Ghost Virus: Chapter 36


Jamila was walking along the corridor towards the CID room with a cup of latte in one hand and her wet raincoat over her arm when DI Saunders called out to her from his open door.

‘Didn’t you get my text?’ he asked her.

‘I’m sorry, no. I forgot to charge up my phone last night.’

‘I tried to call your landline too, but your friend told me you’d already left.’

‘Yes. I needed to do some shopping before I came into work. Otherwise I never seem to get the time.’

‘You’ve heard this morning’s news, though?’ asked DI Saunders.

‘What? No. What’s happened?’

‘A young man was found on Streatham Common early this morning. What was left of him, anyhow. He was literally torn to pieces. Both of his arms and both of his legs were ripped off – and I mean ripped off, not cut off. God alone knows how that was done. Not only that, he was gutted, with his internal organs all over the place. Liver, lungs, heart. A dog-walker reported it. He said it was all he could do to stop his boxer snaffling bits of the victim for breakfast.’

‘That’s awful. Do we know who he is, this young man?’

DI Saunders went back to his desk and picked up his notebook. ‘Philip Wakefield, aged twenty-eight. Single, not involved in any current relationship. He was a rewards and compensation manager at Ensurex International. That’s a big insurance company based in the Walkie Talkie building. City of London police have arranged to meet his managers this morning to find out if he had any problems at work. Any business enemies, that kind of thing.’

‘Who’s handling it from here?’

‘DI French is taking overall control, with DS Willoughby and DC Bright. But it’s possible that you and DC Pardoe might have to be involved, too.’

‘Quite honestly, sir, I think we’ve got enough on our plates. Have you read my report from Springfield yet?’

‘Yes, I have. Well – skimmed through it, to be fair. I’ll be going over it more thoroughly this morning. But there’s a reason why you and Pardoe need to take a look at this case, although I’ve got my fingers crossed that it’s just a freaky coincidence. DI French informed me that when we undertook our preliminary search of the common and the surrounding area, they found a coat.’

DI Saunders hesitated, almost as if he was reluctant to tell her any more. Jamila could tell by his expression that this investigation was vexing him much more than he was prepared to admit.

‘A coat?’ she coaxed him.

‘A black duffle coat. Apparently it was snagged in the thorn bushes on the north side of the common, among the trees. The cuffs and sleeves are soaked in what is almost certainly blood, which was still damp when the coat was discovered. The lining also has bloodstains, as well as faecal matter and shreds of what appear to be human skin and strings of connective tissue. There’s bloody tissue and blood clots inside the back of the hood, too.’

‘So the coat probably came into close contact with the victim’s remains after he was killed?’ said Jamila. ‘It could have been a futile attempt to cover him up.’

‘Maybe. Let’s hope so. I think you know what I’m thinking, Jamila, and I think you’re thinking the same as me. The ground was saturated because of the rain, and although it’s mostly grass it’s muddy in places. By rights there should have been dozens of recent footprints around the victim’s remains. You can’t tear a man to pieces without leaving some trace that you were there. So far, though, the CSEs have found only his footprints – the victim’s – and the dog-walker’s.’

Jamila said nothing, but her mind was spinning over like a kaleidoscope. It almost sounded as if Philip Wakefield had been attacked by a giant eagle, or a dragon – some creature that had soared down from the clouds and torn him apart without landing on the grass. What else would have been strong enough to pull off his arms and legs? What else could have done it without leaving any tell-tale impressions on the ground?

Of course this was real life, and not Game of Thrones, and giant eagles and dragons didn’t exist. But who could the coat have belonged to, and why had they left it behind when it was caught in the bushes, when they must have known that it was soiled with incriminating evidence?

Unless, of course, there wasn’t a perpetrator – not a human perpetrator, anyway. In her mind’s eye she kept seeing flashes of the black raincoat that had run away down the road from Mindy’s house. A coat, running, with nobody in it. Or maybe there had been somebody in it – somebody invisible, or a ghost, or a spirit – but somebody who left no footprints.

