The last time I saw my father alive he was strapped to a padded prison gurney, arms outstretched like he was about to be crucified. All the appeals had been filed, and denied. There would be no last-minute stay of execution. He had a catheter in each arm, the IVs already attached. Only one line was needed to get the job done. The second was there purely as a back-up. A monitor counted off the final beats of his heart, the rate a steady, relaxed seventy-five a minute despite the circumstances.
There was a crowd of a couple of dozen witnesses in the viewing gallery. Parents of the victims, prison officials, a man in a crisp no-nonsense suit representing the Governor of California. Everyone was rustling and shifting, getting comfortable for the main feature, but I was only partially aware of this.
My father looked through the thick Plexiglas and the intensity of his gaze cut right into me. At that moment it was just the two of us. I stared back, curious to know what he was thinking. I had met and studied enough psychopaths to know he wasn’t sorry for what he had done, that he was incapable of showing remorse for his crimes.
Over a twelve-year period my father murdered fifteen young women. He abducted them and took them to the wide rolling forests of Oregon, where he set them free and hunted them down with a high-powered rifle. He couldn’t care less about those fifteen girls. To him they were playthings.
I kept my father’s gaze. Held it. His eyes were bright green with a golden yellow halo around the iris. They were exactly like mine, just one of the many genetic traits we share. Looking at him was like looking down a long dark tunnel that led into my future. We’re both five foot nine, slim and overcaffeinated, and we both have bright snow-white hair, the result of a rogue gene somewhere in our ancestry. My hair had turned when I was in my early twenties, my father had been even younger.
There were three main reasons he managed to keep killing for so many years. First off, he had the intelligence to stay one step ahead of the people hunting him. Secondly, he had one of those faces that was instantly forgettable, a face that merged into the crowd. The third reason was hair dye. It didn’t matter how forgettable your face was if you had instantly recognisable hair.
The brief smile that flickered across my father’s lips was there and gone in a fraction of a second. It was a cruel smile. A bully’s smile. He mouthed three words and my lungs and heart froze in my chest. Those three words spoke directly to a secret part of me, a part I’d kept well hidden, even from myself. He must have seen something change in my expression because he fired another of those brief cutting smiles, and then he shut his eyes for the final time.
The prison governor asked if there were any last words, but my father just blanked him. He asked again, gave my father almost a whole minute to respond and then, when he didn’t, signalled for the execution to begin.
Pentobarbital was pumped through the catheter first, the anaesthetic working quickly, rendering him unconscious within seconds. Next, he received a dose of pancuronium bromide, which paralysed his respiratory muscles. Finally, he was injected with potassium chloride to stop his heart. Six minutes and twenty-three seconds later my father was pronounced dead.
Behind me, the mother of one of the victims was sobbing openly and being comforted by her husband. The woman had the glassy-eyed stare of the self-medicated. She wasn’t alone in her chemical lethargy. A glance around the gallery confirmed that. The legacy left behind by my father was long and hard and filled with a misery that would echo far into the future. The father of another victim whispered under his breath that he’d gotten off too easily, a sentiment shared by most of the people in the viewing gallery. I’d seen the crime-scene photographs and read the autopsy reports, so I wasn’t about to disagree. Each one of those fifteen girls had suffered a slow, terrifying death, a death that was the polar opposite of my father’s.
I filed out with everyone else and made my way to the parking lot. For a time I just sat in my rental car, the key dangling from the ignition, and tried to shake the fog filling my brain. Those three words my father mouthed were playing on an endless loop inside my head. I knew he was wrong, knew that he was just screwing with my head, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a shred of truth in there. And if that was the case, what did that make me? We build the foundations of our lives on faultlines and shifting sand, and in his last moments my father had managed to send a Richter-nine quake rattling through mine, destroying everything I’d held as right and true.
I turned the key, put the car into gear and headed for the airport. My flight to Washington, DC, left at six thirty the next morning, but I never made it. Instead, I drove past the turning to the airport and just kept going, all the way back to Virginia. There was no real hurry. I wasn’t expected back at Quantico until the next week, but that didn’t stop me wanting to get the hell out of California as fast as possible, to keep moving.
