|Rivers, Creegan, Taylor
|some sex, adult themes, violence
|The OSC team get a new member, and she seems intent on dividing the others. To some extent she’s successful. The team get a new case, involving a serial killer targeting cops. Creegan’s abducted and his friends need to find him and rescue him before it’s too late.
DC Mark Rivers walked into the office, expecting at any minute to run into his colleagues, D I Taylor and D I Dave Creegan. But the minutes ticked by, and neither one of his closest associates showed up. He went for a cup of coffee and asked a few of the guys where Creegan and Taylor might be. All he got were shrugs. Everyone was busy on some case. He might as well go and finish up the paper work from the last case.
But as he was about to sit down at his desk, Creegan walked in, an angry frown on his face. So what else was new? Despite everything, Rivers preferred to deal with Creegan. They could at least talk in a civil manner. Taylor’s usual approach would be to bite his head off and send him out to do some rookie’s work. But he couldn’t help admiring her all the same. She was so tough, and she never seemed to have any problem focusing on the job.
“Anything come up?”
Creegan removed his jacket and tossed it carelessly on to the chair, without looking. It slid to the floor unnoticed.
“Let’s go and have a coffee.”
“I’ve already had mine.”
“Then have another. Or a cup of tea. Or better still – let’s go for a walk. I need to clear my head.”
“Alright. You’d better bring that jacket.”
“What? Oh. What are you waiting for?”
Rivers was wondering if some big case had landed on them, or if there were under investigation for some reason. He’d often seen Creegan this worked up, but usually in the middle of a case, not when they should have been able to relax a bit before the next gruesome case.
Outside, it had begun to rain, but Creegan didn’t seem to even notice. Knowing it would be no use reasoning with his superior officer, Rivers just turned up the collar of his jacket and concentrated on keeping up with Creegan.
“Well? What’s the big secret?”
“No secret. Our Susan just got promoted. Temporarily anyway. She’s filling in for Petersen.”
“Really? To what does she owe that honour?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. And now we’ll get a replacement. Temporarily. But you know what I think? I think this new bloke will be a spy. For the powers that be.”
“Why? What makes you say that?”
“You know how it is. The OSC is constantly under investigation. Give those politicians half an excuse and they’ll shut us down.”
“Let’s hope not. Do you know who he is, the replacement?”
“Not yet. But I expect we will before the end of the day. Can I count on your cooperation?”
“You know you can.”
Creegan fixed Rivers with a penetrating stare, as if assessing his truthfulness, or – this bothered Rivers far more – his usefulness as an ally. He was determined to prove to Creegan that he could pull his weight on the team.
And it seemed Rivers passed muster. Creegan put a hand on his shoulder and nodded thoughtfully.
“Alright. I guess we need to get back to base.”
Once back inside the office, they didn’t have long to wait for their new partner. They could easily follow the newcomer’s progress by the whistles and catcalls. What? For a second, Creegan suspected some crime investigator, or as he liked to call them, a vulture or hyena had come to create a scoop. He wouldn’t stand for it. Whoever she was, and no matter how sexy, he’d –
That was as far as he got in his musings before his jaw dropped down to his knees. And speaking of knees – The apparition before him was stunning. He didn’t think he’d ever seen such a lovely young woman. And the eyes – cool, icy, grey – told him that behind the exquisite facade, a quick, not to say brilliant mind was working.
“D I Creegan?”
“Uh – um – yes. And you are -“
“D I Simmons. I’m here to fill in for D I Taylor.”
Rivers felt no less stunned and jolted by the revelation that the hated and dreaded spy turned out to be this striking-looking woman. It was a while before his mind was back to normal and he was able to remind himself that back home, Hannah was waiting for him and no matter how – Suddenly, he became aware of someone talking to him. D I Simmons was addressing him and here he was, standing about like a stuttering moron. With an effort, he snapped out of his daze.
“Sorry, ma’am. I didn’t quite catch -“
“I said, D C Rivers, I presume?”
“Yes. That’s me.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m looking forward to working with you. Both of you.”
She smiled brilliantly at the two men, who were in no state to accurately assess their own behaviour, let alone analyze the look in the woman’s eyes. D I Simmons, on the other hand, had the situation well under control.
Glancing discreetly at both her new colleagues, she took in their reaction to her, and the precarious, but growing bond between the two men. Pouting slightly, knowing how that particular visual effect usually affected men, and a few women, she decided that this closeness between her new colleagues didn’t suit her purposes at all.
To their surprise, some time after lunch, Taylor walked in, looking like nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. Was she even going to inform her colleagues about what could only be described as a promotion, no matter how temporary?
Creegan couldn’t believe the gall of that woman. First she gets appointed his superior on a case, and now this. Conveniently forgetting that his own track record didn’t really inspire any of the big brass to bestow any promotions on him, he allowed himself to rage silently about the unfairness of life in general, and the policies of the OSC in particular. Finally, he couldn’t take it any more. He pushed his chair back, and stormed over to Taylor’s desk, where she was picking up a few items.
“Hello. Remember me?”
“I’ve hardly had time to forget you since yesterday afternoon, Creegan. What is it now? I’m in a bit of a rush, so -“
“You’re in a rush to replace the big man?”
“I see. News travels fast. Yes, Creegan. I guess we could discuss this now, since you brought it up. Since I will be working upstairs for a while, you and Rivers will have to manage on your own. I’m sure that won’t be a problem?”
“No. No problem. That’s not the point. When were you going to inform us?”
“Now. This afternoon.”
“Yes, really. Are we finished now? Or do I need to go into more detail?”
“How long will I be gone? That depends -“
“On how soon Peterson can recover from his ulcer. Was there anything else?”
“I guess not. Congratulations.”
“What’s your problem, Creegan? You don’t like the idea of a woman being singled out for this kind of thing? Would you rather they brought in some old man from CID or -“
“My problem is – Oh, forget it. Apparently you’ve forgotten what team work means.”
Taylor didn’t think she was hearing Creegan correctly. This from a man who thought team work meant checking in once every other day or so, when he was following up on a lead. The man who would disregard all rules, because he had a hunch?
“I – Oh, never mind. By the time I get back, I hope you’ll have cooled off a bit.”
On her way out, she nodded briefly to Rivers. They had never been close, not like she and Creegan had once been, but at least today, he’d had sense enough to stay out of the discussion.
Though she wasn’t really bothered by Creegan’s outburst, she found herself sidling into the ladies’ room before continuing on her way. While she was washing her face, she heard the door open behind her, and a strange woman walked in. She nodded politely but distantly, thinking as she did so, that the face wasn’t known to her, yet seemed vaguely familiar.
“Hello. Perhaps I should introduce myself. It seems I’ll be filling your shoes for a while at least. D I Simmons.”
“Taylor. Susan. Pleased to meet you.”
“Claire. If you don’t mind my saying so, you were right to tell Creegan off. It seems the old boys’ network is still going strong.”
Taylor took a closer look. She really didn’t have time for, and certainly didn’t want to, bond with her temporary successor. But she didn’t want to appear brusque either. And today of all days, she felt like venting a little. At times, Creegan could be so –
As if reading her predecessor’s mind, Simmons went on with what she’d planned to say.
“In Liverpool, where I worked before, I ran into that sort of thing almost daily. So I can understand what you’re going through. There are times when you feel so frustrated and – I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you want to talk, I’d be happy to -“
“I appreciate it. But they’re expecting me upstairs. So some other time -“
“How about a drink after work?”
Again, Taylor submitted Simmons to a closer scrutiny. She wouldn’t be surprised at all if the newcomer was trying to curry favour with her superior – or at least the woman she might be allowed to replace.
On the other hand, for her own sake, if for no other reason, Taylor knew she ought to take advantage of the opportunity of finding out a bit more about her temporary replacement. And besides, Simmons sounded sincere.
For a second, Taylor almost felt guilty about her petty suspicions. Maybe Simmons was right. Maybe they should – what was that word again – network. Yes. A women’s network to counter the men’s network.
“Why not? About 8, I’m afraid. There’s been a lot piling up during Peterson’s sick leave.”
“No problem. See you downstairs around 8, then.”
By the time Taylor did arrive downstairs, it was closer to 8.30, but Simmons was still waiting, politely. She appeared not to have taken offense.
“As if I didn’t know how these things can drag on almost endlessly. Besides, I don’t have anyplace else I want to be.”
“Look, D I Simmons -“
“Claire. I’m really tired. Let’s make this just one drink, and a bit of a chat. I need to get in here around 7 to catch up.”
“Alright. No problem. I should get an early start tomorrow myself. Make a good impression and so on. You know how it is.”
“Probably a good idea. Stay on top.”
Taylor had been half-joking, but it appeared humour wasn’t in Simmons’ vocabulary. Despite everything, the women did have a good time together, but Taylor didn’t really feel up to any major networking. Not while she was filling the great man’s shoes, as it were.
Still, she felt more at ease around her replacement than before. Simmons had a way of disarming any criticism, and finding whatever she and the person she was facing, had in common. It was a pleasant change from all the banter Taylor was used to from Creegan, and to a lesser degree from Rivers.
In the days ahead, she had little time to worry about her old colleagues, and even less about her replacement. Though it had been understood that she was supposed to check in from time to time, there wasn’t really time for much of that. And she counted on the work to be running smoothly, since she hadn’t been notified of any particular problems.
In the meantime, both Creegan and Rivers were spellbound by their new partner. Where Taylor had been rough around the edges, Simmons was prepared to put a great deal of effort into making sure their team work flowed smoothly.
Her sources had informed her that Creegan was single, and that made things easier. What could be more natural than asking her new partner out for a drink? Of course, the invitation included Rivers, but most of the time, he was in a hurry to get back to Hannah, so Creegan had plenty of time to get to know his new partner intimately.
It wasn’t nearly as easy to get close to Rivers. Simmons found that she had to put to use all her considerable ingenuity. Even then, her talents were severely taxed.
Until one evening, after a particularly gruelling stakeout, shared between the three. Eventually, Creegan had to give it up for the night, having been on watch since the early hours of the morning.
Not five minutes later, their suspect showed up, and the seemingly endless stakeout finally came to an end. Exhausted from the many hours sitting in a cramped space, Rivers was looking forward to returning to his fiancee, but it seemed his new partner wasn’t ready to depart just yet.
Simmons appeared very eager to engage him in conversation, and though Rivers was torn between his wish to return to Hannah and the rules of polite conduct, the fleeting attraction he felt for Simmons won out. He slumped back in his seat and was prepared to listen to whatever confidence the girl was about to bestow on him.
Her smile made Rivers feel uncomfortable, but he couldn’t think of any reason for that. All he could read in her eyes were sympathy, and possibly – he wasn’t all that good at interpreting women’s expressions – some kind of pleading. From the start, if he’d managed to analyze her at all, she’d struck him as being tough as nails. Every bit as tough as Taylor.
And now this look. Not only the look apparently. Now she reached out and placed her hand on his. But he wasn’t quite as much under her spell to leave it there. Instinctively, he pulled his own hand back, as if he’d been burned.
Her face seemed to cloud over and Rivers felt a stab of guilt. She had been reaching out to him and he’d rejected her. Why did he automatically assume she was making a pass at him? He wasn’t nearly as irresistible as that. Not if you asked Creegan certainly. Of course, Rivers would never have dreamed of doing so. But he guessed his older colleague was more of a hit with women than he’d ever be.
