Jerry wasn’t sure why, but as the afternoon wore on, he began to have a feeling that something bad was about to happen. He hadn’t felt like this since he had walked into the Two Chairmen pub in Dartmouth Street near New Scotland Yard and seen two detectives deep in conversation with what they called their CRO friends – meaning convicted criminals whose names were listed in the Criminal Records Office – and then an envelope changing hands.
Although it was only 3:15, the sky had grown almost black, and fat spots of rain started to speckle the windows. At the same time, the station was unnaturally hushed, with nobody shouting or whistling or banging doors. A phone was ringing somewhere along the corridor, and it went on and on ringing as if nobody was ever going to answer it.
He heard squeaking footsteps outside the open door of the CID room, and DI French appeared. He was chafing his hands together and looked extremely pleased with himself.
‘Liepa’s up in front of the magistrates first thing tomorrow morning, Jerry, so I hope you’ve got your statement all sorted.’
‘Just doing that now, guv,’ Jerry told him.
‘Shouldn’t take long. They’ll pass it straight on to the Crown Court. Hope he gets twenty-nine years, the bastard.’
‘Do we know a date for Whitey’s funeral yet?’
‘Oh, yes,’ said DI French. ‘Next Thursday afternoon, two o’clock, Southwark Cathedral. It’s going to be the full ceremonial… Met service colour party, horse-drawn hearse, guard of honour, the lot. Callow’s PA can give you all of the details.’
DI French hesitated in the doorway. ‘By the bye… how’s it going with those two who got torn to bits on Rookstone Road? I was asking Saunders about it, but he was cagey, to say the least. He told me you suspect that a gang did it, but apart from that he wouldn’t elaborate.’
‘I don’t think he’s holding anything back from you, guv. The fact is that we don’t have any eye-witnesses and so far the CSEs haven’t given us anything to go on.’
‘Strange one. Very strange. Reminds me of my very first murder case. A pregnant woman was found floating in the lido with no head and no legs. That was supposed to be gang-related. I always reckoned it was one of the Tooting Trap Stars but we never did find out who did it.’
‘Well, maybe this is a little different,’ said Jerry.
‘Tooting Boys? They’re always chopping each other up with axes, aren’t they?’
Jerry was tempted to tell him about the empty coats, but all he could do was shrug and go back to his laptop. DI Saunders had insisted that apart from Jerry and Jamila and those officers who had already seen clothes moving on their own, nobody else should be told who their suspects really were – not until it became impossible to keep it under wraps any longer. Even Inspector Callow was still under the impression that they were looking for a marauding gang of young men – maybe Asian or West Indian – and not empty coats.
Jerry continued to prod at his keyboard with two fingers. The vehicle driven by Herkus Adomaitis with Jokubas Liepa in the front passenger seat was in collision with Police Constable White
He was still painstakingly typing when he heard a sudden barrage of doors slamming, and shouting, and the sound of running feet. He stood up and went to the door to see what the noise was all about, and as he did so he heard sirens wailing and scribbling outside, and tyres screeching as patrol cars pulled out of the station car park, at least four or five of them, one after the other. Almost immediately, his phone rang.
‘Jerry?’ It was DI Saunders, and he sounded breathless, as if he had been running. ‘I’m in the control room. You need to come down here now.’
‘What’s up, guv?’
‘Come down and see for yourself. About ten minutes ago Sergeant Bristow had a call from the Crime Watch Manager at Wandsworth. Four or five charity shops along the Broadway and Mitcham Road had their front windows smashed, almost simultaneously, as well as Primark and some fashion store called Xclusive. Now there’s gangs running through the streets attacking pedestrians, knocking them over and pushing them into traffic.’
‘When you say “gangs”—’
‘You can’t see them too clearly on the monitor. But we’re getting dozens of 999 calls, and they’re all saying the same thing. They’re being attacked by coats and jackets and sweaters with nobody in them. No heads, no legs, but causing multiple serious injuries. It’s hard to estimate how many there are, but we’ve dispatched six units to start with, as well as two ARVs. If this starts to get out of control, though, we may need to call in more.’