The static soul-sucking limbo of an airport departure lounge was something I could definitely live without. Minutes crawling into hours, hours crawling into days, days crawling into years. That’s what I told myself as the speedometer needle crept higher, and it was the truth, albeit a small part of a much larger truth. The real truth was that I was trying to outrun those three words. The problem was that it didn’t matter how far I drove, or how fast, I couldn’t escape them.
Even now, almost eighteen months on, those three words still haunt me, jumping into my head when least expected. Time and memory have warped those mouthed shapes into my father’s lazy Californian drawl, the same easy voice he used to charm his victims. I can hear him now as clearly as if he was sat right next to me.
We’re the same.
The woman in the hospital bed could have been dead. She should have been dead. The only reason I knew she was alive was because of the soft, insistent beep of the heart monitor and the gentle rise and fall of her blankets. Her face was slack. Emotionless. This wasn’t the deep relaxation that came with sleep, it was more like the relaxation that came with death, like all the muscles in her face had been permanently switched off. I could have been looking at a corpse on a mortuary slab, or a body dumped in a lonely woodland, but I wasn’t. A part of me wished I was.
Detective Inspector Mark Hatcher looked down at the sleeping woman and muttered a heartfelt ‘Jesus Christ’ under his breath. He stared at her like he was hypnotised. An occasional shake of the head, a sigh, small gestures that spoke volumes. I’d first met Hatcher on a profiling course I’d run at Quantico for overseas police forces. He’d stood out from the crowd because he had been on the front row for every single lecture, and he wouldn’t shut up with the questions. I liked Hatcher then, I liked him now. He was one of Scotland Yard’s finest. Anyone who could stare into Nietzsche’s abyss for thirty years and still feel something was all right in my book.
But those years hadn’t been kind. They’d sucked all the colour from him, all the joy. His hair was grey, as was his skin, his outlook. He possessed a particular brand of cynicism you only found in cops who’d been on the job too long. His sad hound-dog eyes told the whole sorry story. They’d witnessed more than anyone should ever have to.
‘Patricia Maynard is the fourth victim, right?’ A rhetorical question, but one that needed asking to pull Hatcher back into the room.
‘That’s right.’ Hatcher let out a long, weary sigh and shook his head, then turned and looked me straight in the eye. ‘Sixteen months I’ve been chasing this bastard, and do you want to know the truth? The truth is that I don’t think we’re any closer to catching him than we were back at the start. It’s like Snakes and Ladders, except someone’s stolen all the bloody ladders and every other square has a snake’s head on it.’ Another sigh, another shake of the head. ‘I thought I’d seen everything, Winter, but this is something else.’
That was an understatement. There was no limit to the horrors serial criminals dreamt up, but even I had to admit this was new, and I have seen everything. There were some things worse than death, and Patricia Maynard was living proof of that.
I looked at her lying there in that claustrophobic private room, wired up to all those machines, an IV plugged into the catheter in the back of her hand, and it crossed my mind again that she would be better off dead. I knew exactly how I’d do it, too. Unplug the IV tube and use a syringe to pump air into the catheter.
The embolism would hit the right side of the heart first and from there it would travel to the lungs. The blood vessels in the lungs would constrict, raising the pressure in the right side of the heart until it was high enough to push the embolism to the left side. From there it had access to the rest of the body through the circulatory system. If it got lodged in the coronary artery it would cause a heart attack. If it reached the brain, it would cause a stroke.
A neat, simple solution. Unless someone looked really hard, the risk of doing prison time was minimal. And nobody would look too hard. Experience has taught me that people tend to see what they want to see. Over the last three and a half months Patricia Maynard had been held captive and put through hell. And if she died now? Well, we’d all want to believe her body had finally given up, and that would be that. Case closed.
‘DNA?’ I asked.
‘Enough to tie her to the other three women, but nothing that gave a hit on our database.’
‘Anything new on the unsub?’
‘The unknown subject,’ said Hatcher. ‘You know, I think the last time I heard that one used was on TV.’ He shook his head. ‘Nope, nothing new on the unsub.’
‘So basically we have four victims who aren’t talking, and absolutely no idea who the bad guy is.’
‘That about sums it up.’ Hatcher sighed. ‘We need to find him before he gets his hands on someone else.’
