Ghost Virus: Chapter 24


Jerry and Jamila waited until four technicians from the forensic service had arrived, all of them waddling around in their white Tyvek suits, taking photographs of David’s cell and the corridor outside, and samples of the blood and fluids from the walls and the floor.

Eventually David’s body was wheeled away on a trolley, covered by a blue plastic sheet, and the black sweater was picked up with tongs and sealed in a corrugated cardboard evidence box. The sweater had shown no more signs of life – no more twitching – and although Jerry felt that he should have told the forensic team that it had tried to run away from them, he couldn’t find the words. Neither could Jamila or DC Willis or the duty officer. They looked at each other as one of the forensic experts stuck tape around the evidence box, in tacit agreement that they would wait until Dr Fuller had examined the sweater and compared it with his findings from the overcoats.

It was nearly nine o’clock now. Jamila had phoned Mr Wazir and asked if he preferred to postpone his interview with them until tomorrow, but Mr Wazir told them that he would rather get it over with this evening.

‘Are you up for it, Jerry?’ she asked him. ‘You’re not too shaken up?’

‘Stirred, but not shaken,’ said Jerry. ‘Come on, let’s do it. There’s no way I’m going straight home now for a beer and a box set and a cosy night’s kip.’

 

*

 

Mr Wazir was a neat, bald man, with a small black moustache and several gold teeth. He was wearing an immaculate white shirt and a Peshawar Green Cricket Club tie. He led Jerry and Jamila into the living-room while Mrs Wazir retreated into the kitchen. There was a strong aroma of cardamom in the house, and before Mr Wazir closed the door, they could hear the sound of frying.

They sat down. Mr Wazir had very small feet in maroon corduroy slippers. Jerry felt that they should have taken off their shoes, but Mr Wazir didn’t ask them to. He seemed calm and detached and more business-like than emotional.

Jamila cleared her throat. ‘First of all, Mr Wazir, we have to offer you our condolences on the tragic loss of Samira.’

Mr Wazir nodded, but said nothing.

‘We know that you want to hold a funeral as soon as possible,’ Jamila went on. ‘The pathologist has advised me that her remains can be released tomorrow. If you can just let us know which funeral directors you’ve chosen.’

‘She was a most happy young woman,’ said Mr Wazir. ‘Always laughing, always singing. I have never known anybody so happy.’

‘She was happy to be getting married?’ asked Jamila.

‘Oh, yes. We were careful to choose a husband who was both handsome and reliable, and would treat her well. After all, she was brought up here in UK, and we knew that she would not tolerate a man who did not respect her. She told me that she was so delighted to be marrying Faraz.’

‘We understand that Samira and her mother used to argue a lot,’ said Jerry.

‘My wife is very traditional in her beliefs. She believes in obedience to your elders. In UK, girls do not think that way so much, so there was bound to be friction. But my wife would never have lifted a finger to harm her.’

‘So who do you think might have killed her?’

‘I have no idea at all. Like I told you, she was happy to be marrying Faraz, and she had no jealous boyfriends. She had friends who were boys, naturally, but as her mother probably told you, she was ika anavi’āhī.’

‘Pure,’ said Jamila, for Jerry’s benefit.

‘Do you think she committed suicide?’ asked Jerry.

‘Why would she?’ Mr Wazir retorted. ‘She was happy and she was beautiful and everything in her life was perfect. Somebody killed her but I cannot think who it might have been. To be frank with you, isn’t that your job, to discover who did it?’

 

*

 

‘These cases are beginning to get me down,’ said Jamila, as they climbed into their car and buckled up their seatbelts. ‘All the forensic evidence so far suggests that there was nobody else in the house when Samira had acid poured over face, and like her father said, everything in her life appeared to be perfect. Except, of course, the fibres in her skin.’

‘Well, you know what old Sherlock Holmes’s motto was, don’t you?’ said Jerry, as he started the engine and pulled away from the kerb.

‘Yes, but Sherlock Holmes didn’t find himself dealing with coat fibres that grew into people’s skin and sweaters that ran along the floor like spiders.’

‘Do you fancy a nightcap?’ Jerry asked her. ‘I only live down the road here. I know you don’t touch booze, but I could make you a cup of tea. My daughter Alice comes to stay over sometimes, so I could even stretch to a mug of cocoa.’

‘You have coffee? I would really love a strong cup of coffee. I want something to keep me awake tonight, or else I know what will happen. I will have terrible nightmares about giant spiders.’

‘I’ll make you a triple espresso. That should stop you from sleeping for about a week.’

 

*

 

Jerry’s flat was on the first floor of a grey concrete block of flats on the corner of Prentis Road. Before he opened his door he said, ‘You’ll have to excuse the catastrophic mess. I have a really nice Polish girl who comes around once a week and tidies up for me, but she’s been away this week. Her sister’s getting married or her grandpa’s died, something like that.’

He switched on the lamps in the living-room. It was furnished with a cream vinyl couch cluttered with newspapers, two mismatched armchairs, one green and one orange, a huge flat-screen television and an oak coffee-table that was crowded with empty Stella Artois cans and scribbled-in notebooks and a half-empty packet of paprika crisps.