“Mark – what is it about me, that makes everyone turn away? Do I make you uncomfortable?”
“Yes. No. Of course not.”
As if she hadn’t noticed his slip, she went on, eagerly, as if she’d long waited for this opportunity to unburden herself.
“You see, when I was working in Liverpool, I – please don’t tell Creegan I told you this – I had an affair with my boss. He was older than me, and such a brilliant police officer. Don’t get me wrong. He was divorced, and I wasn’t seeing anyone else. We didn’t do anything wrong. But somehow – our relationship – our professional relationship – got in the way. Or – And this is what hurts the most – we lost our friendship. He turned away from me, and the connection we had shared before we became lovers was gone. I felt terrible. But that wasn’t all. My colleagues found out. I never told anyone about the relationship and I was sure he hadn’t either. Yet it became common knowledge.”
Rivers didn’t know what to say. He’d never been good with handling emotions. Especially not women’s. But he felt Simmons was expecting an answer and desperately, he tried to think of one.
“D I Simmons -“
“Claire. I don’t know what to say. What happened to you – I’m really sorry. But there’s no reason to believe it will happen again. I’m sure -“
“Oh, but it did. Before and after. I don’t seem to be able to hold on to any man. Mark, I wouldn’t have told you this, if I didn’t feel that you were different. Your fiancee is a very lucky woman. I’ll never have what you two have.”
Here a strangled sob appeared in her voice, and in the fraction of a second before she looked away, Rivers thought he could see tears in her eyes. He felt so helpless. This was a colleague, a partner, yet a stranger.
If it had been Taylor – or worse still Creegan – he still wouldn’t have known what to do. Not that his imagination stretched far enough to envision Creegan or even Taylor with tears in their eyes. Or bestowing confidences on him.
He had hoped his reassuring voice might somehow calm her down, but instead it appeared to have the opposite effect. She flung herself into his arms, and though his initial reaction had been to recoil, he found himself pulling her into an awkward embrace.
Her apparent desolation touched him. He had experienced pain too. Under slightly different circumstances, but still, he knew what she was going through though he was far less demonstrative. But he wasn’t prepared for her next move. She looked up, and seconds later, he felt her lips searching for his. Again, he pulled back, but the pain in her eyes made him hesitate.
In that moment he was lost. Now he felt her hands begin to move across his body, unbuttoning his shirt, opening the belt buckle. He wanted to tell her no, but felt unable to voice his protest. Hannah. Their work. The obvious interest Creegan had shown their new colleague. All that combined told Rivers that he was about to make a big mistake. Yet he could not pull back. And within minutes, his physical reaction overruled all objections.
He hadn’t done this since he was a teenager. Sex in the car had long since lost its appeal. Some time around the time he moved into his own flat. When the initial passion was over, Rivers was overcome with guilt. Heedless of Simmons’ feelings, he disentangled himself and after a frantic scramble for his discarded garments, he fled into the London night.
To begin with, he promptly lost himself in the maze of derelict buildings. It was close to thirty minutes before he finally managed to get his bearings and was able to find an Underground station and make his way back to Hannah. She wouldn’t worry. Knowing he was on a stakeout, she would have no reason to expect him home at this hour, though when his arrival woke her, the sleepy, but warm welcome caused Rivers to back out of the room again, and seek refuge in the bathroom.
“I’ll be right back. Just need the loo.”
By the time he finally dared venture outside again, after making sure there were no telltale lipstick mark, or worse, Hannah had slipped back into sleep. Now Rivers’ clothes with whatever incriminating evidence there might be were in the hamper, out of sight, but not out of his mind. The guilt kept him awake until Hannah’s alarm clock went off, and she had to get ready for work.
By then, Rivers had decided that despite everything, work might be the safest place for him. If Hannah found his silence remarkable, she gave no sign. She was by now well used to her fiance’s silences. Especially this early in the morning. Her quick parting kiss made Rivers hold his breath until he heard the door slam shut behind her.
What had he done? How could he have betrayed her so? When she had agreed to become his wife, he had felt the luckiest man in the world. He still felt that way. But now he had betrayed their love. And he hadn’t even wanted to. What was wrong with him? Would anyone else have ended up in his situation? It seemed unlikely. He couldn’t even blame alcohol. When he had done what he had, he had been stone sober.
Realizing that there was no way he could ever risk losing Hannah over his madness, he gave up trying to figure out what had made him act the way he had. After sipping a lukewarm cup of coffee, he left for work. The thought of running into Simmons wasn’t agreeable, but he couldn’t stay in hiding forever.
His work was far too important for that, and he couldn’t let his team down. Far worse, if he continued acting out of character, Hannah would suspect something, and simply couldn’t bear to lose her. Knowing he was a coward and worse, he knew he would never dare to confess. That realization did nothing to improve his mood of self-recrimination, but it was getting late, and his brooding would have to wait.
He slunk in, hoping no one would look too closely. No one on the team was in the habit of discussing personal matters, but like anyone with a guilty conscience, Rivers feared discovery. None of his fears were realized as he slumped down behind his desk, feigning an intense interest in the long overdue reports littering the desktop. Simmons was nowhere to be seen, and neither was Taylor. Creegan appeared to be caught up in his own work.
Close to 10, Simmons appeared. She didn’t appear to be suffering any ill effects in the aftermath of last night. Without looking right or left, she made her way over to the desk that had been assigned to her – not Taylor’s.
She rummaged around on the desktop, looked in the drawers, then just like Rivers had dreaded all along, she turned and faced him.
Though all he wanted was to look away, avoiding her gaze, he felt trapped in it, hypnotized almost. He wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings, or he would have noticed the way she had posed and postured to make sure she had everyone’s attention, especially Creegan’s.
And to Rivers’ horror she appeared to change her mind about sitting down at her desk. Instead she began walking towards him. In his overheated imagination, the short walk across the floor appeared to take hours, yet she reached him far too soon.
“Oh, Mark. You forgot this last night.”
Her laugh echoed in his ears, as if coming from far away, and all around at the same time.
She was holding his tie, dangling it in the air, as if it was a splendid joke. Was this the distraught creature from last night? Had it all been a cruel joke at his expense? At that moment, he became aware of something else, something that shed a totally different light on the entire incident.
Creegan was watching them, with keen interest, and by a trick of the light, Rivers could suddenly see right into his partner’s eyes, and what he read there, made his pale face turn a vivid, brilliant crimson. Creegan was jealous. Simmons and Creegan had been lovers. Were still lovers. At least until this moment, when Creegan realized what had happened last night.
As if to turn the knife in the wound, she turned to Creegan, as soon as she’d dropped the tie on Rivers’ desk.
“When would you like to meet tonight, Dave?”
Rivers never heard Creegan’s reply. For the moment, he couldn’t care less what the rest of the team felt. There was no way he could face Simmons or Creegan. She’d been sleeping with Creegan, but that hadn’t stopped her from –
He hadn’t known. What a fool he’d been. In more ways than one. Creegan would never believe he’d been ignorant of the affair. He had been too caught up in his own relationship to really pay attention to what went on among his colleagues.
But now that he knew the truth, he realized that no one would believe him. And what difference would it make? Though his work meant a great deal to him, Hannah meant more. The betrayal of their love was what concerned him the most, not Creegan’s jealousy.
To Rivers’ astonishment, he nearly ran into Creegan not five minutes later. He would have thought that Creegan would like to stay as far away from him as possible. But it seemed Creegan had chosen not to comment on the awkward situation. Instead, it turned out that Creegan had used the privilege of being the officer in charge of the team, and sent Simmons out to do some canvassing, along with Norton, the least brilliant of his men.
Since there was nothing else for it, Rivers reluctantly cleared his throat, intending to offer some sort of apology concerning last night’s disaster, but Creegan held up a hand, forbidding any further comment.
“Let’s go. We’ve got a lead on the Wiley case.”
After a few seconds of thought, Rivers came to the conclusion that this was much the best thing that could have happened. Under the circumstances. Work as usual. The look in Creegan’s eyes didn’t encourage any protests.
“Right. What have you got?”
Rivers never knew how he got through that day, but eventually, he ran out of excuses to stay in the office. Everyone else had left, and in fact, he hadn’t seen Simmons at all that day. Despite everything, that was relief. There wasn’t even a trace of Creegan, a fact for which Rivers was immensely grateful.
Though he knew it was useless, and the act of a coward, he briefly considered finding a place in the building where he could rough it until morning, telling Hannah he was on another stakeout. In the end, he recognized the futility of trying to avoid meeting Hannah. If he was unable to face her without breaking down and confessing, he knew he’d lose her anyway.
It was time he took his responsibility as Hannah’s fiance and future husband. He couldn’t tell her the truth, but he couldn’t abandon her either. Bitter as his own cowardice tasted, losing Hannah would be worse, so he forced himself to get in the car and drive back, twisting his face into the semblance of a normal look.
For the first time in weeks, there was a feeling of expectation in the air. They were getting close to the man who had terrorized and frightened prostitutes in Soho for the past six weeks. Two of the women had died, four others had faces mutilated beyond recognition. One particularly beautiful young transvestite was on life-support and it was anybody’s guess if he’d pull through.
But now the OSC team would put a stop to the killer’s rampage once and for all. A tip had come in, and the entire team was ready to raid the basement of the cheap hotel where the suspect allegedly hid out. The description fit, and the witness had even seen traces of the latest victim’s blood on the man’s shirt.
This time, he wouldn’t get away. Creegan was issuing his orders, assigning the various positions to his team. For the duration of this case, Taylor had forsaken her high position to reinforce her old team.
“Right, Taylor, you and Rivers cover -“
“Excuse me – I’m not going in with only Rivers as backup. You know how well he handles himself under pressure. If you trust him, you partner with him. I’ll take Grogan.”
There was a stunned silence in the room, among the OSC team members still waiting to hear their orders. Rivers felt his chest constrict. If there was one thing he dreaded more than losing Hannah, it was having his professional cowardice referred to in this room, or any other location his colleagues found themselves. It seemed Creegan resented the outburst as well, though Rivers couldn’t imagine it was for the same reason.
“No, you excuse me. I can’t have heard you right. Did you just refuse to obey a direct order?”
“You heard me alright. And it’s not as if you’ve never been known to disobey orders and generally behave as if this team was your own personal playground.”
Each man or woman still in the room suddenly found themselves busy making a detailed study of their desks or the far from lovely wallpaper. It was as if everyone felt the temperature in the room fall a couple of degrees, and they could almost sense the air crackle with the energy from Creegan’s and Taylor’s minds.
It was common knowledge, and no one felt this more keenly than Rivers, that the incident Taylor was referring to was one that had a life-changing impact on Creegan’s life.
If Rivers hadn’t hesitated to fire his gun on the night he had it in his power to save a young woman’s life, the girl in question wouldn’t have died, and the father of the victim wouldn’t have come after Creegan’s family.
And had that not occurred, Creegan wouldn’t have been forced to the desperate measure of sending his family away for good. Since they’d been given their new identities, no one could find them, not even Creegan.
Rivers didn’t have any children, and he couldn’t imagine the pain it must have caused Creegan, knowing he’d never to see his daughters again. All of this might have been avoided, if Rivers hadn’t failed as a police officer on that night.
How could he blame Taylor for not wanting him watching her back? If Creegan decided to leave him behind, it was only what he deserved, though the humiliation would be nearly as bad as the knowledge that he and Creegan had had sex with the same woman, only a day or so apart.
