When Jerry arrived at the station that morning, he was surprised to find that DI Saunders was already sitting at his desk. He was tapping at his laptop with a cup of macchiato from Mud’s growing cold beside him.
‘I wanted to make an early start,’ DI Saunders told him. ‘I’ve got an important lunch later, up in the City.’
Jerry didn’t ask him what kind of a lunch he was going to, but he could guess. DI Saunders was a Freemason, and he had heard that the masons were holding a series of fundraising events to buy a new air ambulance. All the same, he looked even more miserable than usual.
‘Dr Fuller’s just sent the preliminary report from forensics,’ he said. ‘Both on Samira Wazir’s skin sample and the fibres that were taken from Sophie Marshall. Here – I’ve printed a copy out for you.’
He picked up a sheet of paper and handed it over.
‘I hate to admit it, Jerry, but it seems like you may have been right to be suspicious about Ms Wazir’s missing coat… and Ms Marshall’s jacket, too. The fibres in Samira Wazir’s skin sample were definitely a mixture of wool and polyester, and the samples from Ms Marshall turned out to be silk. But both samples also contained traces of human DNA – and not the same DNA as Ms Wazir and Ms Marshall, and not the same as each other.’
Jerry quickly scanned the report from the forensics service.
‘But how did the fibres get into their pores?’ he asked. ‘They don’t say anything about that here.’
‘They’re still running tests. In other words, they haven’t got the faintest. I spoke to Dr Fuller on the phone and he said that the only way they could have penetrated her pores was if they had been alive, like worms, or some other kind of parasite that gets under your skin. I asked him if he’d been watching too much Doctor Who lately.’
Jerry didn’t answer. The expression on DI Saunders’ face was so bereft of any trace of humour that he couldn’t think what to say.
‘On the other hand, it may not be so much of a science fiction story as it sounds,’ DI Saunders went on.
‘Really?’ said Jerry.
DI Saunders stood up. ‘A druggie was brought in late yesterday afternoon for importuning and threatening behaviour in the Mitcham Road. He’s wearing a short grey coat that matches the description of Ms Wazir’s coat. He’s down in the cells right now. Apparently he was suffering so badly from withdrawal symptoms last night that they had to call in a doctor to give him a shot of methadone. He’s sleeping it off right now.’
‘But he was wearing Samira Wazir’s coat? Or one that looks like it?’
‘He still is. And that’s the whole point. We can’t get it off him. It’s like it’s stuck to him with superglue. Except that it’s not superglue. It’s the fibres of the coat. They’ve penetrated right through his sweater and into his skin. The doctor said that if we tried to pull it off him, half of his skin would probably come away with it, and he could die of shock.’
‘So the odds are, it’s the same coat?’
‘It seems like it. Once we’ve removed it, we’ll run Ms Wazir’s mother down here to identify it. I’m just waiting to hear that he’s conscious, and then we can interview him and send him over to St George’s and see what they can do surgically to get it off him.’
‘Sophie Marshall sold that coat to Samira Wazir at her charity shop. She should be able to identify it, too.’
‘Well, yes. Not that she’s going to count as a reliable witness. DS Patel’s going to be interviewing her again this morning. She’s still insisting that it was her jacket that encouraged her to murder her boyfriend.’ He circled his finger around his head to indicate that he thought she was loopy.
Jerry said, ‘How about that appeal about the jacket that the press office put out? It was on London Tonight yesterday, wasn’t it? Have we had any response to that yet?’
DI Saunders shook his head. ‘I have to tell you, Jerry, I’m not at all sure how to handle this. Ms Wazir’s coat – all right, what happened to her was bizarre, but maybe there was some kind of infestation in the fabric, like Dr Fuller suggested. We could have put that down to an isolated incident. But then we get Ms Marshall’s jacket, and it’s almost the same story over again. On top of that, both garments immediately went missing from the crime scene, almost as if—’
He paused, and Jerry finished what he was obviously going to say. ‘I know. Almost as if they ran off by themselves. That’s what Sophie Marshall told me… She said her jacket came after her.’
‘It’s bonkers, isn’t it?’ said DI Saunders. ‘It’s totally bloody bonkers. It seems to be bonkers, anyway, but the trouble is, there’s going to be a perfectly simple and reasonable explanation, and when we find out what it is, we’re going to look like complete cretins for suggesting that a coat and a jacket could run around all by themselves. It’s like what happened to DCI Charlie Meredith, do you remember? He was totally convinced that a baby girl had been abducted by foxes, and all the time it turned out that her mother had suffocated her and buried her in the back garden. Ruined his career, that did, and he ended up dying of a heart attack in Woolworth’s. I don’t want the same to happen to me.’