‘OK, guv. I’ll be right down.’
Jerry unhooked his raincoat from the back of the door, slung it over his shoulder and hurried downstairs to the control room. He found DI Saunders and DC Willis and Sergeant Bristow staring at the six CCTV slave monitors that were connected to the main crime watch centre at Wandsworth Town Hall. One of the screens showed the junction of Tooting Broadway and Mitcham Road, where traffic was at a standstill and people were running between the stationary cars in apparent panic.
At first it wasn’t easy to see what they were running from, but then twenty or thirty figures appeared around the front of the Tube station, past the statue of Edward VII, and although many of them were hooded, Jerry could see that their hoods were dark and empty, like the coats that had attacked him and Alice. Then he saw headless sweaters, and dresses, too.
When they caught up with any of the fleeing shoppers, they either seized them and started beating them or else they pushed them into the road.
‘This is really happening, isn’t it?’ said DI Saunders, and his voice was flat with dread. ‘It’s not mass hysteria. It’s really bloody happening.’
‘We need to get down there now. Where’s DS Patel?’
‘She went out about twenty minutes ago to grab a bite to eat at Samrat’s,’ said Jerry. ‘I’ll give her a bell.’
‘All right. Let me know when she gets back. I’ll just go and update Callow and I’ll meet you out front.’
Jerry went down to the front desk and picked up a set of car keys. Sergeant Clark was there, grizzled and paunchy and grey-haired. ‘Bleeding pandemonium out there,’ he said. ‘Bleeding World War Three.’
Jerry went out to the car park. He had to jump back when another patrol car came speeding out with its blue lights flashing and its siren blaring. Then he went over and climbed into an unmarked silver Mondeo, driving it out of the station and parking across the road to wait for Jamila. While he waited, he listened to the frantic reports that were coming in over the Airwave radio.
‘There’s more than a hundred of them gathered outside the Tube station. I don’t believe what I’m seeing! They’re fucking coats!’
‘We’ve got more of them running south on the Broadway from Garratt Lane. Fifty or sixty at least. Coats and jackets and shirts and Christ knows what.’
‘They’re all across the road and they’re not stopping for nothing – not even for buses.’
Jamila reached the car and opened the passenger door, and Jerry caught a waft of curry. As she climbed in, DI Saunders came hurrying down the steps in front of the station. He crossed the road and sat himself down in the back.
‘Right, let’s go,’ he said. ‘I need to see this with my own eyes. Callow’s arranging back-up with riot gear from Sutton nick, and the ASU are sending a helicopter over from Lippitt’s Hill.’
Jerry pulled out and started to drive towards Amen Corner, but as soon as he reached it he found that the main Mitcham Road was gridlocked with cars and buses. Some drivers had climbed out of their cars to try to see what the hold-up was. He switched on the Mondeo’s blue flashing lights and gave occasional whoops on the siren, and when two cars had backed up to let him through, he managed to steer his way slowly down the centre of the road in between the two opposing lines of traffic.
They had only reached the Granada Bingo Hall when they saw the first people running. They looked as if they were trying to get away from a terrorist attack – only a few at first, but then more and more. Jerry saw mothers desperately pushing baby buggies and carrying small children, while some shoppers were throwing aside their carrier-bags so that they could run faster. One Asian man was even carrying an elderly woman in a hijab over his shoulder, with her skinny ankles dangling.
Then, close behind the crowds of running people, the coats and the jackets began to appear. Jerry could see them bobbing up and down – black and khaki and navy-blue coats, as well as brown and chequered jackets and dark grey anoraks. They were headless, but whirling their sleeves, and billowing along the pavement in the same way that the black raincoat had flown down the road when Jerry was chasing it.