‘Not going to happen. After the first victim was dumped two months passed before the second abduction took place. Only seventy-two hours passed between the dumping of victim number three and Patricia Maynard’s abduction. Usually there’s a cooling-off period, a time where the unsub’s fantasies are strong enough to hold him in check. With this guy the fantasies no longer work. They’re a poor substitute for the real thing, and he’s got far too used to the real thing. This unsub is escalating. Patricia Maynard was found two nights ago, so my guess is that he’ll kidnap the next one tonight.’
‘Just what I need. More bad news.’ Hatcher sighed again and rubbed at his tired face. ‘So what’s the good news, Winter? Because you’d better have some. After all, that’s what I brought you in for.’
‘The good news is that the more he devolves, the more likely it is that he’ll make a mistake. The more mistakes he makes, the easier it’ll be to catch him.’
‘That’s fine in theory. The problem is there’s a woman out there who’s about to come face to face with her worst nightmare and there’s absolutely nothing I can do to stop that. My job is to protect these people.’
There was no response to that. I’d been in Hatcher’s shoes plenty of times and knew exactly what he was feeling right now. The helplessness, the need to do something when you didn’t have a clue what that something was. The anger was the hardest thing to deal with, though. Anger at yourself for not solving the puzzle, anger at a world where those puzzles even existed.
For a while we stood in a respectful silence and watched Patricia sleep. The heart monitor beeped, the bedcovers rose and fell, and the clock on the wall counted off the seconds.
Patricia was twenty-eight, brown-eyed, brunette. The second detail wasn’t apparent because her eyes were swollen shut, and the last detail wasn’t apparent because the unsub had shaved her head. The skin around her eyes was bruised, and her scalp was a shiny smooth pink dome under the bright hospital lights. There wasn’t even a hint of stubble, which meant this had been done recently, probably in the hours before she was dumped. There was no way this was the first time the unsub had done this to her. This guy got off on humiliation, pain and torture.
I’d interviewed dozens of murderers in an attempt to get an insight into the impulses that drove them. I had made it my business to try to understand why one human being would hurt another for pleasure. But I was having a tough time getting my head around the fact that Patricia Maynard had been lobotomised.
Cardiopulmonary functions are controlled by the medulla oblongata, a part of the brain that hadn’t been affected when Patricia was lobotomised. For as long as she lived, her medulla oblongata would keep her lungs pumping and her heart beating. Patricia wasn’t even thirty yet. She could easily live for another forty or fifty years. Half a century trapped in a twilight prison, completely reliant on others for help in every aspect of her life, unable to feed herself or go to the bathroom, unable to string a thought or a sentence together. It didn’t bear thinking about.
‘And there’s no scarring on the skull?’ Another rhetorical question, this one necessary because I needed to find my way back into the room.
‘That’s because access to the brain was gained through the eye sockets.’ Hatcher was still staring at Patricia Maynard. ‘You seen enough, Winter?’
‘More than enough.’ I was staring, too. I couldn’t help it. ‘Okay, our next stop’s St Albans. I need to talk to Graham Johnson.’
‘Is that necessary? My people have already interviewed him.’
I tore my eyes away from Patricia Maynard and looked at Hatcher. ‘And I’m sure your people did a wonderful job. But it was Johnson who found Patricia, which means there are only two degrees of separation between him and the unsub. And since our victims aren’t saying much, that’s the closest I’m going to get to him right now. So yeah, I want to talk to him.’
‘Okay. Let me make a call. I’ll find someone to drive you.’
‘And how much time will that waste? It would be better if you drove.’
‘No can do. I’m expected back at the office.’
‘You’re the boss. You can do whatever the hell you want.’ I grinned. ‘Come on, Hatcher, it’ll be fun.’
‘Fun! You know, Winter, you’ve got a pretty warped idea of what constitutes fun. Fun is a twenty-year-old blonde. Fun is partying all night on a billionaire’s yacht. What we do is not fun.’
‘You know your problem, Hatcher? You’ve got too used to pushing a desk. When was the last time you did any real police work?’ I grinned. ‘Come to think about it, when was the last time you did a twenty-year-old blonde?’
Hatcher let out another long, tired sigh. ‘I’ve got to get back.’
‘And I’ve just flown across the Atlantic to help save your ass. And did I mention it’s thirty-six hours since I last saw a bed?’
‘And that’s emotional blackmail.’
