn’t do anything wrong. Out of morbid curiosity, he’d sneaked a look at the corpse when the police brought it in. The woman had been almost cut in half by automatic weapons fire, with exit wounds on her back the size of his fist.
He couldn’t tell Pearce that, though. The cranky old bastard was wound up enough. If he found out his lab tech had been checking out the naked dead girl, then he could kiss his job goodbye.
He refocused the microscope and looked at the blood sample taken from the Harrison man that morning. That can’t be right? The white blood cell count was through the roof, and the red blood cells were stacking in strange groups, in the same way that animal cells sometimes did. The culture was filled with tiny white dots that swarmed through the plasma. He increased the magnification and watched the cells seethe and multiply.
He sat back in the chair. “Shit. The bloody sample must be contaminated.” He slammed his fist down on the desk. “Fuck it! Can nothing go right today? Just for once?” He’d have to do it all again, before Dr Pearce found out.
He removed the slide from the microscope and picked up another one which held the blood of the mystery woman. He placed the glass under the lens and refocused.
“What the hell?”
He placed the slide from Malcolm Harrison back into the microscope, then put the woman’s back in. There was no doubt about it. They both had the same elevated white cell count, and the same cellular infection.
Either both samples were contaminated, or there was something else going on. He reached for the telephone to call Dr Pearce. A hot, slender hand grasped his wrist.
Colin cried out in surprise and almost fell off the chair. He looked at the attractive, red haired woman holding his arm and managed a weak smile. “I’m sorry, you startled me. I didn’t hear you come in. Can I help you with something?”
The woman released his hand and smiled. When she spoke, it was with a soft Scottish accent. “Ah don’t know. Perhaps. Did you find anything interesting in the blood samples from last night’s victims?”
Colin frowned. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. I was just about to call Dr Pearce and get him to take a look. I’m sorry, but, who are you exactly?”
The woman smiled, and turned him around to face her. She reached out and stroked her hands across his cheeks, then grasped the side of his head and twisted. The sound of his neck snapping reverberated inside of Colin’s skull, and a terrible sharp pain flared for a brief moment that seemed like forever. He slumped to the floor, twitching and unable to move or breathe.
As darkness closed in on him, the woman’s voice echoed in his ears. “Who am ah? None of yer fucking business, Pal. Now, where do you keep the bloody ethanol?”
15th November. University Hospital of Durham. 17.28
Phil arrived just as Doctor Adams was leaving Stephen Wilkinson’s room. Phil walked up to him and shook his hand. “Nice to see you again, Bob. How’s the patient?”
Doctor Adams closed the door. “He’ll live.”
“Well, that’s the best news I’ve had all day. Is he in any state to answer questions?”
The doctor shook his head. “Come on, I’ll buy you a coffee.”
Leaving the room they headed for the cafeteria. “Well, Mr Wilkinson isn’t going to be answering any questions for a while, Phil. He’s suffered severe spinal trauma and he’s in a coma. There’s no way of telling when, or even if, he’ll ever come out of it.”
Phil exhaled in frustration. “So much for the good news. I was hoping that he’d be able to tell me what happened out there. The suspect we have in custody isn’t making any sense and he’s the only other person that survived the night.”
“That’s not the interesting part. I saw Mr Wilkinson three weeks ago. I gave him six months to live, and I was being optimistic. Lung cancer. Inoperable and most assuredly terminal. Yet today, there’s no sign of it.”
“Really? How is that possible?”
Doctor Adams shrugged his shoulders. “Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve heard stories about people suffering major trauma and their bodies healing ability going into overdrive, but never with cancer, and never this quickly. Mr Wilkinson will never walk again, and he may end up spending the rest of his life being fed through a tube, but other than that, he’s in perfect health.”
They entered the cafeteria, and joined the queue for the coffee machine, when Phil felt someone touch his shoulder. He turned and saw the assistant pathologist, Susan Turnbull.
“Oh, sorry to disturb you, Inspector Fletcher. Henry is waiting for you downstairs in the pathology lab, and your colleagues said that they’d catch up with you back at the station.”
Phil’s brow furrowed in confusion. “I’m sorry, Doctor Turnbull, but which colleagues were those?”
“Inspector Pawlac and Braun, I think their names were. They’d come in with Miss William’s cousin to identify the body. Of course, I couldn’t wait to tell them the good news.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor Turnbull, but I’m not following you at all. What good news?”
“Well, the news about Miss Williams being alive after all.”
Phil looked at her, open mouthed. He composed himself, and was about to speak when the fire alarm went off.
Susan huffed. “Another bloody fire drill? We only had one last week.”
People detached themselves from the coffee queue, grumbling, and made their way to the fire exit. Phil grabbed Susan’s arm as she turned to leave.
“Miss Williams is alive? Where is she now?”
“She’s up on the second floor, in the trauma unit. Ward 12 , room 2.06. You can’t go there now though; we’ve got to go out to the car park.”
Phil wasn’t listening. He ran from the cafeteria and threw open the door to the stairs. A tide of people flowed past him, hurrying to get downstairs. Thin wisps of smoke drifted up from the basement, and in the distance he could hear the sound of approaching sirens. He fought his way through the crowds until he reached the second floor. He ran to room 2.06 and threw open the door. The monitor by the bedside screamed an alert and the ventilator was still running; however there was no sign of Marie Williams.
Phil stepped into the corridor and ran back to the stairs. Thick, chemical smoke billowed up from the stairwell beneath him. He put his coat sleeve over his mouth in an attempt to filter out the fumes, and made his way down as quickly as he could. He burst out into the crowded foyer and through the double glass doors into the car park.
The cold clean air burned his chest as he sucked it in. As he looked up at the milling crowd of staff and patients in the car park he caught the eye of a beautiful red haired woman. She winked at him, then moved away through the crowds and out of his line of sight.