Behind Dead Eyes (DC Ian Bradshaw #2) - Howard Linskey
Tom Carney was having a very bad day. Maybe it was the new kitchen cupboard doors and the way they refused to hang straight or the boiler going on the blink again or perhaps it was the letter from a convicted murderer.
No, it was definitely the boiler.
He hadn’t owned the house long but it seemed virtually every part of the offending boiler had failed and been replaced at great cost, only for another of its components to buckle under the strain and cease to function. He should have got a new boiler when he bought the creaking old pile but funds were short then and virtually non-existent today, so he’d opted for the false economy of replacing it bit by bit instead of wholesale. How he regretted that now, as he stood tapping the pipes with a wrench in an attempt to knock the ancient thing back into life. Tom exhaled, swore and surveyed the stone-cold water tank ruefully. It came to something when a personal letter from a man who had beaten someone to death with a hammer was the least of his concerns.
He went back downstairs and tried to phone the plumber again but the guy didn’t pick up. If events ran their usual course, Tom would have to leave several messages before the plumber eventually got back to him. He might then grudgingly offer to ‘fit him in’ towards the end of his working week. If Tom was really lucky, the bloke might even turn up on the actual day but he knew this was far from guaranteed.
Tom recorded a message then picked up the letter from the hall table. The words ‘FAO TOM CARNEY’ had been scrawled on the envelope in large block capitals with a marker pen, above an address handwritten in biro. It was disconcerting to realise one of the relatively few people who knew where Tom lived these days was a murderer.
For the attention of Tom Carney? Why not some other reporter? One who was actually still reporting, and not so disillusioned he’d turned his back on the whole bloody profession, to plough what was left of his money into renovating a crumbling money pit? This was the third letter he’d received from Richard Bell. Tom had read then studiously ignored the previous two, hoping one of the north-east’s most notorious killers would eventually tire of contacting him but, just like his victim, Tom had clearly underestimated the killer’s resolve.
Bell was a determined man, but was he a psychopath? He read the letter again, surveying the handwriting for evidence of derangement but this wasn’t some rambling, half-crazed diatribe, scrawled in crayon and inspired by demonic voices. It was angry, and there was an undeniable level of frustration at Tom’s failure to engage with him, but that was all. Having singled Tom out, Bell presumably felt the hurt of rejection. The handwriting was neat enough and it flowed evenly across the page. Tom couldn’t help wondering if this really was the same hand that brought a hammer crashing down repeatedly onto a defenceless woman’s skull until she lay dead in the front seat of her own car? A jury thought so and the judge had told Bell he was a monster. Tom remembered that much about a case that dominated the front pages for days a couple of years back. Was Richard Bell insane, or was he really an innocent man; the latest in a long line of miscarriages of justice in a British legal system discredited by one scandal after another?
Tom took the letter into his living room, if he could still accurately call it that with the carpet ripped up and tools scattered everywhere. He sat in the armchair and read it once more. Richard Bell’s message in all three of his letters was consistent and clear. He wasn’t mad and he wasn’t bad. He hadn’t killed his lover. Someone else had done that and he was still out there.
Detective Sergeant Ian Bradshaw stared at the woman’s face and wondered what she had looked like. Was she pretty once? He couldn’t tell from this photograph. No one could. Someone had done one hell of a job on her.
All of the woman’s teeth had been pulled out with pliers and the flesh on her face burnt with a strong acid; sulphuric most likely, of an amount sufficient to scorch away the lips, nose, eyelids and the flesh from her cheeks, leaving discoloured skin that looked like it was part of a melted