Hatcher sighed again. ‘Okay. I’ll drive.’
Hatcher drove fast and careful, the needle flickering around ninety and rarely dipping below eighty. We were headed north up the M1, an urban corridor on the outskirts of London. The motorway was flanked by dismal grey buildings that were made even more depressing by the dull December light.
Christmas was less than a week away but even the coloured fairy lights twinkling behind the windows we passed failed to brighten up the day. It was mid-afternoon, an hour before sundown, and the slate-grey sky was filled with dark storm clouds. According to the news reports, snow was on the way and people were already betting on whether or not it was going to be a white Christmas. I could understand the appeal of gambling but I didn’t understand the appeal of snow. It was cold, wet and depressing. At heart I would always be a Californian. I crave sunshine the way an addict craves crack.
‘I really appreciate you agreeing to take the case,’ said Hatcher. ‘I know how busy you are.’
‘Glad to be here,’ I said. No you don’t, I thought. And that was the truth. Right now I could be in Singapore or Sydney or Miami. Hot, sunny places. Instead I was in London on an icy December day, fighting off frostbite and hypothermia and wondering when the blizzard was going to hit.
I only had myself to blame. The main benefit of being your own boss was that you got to call the shots. I’d chosen to be in London for the simple reason that this case was unusual, and unusual made it interesting, and interesting was one of the few things that could trump sunshine.
Since quitting the FBI I’d travelled the world hunting serial criminals. Every day brought a new request for help, sometimes two or three requests. Choosing which cases to work was tough since declining a case could mean a death sentence for someone, often more than one someone since serial killers tend to keep going until they’re stopped. This dilemma gave me plenty of sleepless nights during my FBI days. I slept better now, but that was the combination of sleeping pills, whisky and jet lag.
Unfortunately there was never going to be a shortage of monsters to hunt down. That was the way it had been since for ever, all the way back to when Cain murdered Abel. Serial criminals were like weeds. When you caught one another dozen sprang up to take their place. Some people believed there were as many as a hundred serial killers operating in the US alone. And that was just the killers. This figure didn’t account for the arsonists or the rapists or any of those other monsters whose only goal in life was to bring pain and suffering into the lives of others.
I’d been your archetypal G-Man when I was with the FBI. A sharp suit, shoes spit-shined until they shone like mirrors, hair cut into a neat short back and sides. My hair was black back then, dyed so I wouldn’t stand out. Put me in a line-up with a thousand other agents and I would have blended right in.
These day I’m more relaxed about my appearance. The starched white shirts and stiff suits have gone, replaced with jeans and dead-rock-star T-shirts and hooded tops. The shiny shoes have been swapped for comfortable, scuffed working boots. The dye ended up in the trash. I might not look as smart as I used to, but I felt a damn sight more comfortable. Those G-Men suits were like straitjackets.
‘What are your first impressions?’ Hatcher glanced over at me, one hand on the wheel, the needle pushing a hundred.
‘There are only two ways this guy’s going to stop. You catch him or he dies. Either from causes natural or unnatural. He likes what he does too much to stop on his own.’
‘Come on, Winter, this isn’t some rookie you’re talking to here. That description covers ninety-nine point nine per cent of serial criminals.’
I laughed. Hatcher had got me there. ‘Okay, how about this? When you catch him, he’s not going to come in easily. This one’s a prime candidate for suicide by cop.’
‘What makes you say that?’
‘Prison would kill him.’
‘This guy’s all about control. He controls every aspect of his victims’ lives. What they wear, what they eat, everything. He couldn’t handle having that control taken away. Suicide by cop would appeal to him because he would be choosing the time and place of his death. In his mind, he’d still be in control.’
‘Let’s hope you’re wrong about that.’
While Hatcher drove, I went over the details of Patricia Maynard’s kidnapping in my head. I would have liked more information, but that’s nothing new. It doesn’t matter how much information you’ve got, it’s never enough.
According to the police reports, Martin Maynard had reported his wife missing on August twenty-third, and in doing so made himself the prime suspect. Most murders are committed by someone known to the victim. A spouse, a relative, a friend. At that point, this wasn’t a murder investigation, but the cops were covering their bases.
