Ghost Virus: Chapter 10


Before the media conference at noon, Jerry and Jamila briefed DI Saunders on what little progress they had made so far.

DI Saunders stood staring out of the window at the station car park two floors below and Jerry wasn’t even sure that he was listening to them.

After a while, though, he turned around and said, ‘It could have been some kind of an allergy.’

‘You mean the fibres in her skin?’ Jerry asked him.

‘Well, I don’t know, do I? But I can’t see what those fibres have got to do with her having concentrated sulphuric acid poured over her face.’

‘The only prints on the acid bottle were hers, guv,’ said Jerry. ‘It could have been that the fibres were hurting her more than she could bear, and she wanted to end it all.’

‘Jerry – just because the only prints on the acid bottle were hers, that doesn’t mean that nobody else handled it. And if she couldn’t stand pain, why would she choose the most painful possible way of killing herself? She’d take an overdose, wouldn’t she, or jump in front of a train? It’s only a five-minute walk to Streatham Common station.’

‘I seriously don’t think it was an honour killing, sir,’ said Jamila.

‘You don’t? Why?’

‘Because it seems that she was happy to be marrying the man that her parents had chosen for her, and because her mother is so deeply distressed about her dying. The father, of course, is still in Peshawar, but apparently he will be back before the weekend, and we can interview him then.’

‘I’ve found out where her coat came from,’ said Jerry. ‘It was donated to a charity shop opposite the Granada and Samira bought it from there. I’ll be going round this afternoon to talk to the fellow who donated it.’

‘Quite honestly, I don’t know what the point of that is,’ said DI Saunders.

‘The fibres embedded in her skin were grey, and her coat was grey. I’m just checking to see if there’s any connection.’

‘Jerry – she died because acid was poured over her face. Perhaps it was self-inflicted but as I say, there doesn’t seem to be any logical motive for her killing herself. There was no suicide note, and no indication that she was depressed. Everything points to an honour killing.’

‘We know that less than sixty per cent of suicides leave any kind of note, guv,’ said Jerry. ‘And her uncle said that the last time he saw her, after she had finished at the restaurant, she was very tired and seemed to be distant. That was the word he used – “distant”.’

‘Perhaps she’d knocked back a few sneaky drinks while she was working,’ said DI Saunders.

‘She was a Muslim, sir,’ put in Jamila. ‘Muslims don’t drink alcohol.’

‘Oh, they say they don’t,’ said DI Saunders. ‘I went to a police conference in Dubai last year and if some of those Arab officers weren’t drinking whisky then there must be some special soft drink there with the same label as Johnnie Walker.’

‘Well, whatever; Dr Fuller has sent a skin sample to Lambeth Road for forensic tests,’ Jerry told him.

‘All right,’ said DI Saunders. ‘But don’t spend too long chasing this coat. I never heard of anybody being driven to kill themselves by a coat before. And where is it, anyway, this coat? Didn’t you say it went missing?’

‘That’s right, sir. At the moment I’m working on the possibility that one of Samira’s friends or relatives came around while we were there and took it.’

DI Saunders raised one sceptical black eyebrow and it looked like a crow suddenly taking off from a telegraph wire.

‘Well, I don’t know why they took it, do I?’ said Jerry. ‘Maybe they wanted it for sentimental reasons, like a souvenir. Or maybe Samira had promised to give it to them.’

‘I think you’re wasting your time, Jerry,’ said DI Saunders. ‘You’d be far better employed trying to find out which of the victim’s relatives did it, or who they paid to do it.’

‘Is that what you’re going to suggest at this media conference?’ asked Jamila. ‘If so, I think that you’ll be treading on very thin ice, racially speaking.’

‘I’m simply going to say that one of our lines of inquiry is the possibility that it was an honour killing. There’s no point in pretending that it couldn’t have been, and if there’s any witnesses out there who can tip us off about who might have done it, they need to know what we’re looking for. We’ll be offering the usual reward for any information leading to a conviction.’

‘The Pakistani community here in Tooting is very proud and very tight-knit,’ said Jamila. ‘At the moment we have excellent relations with them. I don’t want us to put their backs up, that’s all. There’s a word in Punjabi which roughly translates as omertà, or keeping schtum. We don’t want that.’

At that moment there was a knock at the office door. It was Sergeant Bristow from the desk downstairs, a thin, morose man with large ears and a comb-over. He was always helpful but he had no sense of humour at all. Jerry always thought he looked as if he ought to be the manager of a shoe-shop.

‘DC Pardoe? Ah – there you are. You asked me to tell you when that lad who got himself stuck in that charity clothes box was going to be questioned. It’ll be about one-thirty, in interview room two. DC Willis will be doing the honours.’

‘Great, sarge, thanks,’ said Jerry.

‘What’s all that about?’ asked DI Saunders. ‘It sounds like you’ve got some bee in your bonnet about second-hand clothes.’

‘No, sir – it’s not connected with the coat. It’s a long-running case I’ve been working on with DI French, on and off. This Lithuanian geezer, Jokubas Liepa, he’s been operating a racket in stolen charity donations for over a year now, but he’s a bugger to nail down. People leave bags of clothes and shoes and toys and stuff outside their front doors for the charities to come around and collect, but Liepa sends a couple of vans round at the crack of dawn and picks them all up before the charities can get there.’