But Creegan’s reaction wasn’t any that anyone could have predicted. The look of anger on his face passed, and the new expression was one that no one could read.
“I see. Well, Taylor, you might have thought I’d pick this time and place to settle this, but you’re wrong. We have a killer to catch. You don’t want to work with Mark? Fine. Then he’s going with me. As for you, Taylor, you can go on your own. Grogan, Nichols, off you go. You know your positions.”
All the remaining officers hurriedly departed, leaving Rivers and Creegan awkwardly trying to avoid facing each other. But Taylor wasn’t through yet.
When Creegan, infuriatingly calm and smug, had sidestepped the insult she’d thrown at him and Rivers, and let it drop to the floor, seemingly without drawing blood, in reality he’d thrown the provocation right back in her face. And she couldn’t accept that. Her temper and personality made it impossible to put the confrontation off, as Creegan seemed to wish. She would have it out, here and now.
“How touching. Male bonding at its best. Now I see why you weren’t quite up to the challenge, while we were – seeing each other.”
Rivers couldn’t believe he’d just heard that. Was Taylor implying that Creegan had suffered some kind of – performance failure? And if so, what else was she suggesting? That –
But he wasn’t left wondering for long. This if nothing else appeared to hit Creegan straight where it hurt the most.
“What are you saying? You think I’m a poof? Is that what you’re saying?”
“You said it, not me.”
But at this point, even Taylor dreaded the fire in Creegan’s eyes. Involuntarily, she took a step back. Then another. Though Creegan hadn’t moved an inch.
But for the second time in less than fifteen minutes, Creegan astonished his audience, now down to two. His taunting laugh was ringing in Rivers’ ears and echoed off the walls.
“If I were, I’d really fancy you, wouldn’t I? You’re more man than any of the blokes on the team, aren’t you? I said I’d pick the time and the place for us to settle this. In case you didn’t hear me the first time, I’m giving you one last chance to obey a direct order. Otherwise you know what’s going to happen. Insubordination, refusal to follow a direct order from a superior officer. You know the paragraph, word by word, don’t you? Since the time you waited too long to respond to your partner’s call for assistance. He was stabbed three times, before you got the gun out and was able to fire. Isn’t that right, Susan?”
Again, she appeared lost for words. And this time, she took her cue and turned on her heel, slamming the door shut behind her.
“What are you waiting for?”
Rivers’ ears still felt uncomfortably hot after Taylor’s innuendo. This was just like – But Creegan was right. This wasn’t about them. A suspect with the lives of at least two people on his conscience was still at large, and if they didn’t get to work now, more people might die.
At least they didn’t arrive on the scene too late. After all, the suspect turned out to be a coward, when faced with a large number of armed, determined police officers. He surrendered, and losing all dignity, groveled on the floor, begging for mercy. Another criminal who had watched too many American cop series. Contrary to certain rumours in the popular press, British police rarely shot and killed suspects out of hand.
When the last report had been filed and the last evidence bagged and sent to the forensic lab, there was a feeling of jubilation among the OSC team. They were in desperate need of successes such as this one. It was the perfect antidote for the case of bad press they’d suffered lately, in the wake of other, less successfully concluded cases.
Most of the team decided to reconvene down at the Queen’s Head, but three of them appeared not to listen to the invitations. In the end, Creegan, Taylor and Rivers were the only ones remaining in the now quiet room.
Rivers was frantically gathering up the last of his possessions, eager to escape the aftermath of Taylor’s and Creegan’s battle of wills. This was definitely one time he didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire of someone else’s fight. His life was complicated enough as it was. But he was too slow, or else, the two combatants were too impatient to wait until the witness had time to leave.
When Creegan did break the silence, his voice was deceptively mild.
“D I Taylor, do you have a moment? I’m not keeping you from your busy social life? Excellent.”
“Strictly speaking, I’m the superior officer, remember?”
“Not on the operation we’re talking about. You were the one who wanted to be in at the end, when we caught the ‘Soho ripper’. When you chose to return to us mere mortals, you gave up your high and mighty position.”
“Fine. Have it your own way. But tell me the truth, Dave, do you really feel comfortable working a case with Mark? Don’t you feel as if at any crucial moment when you need him, he’ll be standing there, hesitating, letting you get killed?”
This was exactly what Rivers feared was the truth. On how many sleepless nights had been left to ponder that moment. How the seconds dragged out and turned into an eternity, while he was searching for a courage he didn’t possess. Not on that night. He had thought that he’d managed to make up for his cowardice on later occasions, but clearly, nothing he had done had passed muster under Taylor’s critical eye.
And she was right. If you worked together in a situation like tonight, you needed to be able to count on your backup to watch out for you. After all the hard work he’d put in, he was still letting the other members of the team down.
Hanging his head, miserably, Rivers wasn’t paying attention to the emotional battlefield before him.
“Let it go, Susan. It’s not as if you’ve always been this model of efficiency. Don’t tell me you were never young and inexperienced and had to face some lunatic with a knife for the first time. Would you have fired? Maybe. Would I? Who knows. As you know, once I didn’t, and someone else died. We’ve all been there. But you and I were allowed to leave the past behind. Let Mark do the same. He’s proven himself on this job, more than once since that night. And to answer your question, yes, I do feel comfortable working a case with Mark. Is that all”?
Again, she felt the situation blow up in her face. Her former lover didn’t react at all the way she had expected. Part of her had wanted this confrontation, to finally settle their growing differences. The way they had let their relationship go without a word wasn’t satisfying either one of them.
Though it was Taylor who had begun the silence that had killed the relationship before it was more than a fleeting attraction and a tentative connection between them, that went further than their professional relations.
She realized that she’d started the argument in the hopes of provoking a more passionate response out of Creegan. He was capable of passion, she had seen that on many occasions, but in his personal life, there was very little of it.
Now, he’d turned and sided with the hapless pawn who had happened to be standing conveniently nearby when she needed it. The knowledge that she’d somehow let herself open for this disappointment didn’t make it any easier to bear.
Again, she spat out a more vicious reply than she’d intended.
“I see. Well, go ahead. If you want to – bond some more with Mark here, don’t let me stop you. You were doing so well a moment ago. But I’m sure you’ll be more comfortable without me present, spoiling your fun. Really touching. I love the way you’re in touch with your feminine side, Dave. Good luck. I’m sure the lack of stamina was just a temporary thing.”
With a last venomous glance in Creegan’s direction, Taylor turned and left. She knew she’d lost this argument, and if there was anything she hated, it was losing.
In the meantime, the attempt to catch Creegan off guard had failed. If anything, he was amused at Taylor’s feeble insult. Other women before her had played that game, but Creegan was comfortable enough with himself and his sexuality not to feel the slightest bit offended.
Even the hint about his lack of virility fell flat. On the night he’d accompanied Taylor home, he’d been so drunk, he was surprised he’d even managed to try, let alone being partially successful, as far as he remembered.
In his opinion, Taylor was one greedy girl, and he was about to turn to Rivers and say something along those lines, when he changed his mind. He might not be a gentleman by most people’s definitions, but he drew the line at commenting on a woman’s prowess in bed.
Turning to face Rivers, he noticed that his colleague’s normally quite pale face, and drained of all trace of colour. Before he had time to say anything disarming, Rivers had turned and fled out the door, leaving his coat hanging over the back of his chair. The reaction puzzled Creegan. After all, he was the one who was the target of Taylor’s innuendoes, not Rivers, though he had caught the tail end of the attack, purely by accident.
Shrugging, Creegan picked up his own jacket, with every intention of leaving. He might not have someone waiting at home, but an empty bed would suit him just fine after today’s work.
On his way out, he decided that he’d better make a stop in the men’s room before attempting the drive home. The room appeared to be empty, and Creegan wasted no time availing himself of the facilities.
While he was washing his hands, he thought he heard someone in one of the stalls and after an unsuccessful bout with the minuscule paper towel that seemed to be all that was left, he looked around.
Was there someone else still around? For some reason, he immediately thought of Rivers. With a sigh, he recalled Taylor’s comments about Rivers professional skills. Though he’d done his best to dismiss her claims, it occurred to him that Rivers might still be feeling a bit gloomy about it.
“Anyone there? Mark?”
All was quiet in the windowless room, and with relief, Creegan decided that he’d been mistaken. He must have heard a fan somewhere, or perhaps the invariably faulty plumbing. But as he turned to go, he heard the door of one of the stalls swish open.
“Yes. I’m alright. You don’t need to -“
But one look at Rivers’ face told Creegan that his colleague was far from alright. At the moment, numb with fatigue, Creegan couldn’t think of any reason for his partner to look the way he did. Surely even Taylor’s shouting couldn’t have affected Rivers that badly?
“What’s the problem? Come on. Anyone can see that something’s bothering you. Want to go for a drink and talk about it?”
What was he saying? He never ever wanted to ‘talk about it’ whatever it was. Not under any circumstances. Certainly not to a colleague, or even a friend. But on the other hand, no matter his personal feelings, this was a member of his team, and if something was wrong, something that could aversely affect the man’s performance, he was obligated to find out what it was, and if possible, rectify the problem.
“I said -“
“Yes, I know what you said. But let’s go and have a drink anyway, yeah? This is your boss asking, Mark.”
His joke fell flat, and he didn’t blame Rivers. It wasn’t much of a joke anyway.
But it seemed Rivers changed his mind. Perhaps he was seeing that he was drawing attention to himself by overreacting this way. Anyway, he reluctantly agreed to Creegan’s suggestion, but the wary look never left his eyes.
The Queen’s Head was too conspicuous, and anyway, it was a bit too posh for Creegan’s taste. His own favourite haunt was a bit further south, and a great deal more downscale in style. But who cared? The beer was much better than at any of the places popular with the tourists. Not to mention the crisps and the rest of the food.
If he had to draw Rivers’ problems out of him, he might as well enjoy himself. Suddenly, Creegan noticed that he was ravenously hungry. When was the last time he’d had a meal? Lunchtime? Normally, he wouldn’t have anything much even then. Not when he was deep into a case.
“I said, are you hungry?”
Rivers stared at his colleague as if he hadn’t seen him before in his life.
Slowly, as if talking to a child or an imbecile, Creegan clarified his suggestion.
“They make a brilliant pie down at the Sailor’s Luck.”
“Oh. I don’t know.”
At that time of night, even the London traffic had slowed down to a mere trickle, and after ten minute drive, both men were sitting at a table in a smoky, murky corner. The place looked quaint enough for any tourists, but for some reason, the regulars were Londoners, longshoremen and other workers.
If Rivers had been in a mood to notice, he would have marveled at the real-looking wooden beams under the low ceiling. This place might have been left from before the great fire. But of course that was nonsense. Still, it might be early 19th century and still look and feel old to the casual observer.
Creegan ignored Rivers’ lack of enthusiasm and took it upon himself to order two pints and two slices of pie. If Rivers didn’t want his, Creegan felt hungry enough to wolf down both helpings.
After a few sips, Creegan felt wonderfully restored. Now Rivers could tell him whatever he wanted, and he wouldn’t mind much.
“Right. Aren’t you going to have some?”
And seemingly without noticing the plate on the table in front of him, Rivers gulped down more than half of the beer. Whatever it was that was bothering Rivers, it had to be big. But resigning himself to his fate, Creegan went on with prying the explanation out of Rivers.
“Now then. I don’t want to rush you, and far be it from me to remind you about the fact that you’ve got someone waiting for you while I don’t, but don’t you think you could make an exception and tell me what it was about Taylor’s outburst tonight that bothered you the most?”