DI Saunders was right. Jamila was thinking what he was thinking. There was no question that Philip Wakefield’s killing had been far more gruesome than the murders committed by Sophie Marshall and David Nelson and Laura Miller and Mindy. But so far the only circumstantial evidence in every case was the same. An item of clothing – in this case another coat.

‘I assume there were no eye-witnesses,’ she said.

‘Not to the actual killing, no,’ DI Saunders told her. ‘It must have taken place sometime shortly after midnight because Philip Wakefield had just come off the last train from London Victoria. It was pitch black and it was raining. Of course DI French has got his team knocking on every door along both sides of the common, and he’ll be putting out the usual appeal on social media. Meanwhile the victim’s remains have gone to the mortuary and the coat was bagged up and sent off to Lambeth Road.’

‘I’ll call DC Pardoe and get him up to speed,’ said Jamila. ‘After that – well, I’ll just wait for DI French to call us, if he needs us. I was hoping to question that Mindy girl this afternoon. With any luck she might be able to throw some more light on how these clothes make people so psychotic.’

DI Saunders said, ‘I don’t have to remind you not to mention this coat to a soul, DS Patel. And by that I mean nobody, apart from Pardoe.’

‘To be honest with you, sir, I wouldn’t know what to say about it,’ said DS Patel. ‘If the killer left it behind, then we’re still looking for him. But if the coat did it? Then we already have it in custody.’

DI Saunders didn’t answer that, but closed his office door like a man who needs to be left alone for a while.

 

*

 

Jerry had heard the news about Philip Wakefield’s murder on LBC News while he was eating a honey-and-oats breakfast bar in the bath. The only information that had been given out on the radio was that a man’s body had been found on Streatham Common and that his name would be released when his next-of-kin had been informed. Police were appealing for witnesses but although foul play was suspected, no suspects had yet been identified, and the motive for the man’s killing was unclear. It didn’t appear to be robbery, since his wallet and his iPhone and his thousand-pound Raymond Weil watch were found on his body, untouched.

‘They should have said around his body,’ said Jamila. ‘There were bits and pieces of him scattered over twenty square metres.’

‘Bloody hell. Do you want me to come in?’

‘Not just yet, Jerry. There’s nothing that you or I can do until DI French has completed his house-to-house and we’ve had Dr Fuller’s autopsy and a full forensic report on the coat from Lambeth Road.’

‘All right. But let me know if you need me. The only thing I really must do today is go to the launderette. Have you heard any more about Mindy?’

‘No, not yet. Personally I’d be surprised if she’s well enough to be questioned today.’

‘I’ll tell you something, skip, this coat thing’s gone way beyond spooky now. I mean, it was weird enough them turning ordinary law-abiding people into homicidal maniacs, but now that they’ve started running around on their own—’

‘Jerry, we have no way of knowing if this duffle coat was running around on its own.’

‘But you said it had human tissue and blood clots inside its hood. I mean, think about it – inside its hood? How did those get there? If somebody was wearing it, all that gunk would have splashed onto their face, surely?’

‘It’s far too early to say, Jerry. We’ll just have to wait and see what Block B come up with. Listen, I’ll call you later if I need you. Don’t worry too much, I can handle things at this end. Enjoy yourself with Alice.’

Jamila put down her phone. This investigation was all becoming so surreal. She was beginning to feel as if she had fallen asleep while her grandmother was telling her one of her stories about jinns and bhoot, the Pakistani house-ghosts, and had never woken up.

She knew that very few people in Britain took the supernatural as seriously as they did in Pakistan, but she had been brought up to believe in the reality of evil spirits, and it was a belief that was hard to shake off. Even now, she still recited the Ayat-ul-Kursi from the Qur’an before she went to sleep and slept on her right side, specifically to ward off any demons that might come sniffing her out in the dark.