Whenever the coats caught up with any of the fleeing shoppers, they snatched at their arms and wound their sleeves around them. Then they swung them violently sideways, so that they were thumped against the nearest shop frontage, or doorway, or lamp-post. If they weren’t concussed the first time, the coats swung them again and again until blood was spattered across the pavement and up the shop windows. After the shoppers had dropped to the pavement, the coats rolled them over so that they were lying face down, and then twisted their sleeves around their heads and jerked them back, and it looked as if they were breaking their necks.
There were scores of assorted clothes, and they were tumbling along so fast that they began to overtake the shoppers, only to turn around and snatch at their arms as they desperately tried to dodge their way past. So many beaten and bloody bodies were now heaped on the pavements that the shoppers following them were stumbling over them, and that made them easy pickings for the hordes of coats and jackets coming up behind them.
‘Christ, it’s a massacre,’ said DI Saunders. Even though the car windows were all closed, they could hear the fleeing shoppers screaming in terror, and another sound, too, deep and blustery, like a strong wind blowing.
The police messages on the radio were becoming increasingly panicky.
‘—we’ve got three more men down – we can’t—!’
‘—there’s too many of them – get back!—’
‘Oh God, it’s pulled his head off! It’s only gone and pulled his fucking head off!’
Among the crowds who were rushing along the pavements, they could now see police officers, too. They were beating at the coats and jackets with their batons to keep them away, but it was obvious that they too were running for their lives. Three hooded coats leapt on top of one PC and brought him to the ground, and then more coats piled on top of them until he was almost completely buried.
They heard three shots, and then another two, but they couldn’t see any armed police, and none of the coats seemed to have been hit.
Jerry tried to drive forward, but a bus had pulled out halfway across the road, and the gap was too narrow. He thought at first that he might be able to force his way through by ramming aside the cars on the opposite side. With a harsh metallic squeal, he started to scrape his Mondeo along the side of the Jaguar next to them. The driver shook his fist and started shouting, although Jerry couldn’t hear him, but the two cars were so tightly jammed together that the driver couldn’t open his door.
Jerry revved the Mondeo’s engine, but before he could push any further forward, coats and jackets and dresses began to appear between the cars, beating on them with their sleeves. They flooded across the road, hammering at every car they reached, shattering their windows and reaching inside them to drag out their drivers and their passengers.
A trench-coat came running up to the front of their car and beat its sleeves on the bonnet, denting it. Jamila said, ‘Jerry – we need to get out of here, and fast!’
Jerry put the Mondeo into reverse so that it slowly screeched free from the Jaguar. Then he turned around in his seat, put his foot down, and drove backwards the way he had come, in the middle of the road between the two lines of traffic. He collided four or five times with other cars, and once with an Ocado van, but at last he reached Amen Corner, and managed to reverse the Mondeo into the police station car park, although he hit the wall as he did so, and then knocked over a police motorcycle.
They all climbed out, shaken. DI Saunders said, ‘Let’s find Callow, pronto. He’s probably watching all this but he needs to know that it’s a full-scale Code 13.’
The three of them hurried upstairs. Officers were running up and down the corridors and phones were ringing on every floor. They found Inspector Callow in the control room. He was very tall, with thinning brown hair, glittery little eyes and a long, pointed chin. He was watching the closed-circuit TV screens with his hand pressed over his mouth, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. When DI Saunders and Jerry and Jamila came in, he turned to them and shook his head and said, ‘They’re nothing but clothes. There’s nobody in them. I think I must be going mad.’
The shirt-sleeved officer who was operating the camera said, ‘They’re definitely coming this way, sir. They’ve just crossed Avarn Road.’
‘Right,’ said Inspector Callow. ‘I want the station locked down, but keep a couple of PCs on the doors in case any of our own people need to get back in.’
‘What’s the SP?’ asked Jerry.
‘Absolute chaos at the moment,’ said Inspector Callow. ‘They sent us twenty-seven men from Sutton, complete with riot gear, and two armed response vehicles. They tried to kettle the rioters outside the Tube station but they were totally routed. They’re still running. Look at the monitor. There’s one of them. There’s another. They’ve even dropped their shields.’
‘“Rioters”?’ asked Jamila.