A look of pain passed across Rivers’ features at the mention of his fiancee, but he knew he was cornered. Creegan might be nice about it and ignore his reaction, but even if he did, Rivers felt as if he was still on probation. One more mistake and he was out of the OSC team.
“If you insist.”
Despite yielding, Rivers dragged out the moment, stalling for time, by finishing the beer, and though he felt like throwing up, he began demolishing the pie with his fork, with no intention of actually eating it.
“I didn’t mean to overreact like this.”
If Creegan had read his reaction to the extent of dragging him all this way, he really must have revealed far more of his distress than ever before.
“I’m sorry to have to pry like this.”
And he was. Creegan was like any other Englishman, and he’d rather have undergone surgery without anasthetic, than involving himself in this type of emotional discussion.
“You know how it is. If I see signs of behaviour -“
“I know. It’s my own fault. Right. Can I at least ask you to keep this to yourself? It’s alright. I’m not going to fall apart. All this happened years ago. Well, not so many years ago, but anyway – I was working up in Newcastle and -“
Under Creegan’s inquiring gaze, Rivers knew he couldn’t hold back any longer. He might as well get this over with, unpleasant as it would be.
“I shouldn’t have let her get under my skin like this. She was out to get you, and I just happened to get in the way, but – well – at the department, someone began to talk. They said someone was a – a poof. One of us. And after a while, they were all saying it was me. You know what it’s like, even down here, and up there – if anything like that came out, it was suicide. Of course, since it wasn’t me, I should just have let them talk until they got tired of it. It’s not as if they would have caught me coming out of one of those clubs.”
The crooked smile didn’t fool Creegan. What did surprise him about the story was that anyone had been stupid enough to believe Rivers to be a homosexual. But he could tell that even after this time had gone by, the subject was still painful for Rivers. And Creegan couldn’t blame him.
If a police officer was found out and forced to admit to his sexual orientation, professional suicide was a mild term. He’d heard rumours of blokes who had actually killed themselves over such a revelation. And even if Rivers was innocent of all that he was accused of, as Creegan was sure he was, the stigma would cling to him.
“So what happened?”
“I couldn’t take the pressure. After six months of that, I gave up and asked for a transfer. For some reason, I got lucky and ended up here. But when it became known that I was leaving, the one they were really talking about broke down and tried to kill himself. It was my partner, Ray – never mind his name. He’d used his own gun and for some reason he missed. Ended up in hospital. And this was my partner. My best friend on the job. I went to visit him. Turns out he’d been spreading the rumour about me. To take the pressure off himself. He begged me to forgive him and – well, what could I say?”
And suddenly, Rivers found himself back in that horrible room. The smell was sickening. You’d think that a hospital would be the most antiseptic place in the world. Maybe that was it. Anyway, Rivers felt bile rise up in his throat as he walked in. He’d never have believed Ray to be a – And this was they man he’d trusted with his life on the job, every time they answered a call. This kind of betrayal –
What he really wanted was to go, take sick leave, and go down to London that same day. He wanted to tell Ray to go to hell. Didn’t he realize what he’d almost cost him? But of course Ray knew. And Rivers had to believe that it was a desperate last resort, not undertaken lightly.
“Bloody stupid thing to do, Ray. I’d have thought they would have taught you how to clean a gun without -“
“Right. You know me, the stupidest bugger on the force. Me and daft Dingle. Listen, I’ve got something to say to you and I’d appreciate it if you’d just listen to me without interrupting. This is hard enough as it is. Will you do that for me? For old times’ sake?”
Rivers nodded. He didn’t quite trust himself to use his voice. Whatever it was Ray intended to tell him, he knew he wouldn’t want to know. But he was trapped and resigned himself to hearing his old partner out.
“They were on to me. And I – I panicked. At first, I just had to get them off the scent and then – when they seemed to be getting close – I know you won’t be able to forgive me, but please believe that I’d do anything not to have done that. You were my friend, my partner. But if they’d found me out -“
That appeared to be it. No more embarrassing confidences. Maybe it would be ok to go soon, leaving the box of Belgian chocolates he’d brought. Now Rivers wished he’d settled for something less pretentious. What if Ray thought he was trying to make a less than subtle comment about the alleged refinement of gay men?
“Oh, well, uh – I understand. Forget it.”
“You forgive me?”
He didn’t. Not really. This sort of thing went beyond forgiveness, but Rivers didn’t feel up to crushing Ray’s hopes, not when he was looking at him with this pleading in his eyes.
“Yes. I do. Now, I should get going. The nurse said -“
That was flagrant lie. No one had said anything about how long he could stay. As the man’s partner, and as a police officer, Rivers would no doubt have been allowed to stay for as long as he liked. And it was as if Ray hadn’t heard a word he’d said, after the promised forgiveness.
“Wait, Mark. There’s something else -“
He really didn’t want to hear this. Whatever it was. This was more than enough. He cringed at the thought of what the other guys back at station would think of the two of them cooped up in this little room together.
“I couldn’t bear it if you hated me. Mark, I -“
“Yes, well, now that that’s sorted out, I need to go. Packing and so on. You understand. The doctor said you’d be alright in no time. Don’t do anything foolish again, alright, Ray?”
As if from a million miles away, another voice came, one strangely familiar.
“What? Sorry. I was -“
“Did I what?”
“I had to say something, didn’t I? So, anyway, when Susan made that crack about you and me I just -“
“Oh. No one believes anything like that. Forget it. She was just angry and trying to take a piece out of me. When I didn’t let that happen, she got even more angry. This was between her and me. Sorry you had to get involved.”
“Yes. I appreciate it, Dave. Well, I should get going. Hannah -“
“You’re a lucky man.”
To Creegan’s surprise, this didn’t produce the expected smile. Obviously, Rivers was still touchy about any mention of his private life. Creegan wondered if there was some kind of domestic trouble between Rivers and his fiancee, after the Simmons affair, but decided to draw the line at personal matters. Whatever it was, he was sure Rivers could sort it out himself.
“Goodnight, Mark. See you tomorrow. Can you get back alright?”
“Oh. Yes. No problem. I’ll take the Tube, and -“
“Don’t worry about it. So will I. I’ll go and pick up the old rust heap tomorrow after work.”
“Right. Good night, Dave. And – thanks.”
“For the vote of confidence.”
“Oh, that. Every word of it was true. No need to thank me. If I didn’t think you could do the job -“
Creegan left the last part of the sentence unfinished, but Rivers knew well enough what was being implied. If he hadn’t pulled his weight on the job on every other case after the serial killer incident, he would have found himself surveying traffic in Brixton or Lewisham for the rest of his career.
Without comment, he merely nodded to his colleague and found his way out into the calm London night. He didn’t feel much better, but it was nothing to do with Taylor or even Ray. The guilt he felt about betraying Hannah drowned out all other concerns. But at least he’d learned Creegan’s true opinion of him. It was far better than he deserved.
“Ok, listen up, everyone. New case. It landed in our laps this morning.”
“Perhaps some of you have heard about the trouble they’ve had down south. Brighton, Southampton. Thereabouts.”
“We got the cop killings, sir?”
“If you’d let me continue. Here. Here. Here.”
Creegan pointed to three photos on the board behind him. The scenes depicted in them were gruesome to say the least. But that wasn’t what was causing an uneasy silence among the OSC team members.
One man was hanging from the ceiling, his neck grossly elongated like in a surrealistic painting, but there was nothing artistic about the circumstances. He was wearing lingerie, black stockings, and one high heeled shoe. The other must have fallen off during the man’s last seconds of life.
In one of the other photos, the man was found more fully dressed, but in this case, the flat was filled with pornographic magazines of a slightly unusual kind. Finally, the last man had been found dead in an establishment catering to gay men from the upper echelons of British society.
Scenes like these weren’t all that unusual in themselves, not to this team, working in the city of London, investigating high profile cases while being the target of mixed criticism from high and low.
What did make a difference in this case was that each of the men were police officers. Not uniformed constables, they were detectives, or inspectors. And – this was what made the case so intriguing – neither one of these men had ever given any indication they were anything than what they seemed.
That anyone might have secrets was a well known fact. Police officers, judges, politicians, lords of the realm, dignitaries of the church. However, so far investigation had uncovered nothing hinting at this kind of double life. But these men were dead. Murdered, no matter how diligently the culprit had worked at making at least one of the murders appear like suicide.
“Wickers. Mather. Joliet. Each victim was a police officer. Neither one of them had ever been associated with anything remotely connected with the situations they were found in. Mather’s death, as you can see, was masked as an accident or suicide. Wickers – well, that might have been explained away as an overdose. But the deception wasn’t cleverly done. Either we’re dealing with a brilliant amateur who got lucky, or – For some reason their deaths mean something to him.”
“That’s right. Let’s not take anything for granted here. This might be the work of a six foot tall Olympic female wrestler. But getting back to reality, I was going to ask you for your impressions.”
Silence. No one wanted to be the first to speak up. Besides, cop killings weren’t all that common and most of them were usually very straightforward. You found the culprit, he defended himself, and was taken in. End of story. No one could recall anything similar occuring during their years on the force.
A police officer didn’t believe himself immune to danger. After all, each day they stepped outside headquarters they risked getting shot, stabbed or run over by cars. But targeted like this, murdered – and having their bodies staged this way – It was an unsettling feeling.
Of course, each man in the room tried to tell himself that he wouldn’t be next. These men were poofs, or some other type of pervert. Naturally no one in this room would end like this.
Eventually, Simmons raised her hand and began to ask ostentatiously brilliant questions. Questions that didn’t add anything much, but then that wasn’t the intention. All she wanted was to appear clever. Creegan now recognized that fact, but until Taylor chose to return to work, or she was permanently assigned to her new job, in which case there would be a genuine replacement, he was unable to do much about her.
In due course, each member of the team was assigned his or her job, and the chase was on. The OSC team took each case seriously, and gave it their best, but this time, they were after a cop killer. That added a new desperation and intensity to the investigation. Personal lives had to take second place.
As the days and weeks went by, the OSC team became less and less optimistic about catching the cop killer within the near future. The man (or woman) appeared to be virtually untraceable. It almost appeared as if the killer was a phantom, not made of real flesh and blood.
None of the crime scenes yielded any physical evidence connected with the culprit. All attempts at creating a psychological profile were thwarted by various conflicting messages from the three experts that were called in during the course of the investigation. Creegan had never thought much of psychologists anyway.
By the time the fourth victim was found, Creegan felt that his superiors were seriously considering removing the case from the OSC team and referring it back to London CID. The guys at the Yard had already been clamouring for ‘their’ case back.
After another day spent fruitlessly chasing what seemed to be a shadow, Creegan dejectedly called a meeting between him, Rivers, Taylor and Simmons. He didn’t expect much from the input of the others, but at this point, he didn’t feel he had all that much to lose.
His usual approach – working on his own – didn’t seem to be yielding any results and by encouraging his best men, as it were, to share their expertise might at the very least spark some kind of dormant insight, previously overlooked.
Letting this killer get away was unthinkable. No police officer anywhere was safe from his predation. When he called the meeting, Creegan wasn’t even sure if each of the officers he’d invited would show up. Taylor’s appearances had been irregular at best, while she was coping with the pressures of her new job. Creegan didn’t have any compassion for her. If she wanted that sort of position, she could take the heat.