Jamila came in, wearing a smart navy-blue trouser-suit and a blue Hermès headscarf. She smelled of patchouli perfume.
‘Good morning, gentlemen,’ she smiled. ‘I dropped in to see Mrs Wazir on my way here this morning, just to see how she is coping. She is still deeply upset by the death of her daughter, of course. Her husband will be coming home this afternoon so I’ll go back there later and see what he has to add, if anything. But Mrs Wazir told me that she now remembers something strange that happened on the day before she and her son went off to see her cousin. That was also the same day that Samira came home with the coat.’
‘Strange?’ asked DI Saunders. ‘Strange like what?’
‘Strange like she went upstairs to tell Samira to come down for her supper, because that was one day when she hadn’t eaten at the restaurant. She was just about to open her bedroom door when she heard what sounded like Samira talking to another woman.’
‘OK. So who was she, this other woman?’
‘That was what was strange. She listened for a while, and then she knocked and went in, but only Samira was there, nobody else. She told Samira that she thought she had heard her talking to somebody, but Samira didn’t say anything. She didn’t confirm it and she didn’t deny it.’
‘Did she hear anything of what Samira and this imaginary woman were talking about?’ asked Jerry. ‘I used to have an imaginary friend called Bill, and we used to jabber all the time, him and me. Bill used to speak very gruff.’
‘She couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying,’ said Jamila, ‘but according to Mrs Wazir, Samira sounded as if she was really upset about something, and this other woman sounded very cross and demanding. She was nagging, that was how Mrs Wazir put it.’
‘Well, that’s something to note in your report,’ said DI Saunders. ‘I don’t know if it throws any more light on who poured acid over our victim, or if it was self-inflicted. I’m still leaning towards an honour killing, but perhaps it’s an indication that the balance of her mind was disturbed.’
‘There’s one more thing,’ said Jamila. ‘Samira was wearing her new coat at the time.’
‘In her bedroom?’
Jamila nodded. ‘It seems unusual, doesn’t it, to say the least? That’s a very warm house. Too warm, for my liking. So why would she be wearing an overcoat?’
‘Funny, that,’ said Jerry. ‘That kid who got himself stuck in the charity box, Billy Jenkins, he said he heard a voice inside the box, but when he climbed inside there was nobody there.’
‘Well, maybe he did,’ said DI Saunders. ‘But he was out of his brain on smack, wasn’t he?’
‘Was Samira still wearing the coat when she came down for her supper?’ asked Jerry.
‘No, but Mrs Wazir says that she ate her supper very quickly, and hardly spoke, and couldn’t wait to leave the table and get back up to her bedroom again.’
DI Saunders sat down again with his hand over his mouth, thinking. Then he pushed a copy of the report from the forensic service across his desk and said, ‘You’d best read this.’
While she scanned it, he told her about the addict who had been arrested in Mitcham Road, and how he appeared to be wearing Samira Wazir’s coat, or at least a coat that looked very much like it.
‘Jerry and I were discussing this when you came in. How bloody mystifying it all is. And what Mrs Wazir told you hasn’t helped. If anything, it’s made it even more bloody mystifying.’
‘There’s still no sign of Sophie Marshall’s jacket?’
‘No,’ said Jerry. ‘I only hope that if anybody finds it, they don’t try it on. I don’t fancy finding any more bodies with their guts hanging out.’
‘Well, Sophie’s had her breakfast, so I’m going down to interview her now,’ said Jamila. ‘Are you coming, Jerry?’
DI Saunders said, ‘Text me when you’ve finished. Especially if she admits to it. I should be back here about four o’clock in any case. And perhaps you can have some thoughts about how we’re going to present this to the press.’
‘I think I’m going to agree with what you said yesterday, sir,’ said Jerry, although he could hardly believe that he was saying it. ‘Don’t let’s say anything about the coat or the jacket until we’re sure we know exactly what we’re talking about.’
Sophie was looking dazed when a young woman officer brought her into the interview room. Her hair was tousled and she had a blue blanket draped over her shoulders.
She was seated at the table opposite Jerry and Jamila, while the woman officer went over and sat in the opposite corner.
‘Hallo, Sophie,’ said Jamila. ‘How are you feeling this morning? Did you sleep?’
Sophie blinked at her, and frowned, as if she were speaking in a foreign language.
‘We’re going to ask you some questions, Sophie, and we’re going to record your answers. Do you understand that? You’ve already been cautioned, but I want you to be clear that you understand your rights. You know that you don’t have to say anything, but anything you do say can be used as evidence in a court of law, and if you rely for your defence on something that you don’t tell us now, it could count against you.’