Martin Maynard had had a string of affairs and the couple had been seeing a therapist in a last-ditch attempt to save a marriage that should have been signed off as terminal a long time ago. Add in a sizeable life insurance policy and there was plenty of motive. Murder was the logical conclusion.
After forty-eight hours of questions Martin Maynard was free to go. The cops kept an eye on him over the intervening months, but again, this was more about covering bases, and asses. When the cops assembled the puzzle pieces of Patricia Maynard’s last movements, they established that she had gone missing some time during the evening of August twenty-second.
Martin’s alibi was rock-solid and came in the form of his secretary, a woman he’d sworn to Patricia he was no longer seeing. On the night she disappeared he was supposed to be in Cardiff on business, but was actually still in London with his secretary. Hotel records and eyewitness accounts backed up his story.
For the next three and a half months, nothing. No ransom note, no telephone demands, no body. Patricia Maynard had disappeared off the face of the planet. Everyone assumed she was dead, then, two nights ago, she turned up in a park in St Albans, a small cathedral city situated thirty minutes north of London. She was disorientated and non-communicative, unable to answer even the most basic questions. Graham Johnson had been walking his dog, and found her wandering alone. He called in the local police, and they quickly identified their Jane Doe as Patricia Maynard. She was transferred to St Barts Hospital in London and Hatcher took over the case.
During her three and a half months in captivity, Patricia Maynard had been repeatedly tortured. Her body was covered in scars and bruising, some old, some new. This unsub liked to play with knives, and the tox screen showed that he used drugs to keep Patricia awake and hypersensitive while he had his fun. He had cut her fingers off one at a time, all except the ring finger on her left hand. The stumps were neatly cauterised. Curiously, he had avoided damaging her face, and even more curiously, there were traces of make-up that hadn’t been properly wiped off. Another interesting point: aside from her injuries, Patricia was in pretty good shape. Her weight was appropriate for her height and build, and there were no signs of dehydration.
We reached the turn for St Albans and Hatcher hit the indicator and swerved left onto the off-ramp. Five minutes later we were driving through St Michael’s, a part of the city made up of rickety terraces of little picture-postcard houses and larger properties that must have cost a small fortune. We drove past four bars. Too many for the number of houses, not to mention the demographic those houses represented. The area had tourist written all over it.
The cold hit me the second I got out the car. It was like charging head-first into a wall of solid ice. I was wearing my thickest jacket. Sheepskin on the inside to keep in the warmth, and waterproofed suede on the outside to keep out the worst of the wind and the wet. I could have been wearing shorts and a T-shirt for all the good it was doing. I lit a cigarette and Hatcher gave me a dirty look.
‘We’re outside,’ I said. ‘I’m not breaking any laws.’
‘Those things will kill you.’
‘So will a lot of things. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow.’
‘Or you could get diagnosed with lung cancer and die a slow, lingering, painful death.’
I flashed Hatcher a tight grin. ‘Or maybe not. My great-grandpa smoked two packs a day and lived to be a hundred and three. Let’s hope I take after him, eh?’
Graham Johnson’s house was opposite the Six Bells. Like all the other houses along this stretch the front door opened directly onto the sidewalk. One of Hatcher’s people had phoned ahead, so Johnson was expecting us. The living-room curtain fluttered down as we walked up to the house, and the door swung open before Hatcher had a chance to hit the bell. Johnson stood in the doorway, a Jack Russell yapping and bouncing hyperactively around his ankles. He was average height, average build, and his head brushed the top of the low doorframe.
According to the police reports, Johnson was seventy-five, and every single one of those years was etched into the lines that creased his worn, worried face. What little hair he had left was as white as mine and there were large bags under his rheumy blue eyes. He moved fluidly for his age, though, no stiffness despite the fact it was thirty degrees outside. Regular exercise rather than vitamins and joint supplements. Johnson didn’t strike me as someone who would go down the vitamin route.
‘Come on in.’
Johnson stepped aside to let us into the living room. The dog was going nuts, yapping and twirling and chasing his tail. The old guy shouted a sharp ‘Barnaby, quiet!’ and the dog shut up and bounced onto a chair, a guilty look on its face. I crushed my half-smoked cigarette out on the sidewalk and followed Hatcher inside. The dog’s eyes followed us across the room. Johnson ushered us towards the sofa and we sat down. The small fire burning in the grate warmed the room and cast a cosy orange glow.