Still – when she and Jerry had been eating together, she had noticed that if he spilled any salt on the table he would always flick two pinches of it over his left shoulder, so she supposed that everybody was prone to some degree of superstition. But what was happening with these clothes was so much more than superstition. Ever since she had seen David Nelson’s sweater crawling along the floor like a spider she had been completely convinced that they were possessed in some way, and that was why she hadn’t hesitated to run after the raincoat and beat it with the garden gate. And what about all the clothes that had come crawling out of Mindy’s parents’ wardrobe and down the stairs?

She switched on her desktop computer and searched for any references to clothes coming to life. She found several examples of people being frightened to wear clothing that had belonged to the dead, especially in China and Indonesia. In contrast, she also found examples of cultural groups who were happy to wear inherited clothes. They believed that it kept them close to the relatives who had passed away.

Jesus was said to have cursed any clothes that were laundered on Good Friday, because he had been slapped in the face with a wet smock as he carried the cross to Calvary. It was said that if you washed your clothes on that day, they would come to life and strangle a member of your family with their sleeves, or at the very least they would come out of the wash spotted with blood.

Jamila spent over half an hour searching for more background information online. She came across dozens of fairy tales about dresses that danced when their ballerinas were asleep, and ghost stories about vengeful overcoats that roamed through the city streets at night. However she could find no credible accounts of clothes that had appeared to possess whoever was wearing them, or clothes that had appeared to move on their own. Not even in Pakistan.

She was still scrolling through ‘Chinese funeral rites’ when her phone warbled. It was DI Saunders.

‘Jamila? DI French has just received a preliminary autopsy report from Dr Fuller. I’ll send you the PDF.’

‘That was quick.’

‘He didn’t have to do his usual dissection, I think that’s why. The perpetrator had pretty much done it for him.’

‘Has he worked out how the victim’s arms and legs were taken off?’

‘Twisted off, he says – both clockwise and anti-clockwise.’

‘Twisted off? How much force would you need to do that?’

‘Well, let me read you what he’s written here. It would have taken between thirty and a hundred kilonewtons to twist off an arm, and possibly up to two hundred to twist off a leg. That’s between one to four megapascals if that means anything to you. In English, about fifteen horsepower.’

‘Fifteen horsepower? I’m not a physicist, sir, but surely that’s far more than most people are capable of.’

‘You’re absolutely right,’ said DI Saunders. ‘According to Dr Fuller, the average healthy human being can produce only one-point-five horsepower, and that’s a maximum, and not for any length of time, either.’

‘So – if his legs and arms weren’t twisted off manually, is there any indication as to how it was done?’

‘Dr Fuller says, the victim’s arms and legs all exhibit bruises which indicate that he was forcibly restrained with straps or belts about nineteen centimetres across. This would have kept him pinioned. However to generate sufficient torque to twist off his limbs the perpetrator would have required a mechanical device of some sort, such as a lathe. Or an elephant.’

‘A lathe?’ said Jamila. ‘But that would have been incredibly heavy, wouldn’t it, and I thought there were no impressions on the ground.’

‘There weren’t,’ said DI Saunders. ‘And no elephant footprints, either, although I’m not sure if Fuller was trying to be funny.’

‘Perhaps not entirely, sir. I’ve read about several recent cases in Pakistan of wild elephants killing people because we’re starting to encroach on their natural habitat. And right up until the end of the nineteenth century, it was quite common in many Asian countries for criminals to be executed by being cut apart by elephants with knives attached to their feet, and then having their heads stepped on.’

‘That’s very interesting, Jamila – but I’ll bet you a tenner that there were no bloody elephants on Streatham Common last night.’

‘No, sir. Probably not. But no lathes, either.’

DI Saunders was silent for a moment. Then he said, ‘I don’t know. I suppose it’s remotely possible that the victim could have been dismembered with machinery at another location and his body parts simply dumped on the common. But the grass was soaked with blood, totally soaked, and the way his insides were all scattered about, that doesn’t seem likely, does it? I mean, how would they have carried him there? In a bathtub? It’s mad. It’s totally bloody bonkers. And then there’s the coat.’

‘Yes,’ said Jamila. ‘Then there’s the coat.’


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