Jamila took off her coat and Jerry hung it over the back of one of the chairs.

‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘Myself, I’m obsessive but I’ve seen much worse. My brother’s house looks like World War Three. Mind you, he has three small boys.’

‘You’re not married?’ Jerry asked her. ‘I mean, I noticed you’re not wearing a ring, but not everybody does.’ He held up his hand and said, ‘I still wear mine. It keeps away the women who have a kinky thing for detectives.’

‘No. My parents wanted me to marry a cousin of mine, Zartash, who is a businessman in Islamabad and quite wealthy. But he is much older than me and anyway I simply didn’t like him, so I flatly refused. My father was upset at first but when I told him that I admired him so much that I wanted to join the police force myself he gave in.’

‘And now?’

‘I had a long relationship with a social worker when I first started at the Met but in the end we grew apart. Now I have friends who are men but nothing serious.’

‘You’re a very attractive woman. I’m surprised.’

Jamila blushed and looked away. ‘What about that treble espresso?’ she said.

Jerry hesitated for a moment and Jamila looked back at him in a way that told him she wasn’t at all upset by the compliment that he had paid her, in spite of being his superior officer. They were off duty now, after all, and she gave him the feeling that she liked him, too. Maybe she had a weakness for tall scruffy Englishmen with dirty blond brushed-up hair and blue eyes.

He went into the kitchen and switched on his De Longhi coffee machine. Then he took a can of Stella Artois out of the fridge and popped the top. Jamila followed him into the kitchen and looked around.

‘Well, at least your kitchen is tidy,’ she smiled. ‘Not just tidy, in fact – absolutely spotless!’

‘That’s because I hardly ever cook. My toad-in-the-hole was legendary but it’s not something you cook for one.’

‘Well, I did promise to cook you my keema. Minced mutton curry with peas and potatoes.’

‘Believe me, skip, I’ll take you up on that. I’ll even bring my own spoon.’

Once Jamila’s espresso had been poured out, they went back into the living-room and Jerry cleared away some of the old copies of The Sun so that they could sit together on the couch. Jamila tucked her legs under her and held her cup in both hands as she sipped it and Jerry couldn’t help thinking how defenceless and pretty and endearing she looked.

But they both knew that this wasn’t a time for flirting, or even for seeking consolation in each other’s company. Both of them could see nothing in their mind’s eye but David’s flayed and bloody body, and the black sweater trying to escape along the station corridor.

‘I believe in the supernatural,’ said Jamila. ‘You know – poltergeists that throw pots and pans across the room, and tip over chairs. But you never think you are actually going to witness it.’

‘Come on – there has to be a scientific explanation for what happened,’ Jerry told her. ‘Maybe it’s some kind of chemical reaction. I don’t know.’

‘But it’s the way it seems to be spreading, like an epidemic. First Samira, and then Sophie, and then our down-and-out, and then Laura Miller, and David. I know all of these cases have different characteristics. It looks very much as if Samira killed herself, instead of attacking other people, and our junkie didn’t actually try to hurt anybody – although maybe he didn’t get the chance before he was caught. Every one of them, though, had fibres from their clothing piercing their skin. So what can we conclude from that? That their clothing was contaminated? With what? What on earth makes the fibres of your coat or your sweater stick into your pores and turn you into a schizophrenic?’

‘I’ve been thinking that too, skip. But it could be that we’re looking at this the wrong way round. Maybe they’d all been taking some kind of drug that sucked the fibres into their skin – like osmosis or something. There are so many weird new party drugs around these days – Pink, for instance. They’re strong enough to knock out an elephant. I mean, some of them like Carfentanil were actually formulated to knock out elephants, so maybe they’re strong enough to pull your coat fibres into your skin. Who knows? Let’s just hope that Dr Fuller can give us a clue.’

‘If not – perhaps DI Saunders was right, and we need to call for an exorcist,’ said Jamila. ‘And—’

‘And what?’

‘And when we’re together like this, away from the station, don’t call me “skip”. My name is Jamila. In Africa the name means “chaste”, and in Arab countries it means “beautiful in appearance and behaviour”.’

‘It suits you. “Jerry” is either a German, or a petrol can, or a crap bit of building.’

Neither of them laughed, but they looked at each other for several seconds without saying anything, and a silent message passed between them, although both of them understood that it was a message that they might never have the chance to tear open and act on.

Jamila finished her coffee and stood up. ‘I should go, Jerry, and you have a very early start tomorrow morning, don’t forget. Good luck with Liepa the Weeper.’

‘I’ll drive you home. Where are you staying?’

‘In Merton, with a friend from the Asian Women’s Association. But I’ll call for an Uber. You’ve been drinking and you’ve been through enough stress for one day.’

It took only ten minutes for the taxi to arrive. Jerry took Jamila outside and opened the car door for her. The night was growing chilly now and they could hear a train rattling in the distance.

Jamila paused and lifted her face to him and Jerry kissed her on the cheek.

‘We have a saying in Pakistan,’ said Jamila. ‘It is better to risk humiliation than to stay silent about your feelings. One day there may be nobody there to listen to you.’


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