‘Can I get you anything?’ he asked. ‘Tea? Coffee?’
‘A coffee would be great,’ I said. ‘Black, two sugars, thanks.’
Hatcher declined, and the old guy disappeared into the kitchen. I settled back on the sofa and checked out the room. My initial impression was that it was preserved like a museum exhibit. I’d noticed Johnson’s wedding ring when he answered the door, and I’d also noticed that the living room had been decorated by a woman. What I hadn’t noticed was a wife.
There were dusty ornaments on every spare surface, faded floral cushions on the chairs and sofas, faded floral curtains at the windows. An ancient framed wedding photograph had pride of place on the mantelpiece, and there were family photos everywhere, lots of smiling kids and grandkids. The hairstyles and clothes dated the photographs, with the most recent being about four years old. That’s when Johnson’s wife must have passed away.
Johnson came back with two steaming mugs of coffee, handed me one, then settled down in the chair next to the fireplace. My coffee was strong and packed with caffeine. Just how I liked it.
‘Can you tell us how you found Patricia Maynard?’ Hatcher asked.
‘That was her name then,’ he said. ‘You know, I must have spoken to a dozen policemen since Monday night and no one bothered to tell me her name. Then again, I didn’t ask, so I guess it’s my fault as much as theirs. It doesn’t seem right, though. Not finding out what she was called.’
‘Mr Johnson,’ said Hatcher.
The old guy snapped back into the here and now with a visible start. ‘Sorry,’ he said.
Hatcher waved the apology away. ‘Can you tell us what happened?’
‘I was taking Barnaby out for his late-night walk. This would have been about ten. I take him out the same time every night. I actually take him out to the park two or three times a day. If I didn’t he’d wreck the house.’
‘This was to Verulamium Park, right?’
‘That’s right. Verulamium Park. You probably passed the entrance on the way here. Anyway I got to the end of the lake and that’s when I saw the woman. The reason I noticed her was because I thought she was about to go into the water.’ He stopped and drank some coffee. ‘Look, I don’t mean to be rude but I’ve already told the police all this. I don’t mind going over it all again, but I can’t help feeling I’m wasting your time.’
‘You’re not wasting our time.’ I glanced over at the Jack Russell. ‘I’d like to try something if you’re up for it. Do you think Barnaby would like to go for a walk?’
The dog’s ears pricked up when he heard the word ‘walk’. He jumped off his chair and started barking and twirling, pirouetting like a circus dog. Johnson laughed. ‘I think you can take that as a yes,’ he said.
It took us five minutes to walk to Verulamium Park, long enough to smoke a cigarette from tip to butt. Barnaby bounced all the way there, straining on his lead, half choking himself to death, and acting like this was the most exciting thing ever. Dark was descending fast and the streetlamps glowed a sickly sulphurous yellowy-orange in the heavy half-light. The snow wasn’t far off and the air had a choking damp feel. I pulled my jacket in tighter to ward off the chill but it didn’t help. The cold of a damp British winter day could penetrate an arctic suit.
‘Do you do the same walk every time?’ I asked Graham Johnson.
The old guy shook his head. ‘We’ve got a number of routes we take. It depends on the weather, how much time we’ve got, that sort of thing. It’s a big park.’
It was a big park. Off to the right, acres of grassland stretched as far as I could see, empty soccer fields marked out white on grey. The cathedral was off to the left, perched imposingly on a distant hill. Up ahead was a small lake that was separated from the main lake by a humpback bridge. Ducks and swans bobbed on the water, oblivious to the cold.
It was also dark and deserted, making it the perfect place for the unsub to dump Patricia Maynard.
‘The night you found Patricia Maynard, which way did you go?’
Johnson pointed towards the cathedral side of the main lake. ‘We did a quick anticlockwise walk around the lake.’
‘And where did you see Patricia Maynard?’
The old guy pointed to the far end of the lake.
‘Okay, let’s go.’
It took another five minutes to walk there. I got Johnson to sit down on an empty bench, then sat beside him. Barnaby was straining on the end of his lead, yapping and scratching at the concrete, desperate to get free so he could catch a duck. I glanced up at Hatcher, who quickly got the message. For this to work, the fewer distractions Johnson had the better. Hatcher took hold of Barnaby’s lead and walked out of earshot.