When the other OSC team members had left, Creegan remained in his seat, awaiting the arrival of the three officers he’d invited. Not surprisingly, Rivers showed up only five minutes later, seeming eager to find a solution. Good. That man had really shaped up in the last year. Good material for a promotion, was Creegan’s assessment, but that wasn’t necessarily something that made him happy, for personal reasons.
Some ten minutes after that, Simmons walked in, looking as sexy as ever. She smiled suggestively at first Creegan, then Rivers, but failing to provoke any discernible reaction, other than a tightening of Rivers’ features, she merely dropped down in her chair.
It was another twenty minutes later that Taylor finally arrived, looking dishevelled and stressed out. She was clutching a plastic cup, no doubt containing the remains of her coffee.
“If you’re quite done now, Taylor, perhaps we can begin? The rest of us have only been waiting for about half an hour.”
A slight flush was the only sign Taylor had picked up on the hidden criticism in Creegan’s words. Ostensibly, he was merely pointing out her late arrival. To anyone familiar with the strain their professional relationship had suffered lately, what was left unsaid spoke volumes about Creegan’s distrust in his former lover.
“Yes, sorry. Go on.”
“There’s nothing to go on with. We decided to wait for you. Right. Listen, all of you. I need your thoughts, suggestions, insights. Anything that might not have been mentioned before, and even what we’ve been over earlier. Just talk. We have a cop killer here. Since we haven’t uncovered any leads about this person’s identity, we’re obviously missing something. What do we know so far?”
“That the same person killed all of these men.”
“Thank you, Rivers. Yes. We think so. But go on, there has to be more.”
Simmons gave him another one of her crooked smiles that seemed to imply so much more than first met the eye, then offered another ‘truth’.
“HIs victims are all men.”
“Very good, Simmons. I never would have noticed that.”
The sarcasm didn’t appear to change Simmons’ unruffled calm.
“Come on. You can do better than that. If you’re not going to say it, I will. This guy seems to have an obsession with – unusual sexual practices.”
“He’s got a thing about homosexuality?”
That was Taylor’s first input all evening, and Creegan looked at her with something of his old appreciation. This was more like it. Nothing crucial yet, but at least they were getting to the core of things.
“Seems that way. But the question is in what way. These men were to the best of anyone’s knowledge as heterosexual anyone. So – why would the killer like to make it appear as if they were gay?”
“He’s gay himself?”
“Possibly. But that can’t be all. It has to mean something to him.”
Now Creegan abandoned the pretense of trying to draw out his colleagues.
“I think he’s trying to send a message to us. To the world maybe. Either he dislikes homosexuals and since he also had a grudge against these men, he wanted to make it seem as if they were gay. Or -“
“Or he’s gay himself and resents those strong men.”
“Very good, Simmons. Yes, that could well be it. But unfortunately, that doesn’t really tell us much more than we already knew. There has to be millions of gay men in Britain. Unless of course we’ve got a tourist on our hands. Two of our psychologists mentioned a sort of complex. A wish to be more successful in the eyes of the world. Though how killing these men could make him appear more successful isn’t immediately clear. It might be envy of their positions.”
“Or he’s attracted to guys like that.”
One of the advantages of having women on the team was that they never feared to state these facts clearly and openly. Creegan could see that all this was acutely embarrassing Rivers and knowing the man’s history, Creegan didn’t blame him. It didn’t really bother Creegan himself, but then he’d never had a problem with gay men.
“Yes. That seems a distinct possibility. So how does he meet them?”
That one was pretty straightforward, or so it seemed, and even Rivers didn’t hesitate to offer the suggestion.
“He’s a criminal and he’s been arrested by the victims?”
“Very good. We’ll look into that. Unfortunately, we have no idea when this might have happened. The officers were all in their 40’s or 50’s. They must have been making arrests for at least ten years. As constables, who knows for how long. And I’ve already checked, all four of them had enjoyed successful careers, and they’ve moved about quite a bit. Between them, they’ve worked in at least a dozen different cities.”
“I’ll get on it first thing in the morning.”
“Thank you, Rivers. Do that. Simmons? Taylor? Anything else?”
“I can’t help you out. Not tomorrow. There’s -“
“Oh, what a surprise. What about any further suggestions?”
“Sorry. Not right now. Nothing beyond what’s already been said.”
“Of course it’s possible that he’s run into the victims in private.”
“Thank you so much, Simmons. Narrows things down a bit. I never would have thought of that. How do you suggest we find out if that’s the case?”
That silenced even the resourceful Simmons, though not for long.
“I’ll cross-reference everything in the victims’ files to see if anything else sticks out.”
“I’ve already done that, but go ahead, perhaps I’ve missed something.”
Though Creegan’s voice was dripping with sarcasm, he was serious. If he had missed something, unlikely as it seemed, he would be happy to have that pointed out to him so he could correct his mistake. The important thing was catching the killer before he struck again.
“Rivers, when you go through the records, I’ll help you out. We can interview suspects together.”
“Alright. I don’t suppose we’ll get any further tonight. See you tomorrow. Not you, Taylor, but anyone who can spare the time. Off you go.”
It proved to be an easy matter to single out the few gay and/or transsexual, transvestite or person belonging to any other sexual minority group that had in the past been arrested by any of the four victims. Just as a matter of precaution, Rivers had included any known violently homophobic suspects as well.
The list could be narrowed down further by eliminating any of the suspects who were currently serving time for other crimes. Two were now dead, and one was missing, presumed emigrated to Canada, which made him the responsibility of the Canadian authorities. Conveniently, four of the nine men on the list were last heard from in the London area.
Creegan indicated that he would join Rivers when he went to interview those of the men they were able to find. Not surprisingly, the first man was said to be unknown at his address. But Creegan knew the mother was lying. They’d return later. In the meantime they went on further down the list.
Suspect number 2 ‘was on vacation’ and would be back some time next week. They decided to put out a discreet query through their own internal network to see what came up. It seemed likely that the ‘vacation’ was far more likely a euphemism for another crime in progress.
By the time they got to number three, they were beginning to think they weren’t going to be able to eliminate even one name from the list. That was when they were referred a new address for number 3. It turned out to be a church of some kind. Pentecostians, was Creegan’s guess. Rivers was more inclined to believe it was the Seventh Day Adventists.
Either way, the small, harmless looking man they were eventually introduced to appeared so far from likely as a suspect that they weren’t surprised to find that the entire congregation could vouch for the little man’s whereabouts each time one of the four crimes were committed.
“Let’s go and have lunch. We’ll find the last bloke afterwards.”
“Alright. I don’t know about all this. We’re not getting anywhere. Maybe Simmons is right. It could be something personal.”
“That’s what we’ll have to find out. If she’s really as bright as she wants us to think, she’d better learn that there aren’t any shortcuts. Sometimes you just have to walk from a to b.”
After some fish and chips and mineral water, Rivers’ choice, and a curry and some beers for Creegan, they felt ready to begin their fruitless search again.
There was nothing unusual about the next suspect’s new address. It was a London police station. He’d been found shoplifting, stealing women’s underwear and Mark’s and Spencer’s and was now awaiting processing by some of their uniformed colleagues.
But this lead too, appeared to be a dead end. The man in question, was so slight, and feminine, even Creegan thought he might have been taken in and believed him to be a woman. Would he have been strong enough to commit the crimes for which he was suspected?
Even that turned out to be a dead end. During each of the four time frames, except one, the suspect had been ‘helping the police’ in their investigations into various acts of theft, involving women’s clothing, jewelry and puzzlingly – an odd assortment of collectors’ items, including a number of small Matchbox cars, not what Rivers or Creegan would have thought this person would be most attracted to.
Tired and frustrated, they were about to return to headquarters, trying hard not to notice the smug, superior grins on the faces of their uniformed colleagues who appeared to be delighted with the fact that the high and mighty OSC team had made a mistake. Even more funny, apparently, was that they’d been running after a drag queen. Creegan suspected that it would be a long time until the bobbies on this station forgot about their little mishap.
On the way out, they almost ran into a tall, very thin man, about Creegan’s age. To his surprise, the man seemed to take a great deal of interest in them, and before they were able to get out of his way, to continue on outside, the man greeted Rivers.
Rivers didn’t seem to be nearly as pleased to meet the stranger, as the man himself appeared to be.
“Oh, hello, Ray.”
“You’re working in London these days?”
“Yes. What about you?”
“Oh, you know. This and that. How about going out for a drink? And why don’t you introduce me to your friend?”
“Uh, well, actually, we’re working on an investigation so -“
“I see. Some other time, Mark. And your friend would be -“
“Oh. My boss. Creegan. Sir, this is an old colleague of mine. Raymond Horton.”
Creegan nodded, wondering as he did so, what it was about this man that made Rivers so uncomfortable. There was nothing really remarkable about his appearance, except possibly his very thin frame. Then the name brought a memory. Wasn’t the gay partner’s name Ray? The one who had helped spread the rumours about Rivers? That might account for it. Anyone would be a bit uncomfortable over something like that.
On the way back to headquarters, Creegan’s mind was still occupied with the case, and Rivers, too, appeared to have a lot on his mind, so nothing much was said in the car, or on the way up to the office.
Simmons couldn’t report much progress with her research, and Taylor still hadn’t made an appearance. It seemed as if another day of the investigation had been wasted. Creegan didn’t think they had more than another week or two until their superiors decided that the case would be better dealt with by CID.
He couldn’t let that happen. This was their case, their villain. There had to be something more they could do. Something they’d failed to take into account. This wasn’t Victorian England. There were DNA analyses, incredibly sophisticated equipment available for forensics. The killer couldn’t go on murdering people without making a slip, and finally giving them the much needed lead that would help them find him and put a stop to his killing.
But as the weeks went by, it began to look as if the killer was more of a wraith than a human being made of flesh and blood. It was almost eerie. They were making absolutely no progress, and Creegan was surprised his superiors hadn’t already removed the case from the OSC team. He was beginning to fear that perhaps they were going to use this failure as an excuse to shut their division down for good.
Though he was a loner and didn’t much go for the usual after work beer and gossip, he knew what was being said. It was only a matter of time. But he was so close. There were times when he almost felt as if he could read part of the killer’s mind. Then at times, he felt as much in the dark as their colleagues had been before the case had been transferred to London.
After the other members of the team had all returned home, he would spend hours, going over the day’s work, or reviewing earlier reports. A picture of the man behind the crimes was beginning to form, but still, he was more an outline than a solid shape. The last two days had been particularly frustrating, since they had believed they were finally close to identifying the elusive killer.
At the last moment, when they had even thought an arrest was imminent, it turned out that their suspect had suffered a crippling accident last winter, and was now paralyzed from the waist down.
Not wanting to give up, Creegan was going over the other two suspects that had made the shortlist, but he knew he was only fooling himself. They were no closer to making an arrest than they had been all those weeks earlier. Was the man real or not? Or – could they have a leak within the department? If someone was feeding the suspect vital information, enabling him to stay one step ahead?
No. He knew his men. And women. Not even Simmons would be – Disgustedly, Creegan pushed away the piece of paper he’d been perusing over and over, until his eyes felt as if he’d had a handful of sand thrown into them. He might as well go home, for all the good he was doing here. Maybe the others had the right idea. Like this, on his own, he wouldn’t be getting anywhere anyway.
He picked up his jacket and turned out the light over his desk. On his way out, he shut the door and without a second glance he walked through the corridor and outside to his car.