‘Well, I don’t know what else to call them,’ said Inspector Callow. ‘It’s surreal. But it’s also real. Two of the armed response officers fired at them, not just once but three or four times. It had no effect on them at all. Why would it? They’re not people – they’re clothes.’
He paused, watching the tide of panicking shoppers as they came nearer and nearer along Mitcham Road.
‘I contacted Deputy Commander Broadbent as soon as I saw that things were getting out of hand. He didn’t believe me at first and I can’t say I blame him. He even asked me if I’d been drinking. Then I sent him the CCTV link and he saw what was happening for himself. He’s appointed me gold commander and I’ve already called for urgent reinforcements from all around the borough. He says we may have to bring in the SAS if we can’t contain the situation within the next couple of hours. God knows what the final death toll’s going to be. How the hell do you stop clothes?’
Jamila said, ‘They’re possessed, sir. Possessed by spirits of some kind, most likely the ghosts of dead people.’
‘Spirits?’ said Inspector Callow. ‘Ghosts?’
‘I know it sounds far-fetched, sir, but look at what we are witnessing here, right in front of our eyes. DC Pardoe and I have interviewed the suspects who claimed that their clothes were responsible for turning them into murderers, and we have both become convinced that possession is the most likely explanation. You can call it “infection” if that sounds more rational. In Pakistan and other Asian countries there are many stories about such possessions. Most of them are simply folk tales, but there are so many and they are so similar – and similar to what is happening here – so I do believe there is a nub of truth in them.’
Inspector Callow turned to DI Saunders. ‘Simon? You’ve been in charge of these investigations. What’s your opinion?’
DI Saunders nodded towards the CCTV screens. Each was showing Tooting Broadway and Mitcham Road from a different angle.
‘Like DS Patel says, sir, we can’t pretend this isn’t happening, just because it’s so bloody weird. I was the same as you, sir, I didn’t want to believe it at first. None of us did.’
‘So you think those suspects were actually telling the truth, and it was their clothes that made them do it?’
Jerry and Jamila knew that DI Saunders hadn’t told Inspector Callow about the way he had been attacked by Mindy’s dead parents – and how they had been stopped by Jerry cutting off the sweater and the dress that had been clinging around their necks.
‘I think there’s a strong possibility,’ said DI Saunders. ‘I mean – up until now I’ve never had any time for psychics or mediums or people who try to make out that there’s life after death. I’ve always thought that when you die, that’s the end of you. Before you were born you were dead for a billion years and it didn’t bother you, did it? But I can’t think of any other explanation for those clothes running around and killing people.’
On the CCTV screens they could see two hooded coats gripping a young woman’s arms and repeatedly hitting her head against the corner of a glass phone box. Blood and brains burst out of her black cornrow hair and splashed across the phone box’s door.
‘My God,’ said Inspector Callow, under his breath. ‘How is it possible?’
‘I have no idea, sir, but there it is, right in front of our eyes,’ said DI Saunders. Jerry had never heard him sound so miserable. ‘Unless somebody else can prove her wrong, I’ll go along with DS Patel.’
Jerry was relieved to hear him say that, and he could see that Jamila was, too. They knew that he had been suppressing the supernatural aspects of these cases for as long as he could, for fear of being ridiculed, but now there was no denying what was happening.
‘Sir – riot squad from Wandsworth nick have just arrived,’ said the CCTV operator.
‘How do you want to deploy them, sir?’ asked DI Saunders.
‘We’ll line them up outside here first and then see if we can push the clothes back along the Mitcham Road,’ said Inspector Callow. ‘There’s reinforcements coming from Feltham and Shepherd’s Bush and they can bottle them up at the Broadway. A couple of Jankel armoured trucks are being sent down from Heathrow, too, and they should be able to contain them.’
‘And once we’ve contained them?’
Jerry could see by the expression on Inspector Callow’s face that he had no idea what they would do, even if they did manage to kettle the clothes between here and Tooting Broadway. They had been beaten and even shot but it hadn’t deterred them at all. What else could be done to stop them?