A cognitive interview differs from a standard interview in that you’re trying to get the subject to revisit the scene by reliving the feelings and impressions that were imprinted at the time. Rather than hitting the event head-on, you circle around it, looking at it through the different senses. The memories this evokes have been found to be much more reliable than those retrieved through the usual interview techniques. Strictly speaking, I didn’t need to bring Johnson back here, but since we were just around the corner I didn’t see the harm.
‘I want you to close your eyes, Mr Johnson, and then I’m going to ask you some questions. Try not to censor your answers. I don’t care how crazy they might seem, just say whatever comes into your head.’
Johnson looked at me sceptically.
‘It’s okay. I’ve done this before.’
Johnson gave another sceptical look then shut his eyes.
‘I want you to think back to Monday night. You’re taking Barnaby out for a walk like usual. What time is it?’
‘Around ten. I always take him out around ten.’
‘Before or after?’
The old guy’s face creased with concentration, then relaxed. ‘It was after ten. I’d just finished watching a TV programme. The news was about to start.’
‘What’s the weather like?’
‘Describe the rain. Is it heavy? Light?’
‘It’s one of those misty, drizzly rains. You know the sort I mean. It doesn’t seem heavy but you end up soaked.’
‘Is the park busy?’
‘In that weather and at that time of night?’ Johnson shook his head. ‘No, it’s just me and Barnaby. And Patricia, of course.’
I ignored the mention of Patricia Maynard because I wasn’t ready to go there yet. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘A bit annoyed to tell the truth. I’d taken the car to the garage earlier and been hit with a six-hundred-pound bill. Now I was out walking my dog in the rain. I’d had better days, let’s put it that way.’
‘What can you smell?’
‘Damp dirt. Wood smoke coming from my clothes.’
‘What can you see?’
‘The cracks in the footpath. I’ve got my head down to stop the rain getting in my face.’
‘Are you walking quickly or slowly?’
‘Quickly. I just want to get home out of the rain.’
‘What’s Barnaby doing?’
A smile. ‘Pulling my arm off like usual. If he wasn’t on a lead he’d be in that lake in two seconds flat.’
‘How do you become aware of Patricia?’
‘Something catches my eye. A movement from the path at the far end of the lake that leads down from the Fighting Cocks.’
The old guy gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head and I glanced in the direction he’d indicated. Even in the late afternoon half-light the dark, narrow path didn’t look inviting.
‘How’s she moving?’
‘Unsteadily. She’s weaving like she’s drunk. My first thought was that she’d had one too many at the Fighting Cocks. I don’t want to stare, but you know how it is when you see an ambulance parked up at the side of the road. It’s impossible not to look over, right? Anyway, I watch her weave out of the trees, and it strikes me as odd that she’s on her own. There’s no sign of a boyfriend. No girlfriends, either. It’s dark and late. This is no place for a woman to be on her own. I watch more closely because she’s got me worried and that’s when I notice she’s headed straight for the lake. I run over and just manage to grab her arm in time and spin her away. If she’d gone into the lake at this time of year she would have ended up with hypothermia.’
The rest of the story had been in the police reports. Johnson had tried to talk to her and when she didn’t respond he’d taken her to the Fighting Cocks and got the bar owner to call the police. Graham Johnson was the first person I’d met in ages who didn’t own a cellphone, a relic from a long-gone era.
‘I want you to back up a couple of steps, Mr Johnson, think back to when you first become aware of Patricia. I don’t want you to say anything, I just want you to picture the scene in your mind. Picture it as clearly as you can, every single detail, no matter how small or insignificant. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel?’
I gave Johnson a few moments then told him to open his eyes. The old guy had a strange look on his face.
‘What is it?’ I asked.
‘You’re going to think I’m paranoid.’
‘Paranoid or crazy, I don’t care. I want to hear what you’ve got to say.’ I smiled reassuringly, waited for him to smile back. ‘So what happened? Were you abducted by aliens and transported up to the mother ship?’
Johnson’s smile didn’t last long. The old guy’s face turned serious, and a little fearful. He pointed to a shadowy clump of trees and bushes off to his right. When he spoke, it was with absolute certainty. There was no doubt he believed every word he was saying.
‘Someone was watching us from over there.’