At that time of night, the traffic wasn’t too difficult and he found himself over by his flat within less than fifteen minutes. Just as well that none of his uniformed colleagues had caught up with him. He really wasn’t in the mood to argue with one of the dim-witted bobbies on this night.
Some fiddling about in his pockets eventually produced his keys, and though one of the lamps on his floor must have gone out, or been smashed by one of the juvenile delinquents in the neighbourhood, he didn’t have much trouble unlocking his door.
There was no warning, not the slightest sound to alert him of the danger lurking inside his own hallway. One second he was trying to get out of his jacket, the next he felt a blow to his head. But that was only for the fraction of a second it took for him to black out. He never had time to wonder at what was going on.
“Anyone’s seen the gov this morning?”
Rivers frowned. No. He hadn’t. And that was odd in itself. Creegan was always there. First in, last out. It was getting on for nine, and there hadn’t been any sign of their boss, or any messages.
Rivers tried to recall if Creegan had mentioned anything special going on today, and could think of nothing. The truth was, they were stuck. Going nowhere. That might make some officers stay home in bed, but not Creegan. Since losing his family, Creegan seemed to have made the office his part time home.
Just then, Taylor walked in, holding a paper cup in her hand.
“Have you heard anything from Creegan?”
“No. Why? Is anything up?”
Now Simmons looked up and fixed her attention on Rivers. He tried unsuccessfully to conceal his discomfiture, but he knew he couldn’t keep anything from her. And what was worse, she enjoyed his reaction. How he’d ever seen anything remotely attractive in her was beyond him.
“What’s wrong? Did our boss take off on one of his notorious one man stunts?”
Taylor and Rivers shot their new colleague a hostile stare. Creegan might be a pain in the arse at times, but no one critized him to their faces. Certainly not that two-faced bitch.
With an effort, Taylor regained her composure. No need to let Simmons know how offended she’d been about having her darkest professional secret revealed to her ex-lover. That back-stabbing, double-crossing –
“I hope nothing’s wrong. Apparently, no one’s seen or heard from Creegan since last night.”
“Oh, well. Everyone knows -“
Taylor gave her a look that never failed to freeze men in their tracks. On Simmons, however, it had no effect at all, unless the deepening of the condescending grin on her face counted as a reaction.
“I think I’ll give him a call. Just in case he’s had some car trouble.”
“Good idea. If there’s a problem, I’ll go over and help him out.”
And ignoring Simmons, Taylor and Rivers walked over to the phone on Taylor’s desk.
Rivers noted that Taylor was dialling Creegan’s number from memory, but knew better than to comment. It rather looked like there might still be feelings – None of his business anyway.
Taylor’s face was hard to read at any time, but despite the stoniness of her features, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that no one was answering. Impatiently, Taylor put the receiver down.
“Right. You might as well go over and check things out. Maybe his alarm clock didn’t go off.”
Simmons was watching the touching scene with interest. So her work had been wasted after all. They were all still as close as ever, if not more so. Pity. But there might be other opportunities, and failing that, other departments to focus on.
Rivers didn’t really suspect anything was wrong when he parked his car outside his boss’ place. Even someone as dedicated to his work as Creegan, might slip up once in a while. Heaven knew he’d been through more than most people in the past.
The building was quiet as Rivers ascended the stairs. Most of the residents must be at work at this hour of the day. On Creegan’s floor, Rivers stopped and hesitated. When he’d followed Taylor’s – request, he hadn’t really thought about what he’d tell Creegan, showing up like this, unannounced. It might be a little awkward, but, Rivers told himself, not nearly as awkward or downright unpleasant as actually telling Taylor no.
He raised his hand to knock on the door, when he suddenly realized that the door was standing slightly ajar. For some reason, this struck Rivers as ominous. A prickling feeling crept down his neck and back. Uneasily, he looked around the landing. Nothing.
“Creegan? Dave? It’s me – Mark.”
No reply, but by now, he’d begun to suspect as much. However, his voice appeared to have alerted someone to his presence. The door to his right swung open, cautiously, and there was a glimpse of a wisp of white hair, and a sharp nose.
“You wanting the policeman then?”
“Yes. I’m a colleague of his and I was wondering -“
“Not seen ‘im all day. I think ‘e got back late last night. Didn’t ‘ear ‘im get in, like.”
“I see. Thank you, sir.”
The voice had given Rivers a clue about the gender of the person speaking.
“Glad to be of ‘elp.”
And the elderly neighbour retreated inside his flat, shutting the door firmly behind him.
Got in late. Hadn’t been heard from all day. If River didn’t know any better, he might have suspected, just like Simmons, that Creegan had taken off on his own. But he wouldn’t do that anymore. Not to him. Or Taylor. Besides, unless Creegan had received some vital information late last night, there was nothing to follow up. By now, Rivers had a very bad feeling about the whole thing. Something that hadn’t struck him until now was clamouring for attention, no matter how much he would have liked to repress the thought.
Didn’t Creegan resemble most of the victims? His profile was close to identical to those of the victims, except maybe that he was a bit younger. But surely the killer couldn’t – What if the man was privy to some information about their investigation, and was trying to put a stop to his pursuer? Or – what if he had simply chosen Creegan as his next victim?
It was time to call Taylor and make his report. Perhaps she wouldn’t interpret circumstances the same way he had. At times Taylor’s tough, unruffled demeanour was grating on Rivers’ nerves, but there was no denying that her ability to keep a clear head under any conditions could be pretty useful.
“It’s me. No sign of him here either. A neighbour told me Creegan must have come back late last night, or not at all.”
There was a pause at the other end of the line, during which Rivers was half hoping Taylor would make nothing of his misgivings. But from the way her voice sounded, he suspected she had drawn the same conclusions he had.
“I’ll be right over.”
His head was pounding like after a pub night with the lads. Worse. And he had no idea where he was, or how he’d ended up there. Wherever it was, it was clearly not his flat or his office. So where was he? And more importantly, who had brought him here?
A bit of wriggling about revealed that he was securely tied, his arms stretched out over his head, and his legs arranged in a similar way. As if that wasn’t ominous enough, there was no trace of his clothes. All he was wearing was his shorts.
Creegan struggled to remain calm, while his mind raced, going over his situation and what it implied. The bottom line was, he was in deep trouble. Whoever had brought him here and gone to all this trouble obviously had plans for him. Plans he was quite sure he wouldn’t like at all.
A voice interrupted his thoughts.
“Coming round, I see. Good. I want you conscious throughout – the proceedings.”
It was dark in the room, so the newcomer was nothing but a hazy outline against the sharper light outside the doorway. Even so, the voice sounded vaguely familiar. He couldn’t place it, and anyway, the man turned on an overhead light and stepped into the room.
What was his name again? Rivers’ colleague. Ralph? Ray? An uncomfortable insight was exploding inside Creegan’s mind. Killing cops. Gay. This was the man, the killer he’d been chasing for so long. The man whose mind he’d tried so hard to get inside. Had the circumstances been slightly different, this was exactly what Creegan had waited for, hoped for. To finally see the face of his adversary.
Now all he could do was to fight to keep himself under control. Creegan wasn’t given to panicking, under any circumstances. He’d been close to death more than once in his line of work. But this – Having read the forensic reports, he knew far too well how this man’s victims had died. He wasn’t even thinking about the way the crime scenes had been staged. It was pretty obvious now that the killer had arranged them to create the effect he was after.
But Creegan couldn’t care less about what happened to his reputation after he was gone. He was determined to hang on to his life, such as it was. And his mind kept on working, until the man was so close the presence became overwhelming. For the first time in his life, or at least since his teens, Creegan knew the icy touch of fear.
“Creegan, isn’t it?”
With an effort Creegan got his features under control. He hoped the same applied to his voice.
“Yes. And your name is -“
“You don’t remember? This is the second time I’ve had pleasure of enjoying your company.”
The mocking tone reached Creegan as if from far away. He was more concerned with how the man sidled closer, and with some effort got down on his knees beside the mattress he was lying on. No. Please. Not –
As if reading Creegan’s mind, the man grinned. There was no humour in it, and anyway, nothing further happened for a while.
“Don’t flatter yourself. We won’t have time to get that intimate. Or probably not. We’ll see.”
Creegan swallowed nervously. He tried to tell himself that this was just part of the man’s tactics to intimidate him. It wasn’t going to work. At least he hoped so. But he didn’t really believe that.
“Raymond Horton. Mark and I were – partners up north. Yes, I see he told you about me. The things you do when you’re backed into a corner. You betray the people you care the most about. And the ones who made me do it – men like you – You have no idea do you? Never being able to show your true self to the people you work with. Always the outsider. Lonely. There’s no one you can talk to.”
“What? You know how it feels? I doubt it. Anyway, I was talking. For once, your lot are going to shut up and listen. And try to understand. Got it?”
Creegan nodded. There had been something in Horton’s voice that hinted that his mind wasn’t quite normal. Normal? Sane might be the word he was searching for, but he wasn’t given time to ponder linguistics anymore.
“Yes. You’re all alone. There’s no one who knows what you’re going through. Oh, there are others – like me. But not coppers, see? They’re florists and nurses and dancers and singers and actors. Some are doctors and lawyers. Who knows? But how many coppers do you think? How many military men, how many firefighters? And if you fall for someone, heaven forbid that you ever show your feelings. I’ve heard stories. From the US. Some poor bloke gets drunk and confesses everything to the guy he’s in love with. And what happens? You tell me. You’re the D I.”
“Yes, you are, aren’t you? But what difference does it make? I’ll tell you. They’ve been murdered. Oh, it’s never that way officially. Some gun went off during cleaning or a suspect starts shooting. You and me both know how these things are arranged.”
“No, you listen. Or rather, I’m done talking. Almost. There’s just one more thing I want you to know.”
“Why you’re killing them?”
“What a clever little copper we are. Never stops working. Even when you’re lying here, tied up and faced with a desperate killer. Never stops investigating. No wonder Mark likes you. What do I have against those officers? Men like you, Creegan. Tough. Sure of themselves. Sexy. Not a care in the world. You never have a moment’s doubt about yourself, do you? Smug.”
“Not a care in the world?”
Despite his situation, Creegan couldn’t bite back the bitter outburst.
“Oh, you’ve run into some trivial little problem at work or in private. I’ve checked you out. You have a problem with authority. No promotion for D I Creegan. You poor sod. No, shut up. I’m the one in charge here. You are just here to listen – and then -“
Creegan didn’t like the sound of that one bit, but he realized that whatever he said to this madman would only make things worse. He was beginning to think he wouldn’t get out of this alive. That was one way he’d never imagined he’d go. Not like this. As the victim of some crazed serial killer.
Now Horton changed his manner. He moved closer, and Creegan couldn’t stop himself from closing his eyes. Whatever it is, let it be quick.
Horton chuckled drily.
And Creegan’s worst fears were realized, at least to some extent. He felt hands moving across his face and neck, trailing down to his shoulder and chest.
“Very nice. Exactly my type. I’m sure you’re absolutely delighted to know that, aren’t you? Did you ever do it with another bloke? You know as a kid. Did you?”
“On your own then. I know the type. Hiding the magazines under the mattress, didn’t you, so mum wouldn’t find them?”
The hands withdrew and for a second, Creegan was filled with relief. That was short-lived though. He could feel Horton’s breath on his cheek. There was a warm, wet sensation in his ear that could only be a tongue. It kept moving down his face over his neck down to his chest. No. No. No.