‘You wouldn’t think it was worth the effort, would you?’ said DI Saunders.

‘What? No, you’ve got to be joking! It’s more than worth the effort. It’s worth thousands – tens of thousands! Liepa sends most of the clothes off to Lithuania, where they either get cleaned and restructured and modernised, or else they get ripped apart and re-spun into new fabric. Shoddy, they call that.’

‘Oh well, good luck with that,’ said DI Saunders. He checked his Rolex and then said, ‘Time for our media briefing. Let’s make it a brief briefing, shall we? And I don’t think we’ll mention the fibres in the victim’s skin, not until we get a full report from forensics. And I don’t think we’ll mention the coat, either.’

‘If it appears on the media that we’re looking for it, guv, there’s every chance that someone might come forward and let us know what’s happened to it.’

‘Yes, and there’s every chance that some reporter will ask us why we’re looking for it, and we won’t be able to give them a coherent answer. Jerry – I want focus on this case, and the focus as far as I see it is on an honour killing. Why do you think we sent DS Patel down here? I know we have to be thorough, but everything else is just a diversion.’

‘Sir – I wasn’t necessarily sent down here to prove that this was an honour killing,’ said Jamila. ‘I was sent down here because I have the experience and the ethnic background to recognise if it really was an honour killing or not. At this stage of our investigation, like I said, I have considerable doubts that it was. If she was happy about her arranged marriage, what was the motive?’

‘We don’t know that yet,’ said DI Saunders. ‘Maybe it wasn’t her own family that killed her – maybe it was somebody acting on behalf of her intended husband’s family. Maybe they weren’t happy about him marrying her. Or maybe it was somebody acting on behalf of another family who wanted their daughter to marry him. His family are pretty wealthy, aren’t they? That would have made him quite a catch for a girl who lives in a terraced house in Tooting.’

He paused, and shrugged, and then he said, ‘There’s endless possible motives for an honour killing, DS Patel. Maybe she had a boyfriend here in Tooting who was jealous about her getting hitched to some fellow in Pakistan and decided to mess up her looks. Maybe that was all he intended to do, but it all went too far, and she died.’

‘You have a very vivid imagination, sir,’ said Jamila.

‘Oh no, I don’t. The things that people do to each other, DS Patel, and the reasons why they do them, they’re beyond anybody’s imagination, mine included. Why do you think I have a reputation for being such a miserable git?’

Jerry thought, Blimey, he actually knows that he’s a miserable git, and accepts it. There’s no answer to that.

 

*

 

As DI Saunders had demanded, the media briefing was very brief indeed. Only five journalists had turned up: a middle-aged reporter from the Wandsworth Guardian with a blocked-up nose and a hacking cough and two stringers from the Daily Mail and the Sun, as well as a young woman from Nawa i Jang, the Pakistani weekly, and a bored-looking man in an anorak from BBC-TV London News.

‘Are you looking for anybody in connection with Samira Wazir’s death?’ asked the stringer from the Mail. ‘Like, was it an honour killing?’

‘We’re exploring every avenue,’ said DI Saunders. ‘That includes the possibility that it was an honour killing, or a deliberate assault that may have had more serious consequences than the perpetrator intended.’

‘Is it conceivable that it was suicide?’ asked the young woman from Nawa i Jang.

‘As I say, we’re keeping an open mind,’ DI Saunders told her. ‘We’re still waiting for the results of some further forensic tests, and these may take several weeks.’

‘Were there any signs of a sexual assault?’ asked the stringer from the Sun.

‘Not so far,’ said DI Saunders. ‘Her mother claimed that she was a virgin, but then it’s highly unlikely that she would have confided in her mother about losing her virginity, isn’t it?’

The young woman from Nawa i Jang put up her hand. ‘Is it possible that it was a racially motivated attack? There has been some tension in Tooting lately between different ethnic groups. That black boy who was stabbed last week at Tooting Broadway station, and that fire at the Svaadisht Khaana restaurant?’

‘I really can’t say,’ said DI Saunders. ‘All I know is that the Wazir family seem to be well integrated into the local community and they’ve received no threats that I’m aware of.’

He paused and looked around. ‘Is that all? This is an ongoing investigation and we’re appealing for anybody who has any information to get in touch with us, no matter how inconsequential that information might seem to be. Thank you, and good afternoon.’

‘Did Ms Wazir have any history of mental illness?’ asked the reporter from the Wandsworth Guardian.

‘Mental illness? Not that we’re aware of.’

‘It’s just that I found details on Google about a similar case in 2010. A nineteen-year-old Pakistani girl in Balham poured petrol over her head and set fire to herself. She survived, even though she was severely disfigured, but she told her doctors that she had wanted to destroy her face. She said that she had been possessed by an evil female spirit called Pichal Peri, and that her face was changing so that she was beginning to look like this Pichal Peri, with staring eyes and sharp teeth. Apparently this belief in possession is quite common in Pakistan. Even quite educated people in the cities will blame mental instability on demonic possession.’

‘Well, thank you for that,’ said DI Saunders, without making any attempt to mask his impatience. ‘That gives us one more avenue to explore. Demonic possession. Terrific. I’ll see if I can get in touch with Father Karras.’


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