Sophie continued to frown at her as if she couldn’t understand a word.
‘Can you confirm your full name, please?’ asked Jamila.
‘What difference will it make, who I am?’ Sophie retorted.
‘I just need you to confirm your full name, for the record.’
‘I’m not telling you.’
‘Are you Sophie Jean Marshall, of Lavender Avenue, Tooting?’
‘What difference will it make, if I am?’
‘Until yesterday, were you co-habiting at Lavender Avenue with Michael Lewis Brent?’
‘She was, yes.’
‘When you say “she”, do you mean you?’
‘I mean her.’
‘She’s the one who killed him. But after the way he treated her, I don’t blame her.’
‘Do you admit that you murdered Michael Lewis Brent?’
‘She did. It was her. You can blame me for it if you like, but you don’t have any proof, do you?’
‘Sophie, your fingerprints are on the handle of the knife that was stuck in Michael’s left eye, as well as a knife that was stuck into his right eye and then removed, and also on a knife that was used to cut open his stomach.’
‘Yes, but they’re her fingerprints. Not mine.’
‘Sophie, you are her. You’re one and the same person. Those fingerprints match yours.’
‘I don’t know how that can be. You’re lying. You’re making it up. You’re trying to trick me into saying it was me who murdered him, aren’t you?’
‘I don’t have to trick you, Sophie. All the evidence points to the fact that it was you. Apart from your fingerprints on the murder weapons, there was nobody else in the house except for you, and we have witnesses who can testify that they saw nobody else enter or leave the property during the time-frame when Michael was killed.’
‘They’re mistaken, because I was there. Either that, or they’re lying. They never liked her. They were always complaining because of all the shouting. But it wasn’t her fault, it was Mike’s. You can’t blame her for killing him. I don’t know how she put up with him for so long. He was a pig.’
‘All right, you were there, as well as Sophie,’ said Jamila. ‘Can you please tell me who you are?’
‘No,’ said Sophie. ‘You said I didn’t have to say anything if I didn’t want to.’
‘I warned you that it would harm your defence if you relied on something in court which you refused to tell us now.’
‘I won’t need to, because I didn’t do it, and you can’t prove that I did.’
Jamila reached across the table and switched off the recorder. ‘That’s it,’ she said. ‘It’s clear that we’re not getting anywhere. I’m going to send you for a psychiatric assessment to determine if you’re capable of understanding the charges against you.’
Sophie stared at her wide-eyed. ‘What?’ she screeched. ‘Are you saying that I’m mad? Is that what you’re saying? I’ll show you who’s mad!’
She stood up, so that her chair fell backwards onto the floor with a loud clatter. Then she climbed up over the table and seized Jamila’s right arm. Jamila smacked at her with her left hand and tried to push her away, but Sophie lifted up Jamila’s right hand and bit into it, just below her thumb, so hard that blood spurted out. Jamila let out a yelp of pain, and shook her hand away, and as she did so Jerry reached out and dragged Sophie off the table and onto the floor.
The woman officer pushed Sophie face down onto the carpet and forced her knee into her back. Then she twisted Sophie’s arms behind her, unclipped the handcuffs from her belt and snapped them around Sophie’s wrists.
‘Don’t you worry! Don’t you worry!’ Sophie shouted. ‘That was only the first bite! I’ll eat the rest of you yet, you cow! I’ll eat every last scrap of you and pick my teeth with your bones!’
Between them, Jerry and the woman officer pulled Sophie up onto her feet. Jamila had pressed the panic button and two more uniformed officers burst their way into the interview room.
Sophie threw her head violently from side to side and spit flew out of her mouth. ‘I’ll eat the rest of you yet, you miserable bitch! I’ll chew you and swallow you and digest you and you’ll become me! Then you’ll know who murdered Mike! Then you’ll know! But it’ll be too late for you then, won’t it? Far too late! Just let me get my teeth into you, you bitch! You won’t stand a hope in hell!’
The three officers dragged Sophie, still screaming and kicking, back to her cell. Jerry looked at Jamila’s bleeding hand and saw that Sophie had bitten her right through to the bone. He pulled three tissues out of the box on the table, folded them up into a pad, and pressed them against the teeth-marks.
‘You’re going to need stitches, or butterfly bandages at least, and sterilising, too,’ he told her. ‘God knows what’s wrong with that girl, but you don’t want to catch it.’
Jamila’s lips were pursed and she was wincing with pain. She nodded, and Jerry could see that she was trying hard not to cry. If she hadn’t been his superior officer, he would have hugged her and kissed her and told her that she was going to be fine.