But nothing more happened, and finally Creegan dared to open his eyes and cast a quick look around. Horton had withdrawn slightly.
“You know why I decided to get my own back with those smug bastards? I found out that I had HIV.”
After a pause long enough to let the new information sink in and really register, Horton went on.
“I reckoned, why hold back any longer? It’s not as if I’ve got that much time anyway. They had it coming to them. For each and every moment they’d let me feel cheap and dirty and worthless. I was as good as them. A better shot, a better detective, did as well as anyone back in training.”
“Yes, that brings us to you. You’re right. You haven’t done anything to me. Not you personally. But you’re just like them. Besides, you’re going to help me with something. And don’t think you can stop me by not cooperating. It’s too late. You’re already here.”
Again, Horton paused, but this time, Creegan sensed that the man was out of breath. And when a bad attack of coughing shook his captor, Creegan realized that it was the pneumonia that was killing him. He had no idea if that was a quicker death than the skin lesions, or if Horton might have both kinds.
AIDS wasn’t really something that Creegan was too familiar with. He’d brought in a couple of suspects suffering from it, that was about it. You needed to wear gloves if one of them bled. But he had no idea if you could get infected by being in contact with saliva containing the virus. At least he didn’t think he had any cuts on his face.
Not that it would make much difference. He had a feeling he didn’t have long enough to find out if he’d been infected. That last part about how he’d been brought here to help Horton worried him. What could it be Horton wanted from him? Surely –
“You’re going to bring Mark to me one last time. Now he’s going to listen to me. And I’ll let him bring me in. I don’t have that long anyway. The ones I wanted to get are gone. One way or another. Two of them escaped me by dying before I got to them. But I got the rest. Now all that remains to be done is to tell Mark – What’s the matter? You thought I was going to rape you? Sorry to disappoint you. It would have been fun, but I’m afraid I’m just not up to it anymore. Even carrying you out to my car was a bit much for me. You’re heavier than you look. Usually I go for the tall, older guy. But you’re a very nice looking specimen of man. Yes. I’d have loved to get to know you better. Too late.”
Horton let his hands brush Creegan’s hip and thigh before trailing across his body to his crotch. The hand was hovering there for a moment, during which Creegan again couldn’t keep his eyes open. He didn’t want to see. But again a bad fit of coughing shook Horton and when Creegan turned to face him the hand had withdrawn.
“No time. You’ll be alright on your own, won’t you, Creegan? I have to go and make a call to an old friend.”
The forensic team had been over Creegan’s flat for hours. His car had been meticulously ransacked, but nothing had turned up. Not a trace of the abductor. Uniformed constables had interviewed the neighbours, but no one had seen or heard anything, apart from the usual sensation-seekers who had heard just about anything, including a UFO landing and taking off, no doubt abducting the missing man.
No ransom demands had arrived by any media. By now, when late afternoon was turning into evening, Taylor, Rivers and the rest of the team were back in the office, dejectedly sitting around, ears straining to pick up the sound of a phone ringing. Simmons had made herself useful in various capacities, but there was no doubt that Taylor was running this show, and Rivers had somehow turned into her right hand man.
“Simmons? Run down to the lab and try to hurry those techs up a bit. If there’s anything in the samples -“
Simmons’ lovely face betrayed her feelings at being used as an errand girl, but she didn’t protest. She knew that for now the other woman was in charge and she had to accept that.
“Yes, ma’am. Right away.”
Before the blonde D I was outside the room, Taylor turned back to Rivers.
“You’re thinking the same thing I’m thinking, aren’t you?”
“That this is the cop killer? Yes. I thought so right away, but I didn’t want to -“
“Yes, yes. And I know Creegan’s made a few enemies over the years, but – The timing makes it nearly certain. And here we are, doing nothing, knowing nothing, while – It makes me feel so helpless.”
It was the first time Rivers had heard even a trace of emotion in Taylor’s voice. Yes, there were definitely some feelings left here. But Rivers was just as concerned. For all his difficult ways, Creegan had somehow managed to endear himself to all the members of his team.
The sound of a phone ringing cut through the air. Taylor and Rivers both threw themselves at the phone, but as they bumped into each other, Rivers backed off, giving his superior the honour of picking up.
“Yes? Yes, he’s here. Who’s this calling? Alright. Rivers. Someone asking for you.”
She was making frantic hand signals to Grogan and Kern. They exited the room as silently as possible to arrange for a trace to be put on the call. Something about the way the man sounded had instantly alerted Taylor to the possibility that she had spoken to the killer. And to Creegan’s abductor.
“Speaking. Ray? This isn’t a good time. My boss – Oh. What do you want?”
Taylor was so close Rivers could feel her breath on his skin, as she tried to listen in. Without even thinking, he angled the receiver so she might catch a little of the conversation.
“Alright. Don’t harm him. Please. He’s never done anything to – Yes. Alright. I’ll be there. Whatever you say. Don’t do anything – Yes. Ray -“
But there was a click at the other end of the line, telling him that his old partner had hung up.
“Alright. But we’ll have to leave the backup outside. He said for me to come in alone.”
“I’m going in with you. There’s no way I’m going to -“
The OSC team converged on their cars, and set off to the place the killer had specified. As it happened, Simmons arrived just a little too late to get into one of the cars. The last one had just left without her. With an angry frown on her face, she returned upstairs to watch the phones, just in case some other crime would be reported in. One that she would be the one to solve.
The location Horton had called his old partner to was no further away than a fifteen minute drive away. At least not at the speed their cars produced. Bobbies stopped the traffic to let them through.
On arrival the place turned out to be an abandoned apartment building, no doubt awaiting demolition. In the meantime, it seemed exactly the kind of place the homeless would take shelter in. Part of the roof was in poor condition, and most windows were broken on the first two floors.
When everyone had arrived, Taylor gave her orders.
“You’ll stay outside. Surround the place. Locate all possible exits and cover them. If an unidentified person tries to leave, detain them.”
“Do we shoot?”
“If they resist arrest. Don’t kill any teenage drug addicts, alright? Rivers and I will go inside. Have an ambulance standing by, just in case.”
There was a brief, but inevitable delay, as Taylor and Rivers slipped into their vests.
As Taylor checked her gun, she cast a wary glance at Rivers. Would he be able to fire if necessary? Especially at a person he knew and had worked with before.
“You don’t have to look like that. I’ll do what it takes. All that matters is to get Creegan back safely. You can count on me.”
“Good. Come on.”
Once inside, Rivers stopped and looked around. Horton’s instructions had been for him to come alone. He was hoping that Taylor’s presence wouldn’t cause his former partner to do anything rash.
Finally, he decided that Horton must have been watching as they pulled up outside. There still hadn’t been any sign of life from anywhere in the building. Either it was empty and then – were they already too late? Or else, Horton had sent them on a wild goose chase. Impatiently, Rivers gave up the waiting.
“Ray? I’m here. D I Taylor came along, but no one else.”
Not a sound. Nothing. Rivers had a premonition that Horton had brought them here to find Creegan’s body. No doubt laid out according to some degrading plan dreamed up in the killer’s brain. When had Horton turned into this? Once he’d been an excellent cop. As good as any of them.
“Fine. Keep your hands where I can see them. Walk slowly up the stairs ahead. Turn right. Wait there. Both of you. The woman behind you, Mark.”
She wouldn’t like that at all, but this was the killer’s show, until they’d found Creegan. To Rivers’ relief, Taylor pocketed her gun and let him walk ahead. Apparently she was of the same opinion. But he could tell that she was only biding her time. It felt good to have her covering his back. The old Horton would never have done anything rash. Now there was no telling what he had planned.
Upstairs, they stopped and awaited their next instruction. And they didn’t have long to wait.
“Slowly. Over here.”
Now they could see a shadowy outline framed against a bright light inside the room at the end of the corridor. Rivers hoped that Taylor would hold her fire until they’d had time to make sure that Creegan was there and that he was alright. For all they knew Horton might have an accomplice with orders to kill the prisoner if anything happened to Horton. But to his relief, Taylor played it safe and waited behind him.
“Alright. Both of you. The woman stays there.”
Horton indicated a corner to the right of the door.
“Keep your hands where I can see them. Your boss is in the other room. And in case you’re wondering, he’s safe. I just wanted to talk to you again, Mark. You have to see -“
“Let me see Creegan first. Then we’ll talk.”
Horton shook his head.
“No. We’ll talk now. Here.”
Now he brought out the gun he’d been holding all the time, inside his jacket pocket.
“Sit down. Both of you.”
Horton backed off closer to the door to the room where he said Creegan was. They still didn’t have any proof he was there. He hadn’t made a sound.
“There. His clothes.”
Horton indicated a pile of clothes that were lying on the floor to his left. Rivers could hear Taylor drawing in breath. Creegan’s clothes. Whatever that meant, it was still Horton’s show. All they could do was play his game until they knew what he was after. Creegan’s life might depend on it.
“Alright. What was it you wanted to tell me, Ray?”
“You have no idea? You must know – Didn’t you ever notice how I felt about you?”
Rivers felt his face grow hot all over. Yes, he’d suspected, but he’d tried so hard not to let on.
“Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. I know you’d never have returned those feelings anyway. But I had to see you one last time, before -“
“What happened, Ray? The man I worked with all those years ago, would never have -“
“I’m not a cop anymore. They didn’t want me. Remember?”
“Yes. But -“
“They were everything I ever wanted to be. Everything I wanted in a man. And they despised me. I was everything that was vile in their eyes. Have you any idea how that feels, Mark? After – When I was in the hospital, I got phone calls. Cruel jokes, threats. Someone sent me a package of women’s underwear.”
“I’m really sorry, Ray.”
“You don’t have to apologize. You never did anything like that. And I tried to hand you over to them instead of me.”
“Oh. I forgave you for that, you know that. Now, can I see Creegan? He’s alright, isn’t he?”
“Yes, yes. I just taped his mouth shut. He’s fine. Mark, look at me.”
That was something Rivers definitely didn’t want to do, but he knew he had no choice. He wondered what else Horton might have in store for him. Surely he couldn’t be asking –
“I love you. Always did. Ever since the first day they paired us up. I couldn’t believe my luck. The pretty blond boy was going to be my partner.”
“I’m sorry, Ray.”
“I know. Just my luck. I always fell for the straight guys. Anyway, it’s too late for that now. I’m dying. If I have a year, that’s more than I want. Not that kind of year. Can you see why I did it? I didn’t have anything more to lose. And they deserved to get paid back. I lost my job, my reputation, everything. They had everything. You understand, don’t you, Mark?”
“Yes, I understand. But -“
“Always the cop. I see. Alright, let’s go. And you, Taylor, wasn’t it – stay where you are, or – Oh, I see. You and Creegan. How touching. Don’t worry, I haven’t harmed your lover. He’s none the worse for wear. No nasty virus to spoil your fun. But don’t move or I might have to do something after all.”
Still facing Taylor and Rivers, Horton backed into the other room. Rivers followed slowly. He didn’t want to give Horton an excuse to start firing at them. If they handled this right, maybe no one needed to get hurt. If Horton had been telling the truth. Old partner or not, Creegan had to come first. And Taylor.
In the other room, the light was dim, but as Rivers’ eyes got used to the murk, he could make out a figure lying stretched out on the floor. Trying to keep an eye on Horton, Rivers approached the immobile figure. It was Creegan alright, but was he breathing? Yes, the eyes were open.
With a sigh of relief, Rivers fell to his knees beside his boss. His attention strayed from Horton, and that was the moment the ex-cop had waited for. He sneaked out through a side door that Rivers hadn’t even noticed. By the time he noticed, Taylor was already running after Horton.
“No. You stay with Creegan. Is he alright?”
“Alright. Untie him. I’ll go after Horton. No. I’ll be alright. Just see to Creegan.”
Taylor knew exactly what was on Rivers’ mind. And under different circumstances, she’d have wanted to be the one to make sure Creegan was alright. But she was the one who was more likely to have the resolve to pull the trigger if necessary. Rivers – he could just take his male uptightness and shove it. Creegan needed him. She turned and ran without hearing the rest of Rivers’ excuses.
Knowing it was no use putting off the awkward task any longer, Rivers reluctantly approached the mattress. If Creegan was injured he’d have to do something about it, and anyway, it must be damned awkward, not to mention humiliating, lying like that.
Rivers began to examine the bonds tying Creegan’s hands to the wall behind him. They were just ropes that would be possible to cut off quite easily. If he’d had a knife. Now he’d just have to undo the knots somehow. But first, he’d better do something about the gag.
“Just a sec. I’ll get that tape off you.”
Creegan could just smother the scream issuing from his mouth, when Rivers pulled off the tape. It felt as if part of his skin and his stubble went with the tape.
“Are you alright?”
What he meant by that question was plain to both of them, but that was all Rivers could bring himself to say. He didn’t know if Creegan would be able to put anything else into words, but anyway, from the looks of things, nothing much appeared to be wrong. No blood anywhere.
“Yes. Can you get me out of these?”
“I heard you from the other room. Was Susan with you?”
“Yes. She’s gone after Ray.”
By now, Rivers could see how the rope was cutting into Creegan’s wrists and he knew it had to be painful, but he didn’t know how to speed up the process of untying the rope. It had been left on for far too long and was really eating into the skin.
Rivers could feel the minutes slipping away, and he was acutely aware of how Taylor was chasing a mentally unstable man around a derelict building without backup, unless one of the others had decided he’d had enough of the waiting. Maybe Taylor had called for backup.
He should be calling for help, but if he stopped what he was doing, it would be even longer before Creegan was free. On the other hand, if he did call for backup, someone might bring something to cut through the bonds.
Before he had time to make the decision, the rope tying Creegan’s right hand broke. Rivers doubled his efforts and was finally able to undo the other rope.
“Go. I’ll do the rest. Help Susan.”
“Are you sure? He didn’t -“
“No. He didn’t hurt me. Just go. Susan needs you more.”
Rivers reached into his jacket and brought out his second gun and handed it over to Creegan without comment, but he could tell from Creegan’s grateful look that it would be appreciated.
A cop always felt naked without his gun, and here Creegan was, doubly naked. That made Rivers remember the pile of clothes in the other room. Knowing that every second counted, he still took the time to grab the bundle and throw it on the mattress within Creegan’s reach.
In the corridor outside, Rivers stopped and listened. He couldn’t hear a thing. No footsteps, no guns fired. Nothing. Cautiously he secured each room on that floor, still finding nothing. Upstairs or downstairs?
He decided to continue up to the next floor. Their partners below would stop anyone from exiting. He got his mobile out and called for help. As he’d suspected, Taylor had already done that. The last time she was heard from, she’d been on the fourth floor, following Horton up the stairs towards the roof.
Unless Horton had managed to slip by her, they both had to be above him. So he began climbing the stairs, as silently as he could, trying to keep out of the line of fire.
By the time he got to the fourth floor there was still no sign of anyone, but he could hear the rest of the team coming up from below. Nothing down there, apparently.
On the sixth floor, he finally heard something. It was just a slight shuffling, and he wasn’t sure if it was really a person, or maybe just a rat, until he caught sight of Horton’s tall thin outline against a window.
And it seemed Horton had spotted him too.
“Ray, please give up. If you put down the gun -“
“But I can’t do that, you know that, Mark. It ends here tonight. But I never meant for you to be the one to have to do it. If you don’t want to, just let me go. I’m sure Creegan’s girl wouldn’t mind helping me out. Maybe I should entertain her with a few stories about what I did to her baby while he was lying on that mattress, naked, helpless.”
“Ray – There’s medication – and – it doesn’t have to end this way at all. I’ll visit you at the hospital and I know they won’t prosecute you.”
“It doesn’t work that way, Mark. I’m going now. If you feel you have to shoot me, I’ll understand. In fact, I want you to, if you can bring yourself to do it. But if you can’t, that’s alright. Someone else will.”
“That’s right. If you’re not coming with me now, I’ll have to make you.”
“I’m not coming.”
And Horton raised his gun, aiming it right at Taylor.
Time seemed to stretch out endlessly. Rivers had a bad case of deja vu. If he couldn’t pull himself together another person would die. But if he shot at Horton, an old friend would die. The metal of his gun felt icy against his finger. Taylor’s gun was up too, and she would fire, and maybe –
But it was up to him to put an end to this whole nightmare. And as if of their own accord, Rivers felt his finger squeeze the trigger. A shot echoed in the silence of the bare corridor. It hit Horton’s shoulder, but the ex-cop didn’t drop his gun. Now a shot hit the plaster above Taylor’s head, sending a cloud of dust down over them.
But Taylor returned fire and one, two, three bullets ate into Horton’s chest. A dark stain spread across the white of his shirt. The gun slipped from his hand and he began to sway on his feet, until he crumpled up and fell to the floor.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes. Are you?”
“Yes. Go to Dave. I’ll stay with Ray.”
“You did well, Mark. And I’m sorry about – your partner.”
“Thanks. Dave’s alright, but I’m sure he’ll appreciate your company.”
Taylor just picked up Horton’s gun, then she turned and ran down the stairs to be with her ex-lover.
Rivers knew he should search Horton for hidden weapons, but he knew that even if his old partner had a few more minutes, there wasn’t much more life in him, and anyway, he believed that Horton wouldn’t hurt him. Trying to avoid the blood, Rivers kneeled beside the man who had once been a good friend, someone he would have trusted with his life.
Horton’s lips were moving, but at first no sound came. Rivers leaned closer.
“Yes, Ray, I’m here.”
“I can’t see you.”
It wasn’t nearly enough, but Rivers took Horton’s hand and held it. He didn’t care what anyone would think if they came upon him, sitting like this like a bloody pansy. This was his old partner.
“There. Do you feel my hand?”
“Yes. Mark? You know I never would have hurt you?”
“Yes, I know that. Ray, I’m really sorry about everything. I wish things could have been different. As far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t have had a problem with working with you even after your secret was out. You could have told me.”
“I know. But I didn’t want you to know how I felt. Mark?”
“You’ll tell them?”
“Tell them what?”
“That I was a good cop?”
“Yes. You were. One of the best. I’ll make sure they know.”
“Thanks. Mark -“
“It was an honour working with you.”
“It was an honour working with you, Ray.”
But Rivers didn’t think Horton had heard him. There was a horrible coughing sound, then more blood trickled down the side of Horton’s mouth. Then nothing. It was over.
Rivers stayed with the body until the paramedics showed up, and some of his colleagues took over. Downstairs, he walked right into an argument between Taylor and Creegan. She was trying to make him go off in one of the ambulances. He was telling her he was perfectly alright and only wanted to get home or at least back to the office.
Rivers stayed out of the discussion. He knew better than to get caught in the crossfire like that. Finally, the argument died out and Taylor admitted defeat. They all crowded into the same car and Rivers got behind the wheel.
It suddenly struck him that Taylor had for once appreciated his work. And he hadn’t let her down. Or Creegan. If he hadn’t still been overwhelmed by the shock of realizing who was the cop killer, he might have felt better about the whole thing. As it was, it was all he could do, holding himself together. He needed time to think things through.
Horton had been right. He was glad he hadn’t been forced to shoot him. In a way, he felt as if the entire police force had let Horton down. Even though it had been mortifying to find himself the object of another man’s affection, he knew that Horton had been an excellent cop. With him covering his back, Rivers had always felt safe.
If their colleagues up there hadn’t been up to their queer-bashing, over the course of his career, Horton would have solved many puzzling cases, and put away several of the bad guys. And now look at the result. Five good police officers were dead. This way everyone lost. Such a tragic waste.
They arrived at the office, weary to the bone. The night’s events had left everyone emotionally drained. All were intent on finishing the least possible amount of paper work, before returning home. Anything else could wait until the morning.
One look at Taylor and Creegan told Rivers that those two wouldn’t be spending the night alone. That surprised him a bit. Creegan didn’t strike him as the sort man who would seek out company after something like this. But perhaps it wasn’t up to him.
Either way, Rivers was happy for them. And he had someone waiting for him back home. For once, he was tired enough not to dread the meeting with Hannah. All he could think about was sliding under the covers with her, sharing the wonderful warmth she must have generated by now.
“Right. This will have to do for tonight. I’ll finish the rest in the morning.”
“Alright. No rush. And Mark – thanks.”
Rivers nodded sheepishly. Only now did it occur to him that Creegan and Taylor must have heard everything Horton had told him, except at the very end. Under the circumstances, it didn’t bother Rivers as much as he’d expected he would.
The slight embarrassment had been lost in the torrent of emotions assaulting him afterwards. Besides, this was the kind of thing a police officer would never refer to in so many words. He couldn’t see Creegan saying how sorry he was for the entire mortifying experience. And all things considered, maybe Creegan had had the worst of it, this eventful night. Rivers wasn’t the one who had been lying on the floor wearing practically nothing and tied up.
“Great work, Mark. This might not be the right time but I just felt I had to – What I’m trying to say is, I apologize for whatever I might have said about your performance in the past. As you both know by now, no one’s perfect. I – It’s easier than you think to panic and – Anyway, that’s what I was trying to tell you. I won’t have any objections to partnering with you in the future.”
He stared in consternation at Taylor. This had to be a first in more ways than one. Taylor, actually apologizing, and sounding completely human as well.
“I don’t know what to say. Thanks.”
“No, thank you.”
Again, Rivers nodded feebly, as he walked out of the office. From the looks of things, Creegan would be just fine. Taylor was standing so close to him, that it didn’t take a genius to figure out what was on her mind.
Fortunately, the other members of the team, most notably Simmons were conspicuously absent, but even if not, Rivers didn’t think Creegan would give a toss about who saw him and Taylor together.
As Rivers let himself into his quiet flat, an attack of guilt and self-loathing again overcame him. It was a while before he could make himself enter the bedroom. He was hoping Hannah would be asleep so he wouldn’t have to face her. But when he tiptoed inside, she turned on the light and rolled over to face him.
“Mark. Everything alright?”
Would anything ever be alright again? After what he’d done to her, would he ever be able to face her without this aching feeling of guilt eating at him day and night.
“Yes, everything’s alright. I’ll tell you about it in the morning. Let’s just sleep.”
“Come here. You look cold. I’ll warm you up.”
Hating himself for his cowardice, Rivers managed to produce what he hoped would pass for a genuine smile and, after shedding his clothes, he got into bed beside his fiancee and soon-to-be wife. He didn’t deserve her. But he knew he would never find the courage to come clean about the whole thing. This was something he’d have to live with for the rest of his life.
Still, when Hannah switched out the light, he felt peace of a kind. She was here with him, safe, and he hadn’t let his partners down. That would have to be enough. Horton hadn’t ever had as much.