The house was a modest mid-terrace in a quiet residential neighbourhood, with a neat front yard and window boxes overflowing with pansies. A place where death was always unexpected and violent death unthinkable; but the police cars and the crowd gathered beyond the barriers signaled to everyone that the unthinkable had happened.
Jack parked the SUV between two of the police cars. He noticed the crowd's excited pointing and whispering with amusement. These days not even the plain black vehicles – specifically chosen because they looked exactly like a million others on British roads – kept them anonymous. After one particularly annoying encounter with a local reporter, Owen had sardonically suggested that they plaster their name in giant letters on the sides and roofs of the SUVs, on the principle that nobody would believe it was really them. It was a measure of how pissed off Jack was that he had actually considered it.
Kathy Swanson met them at the door. The Church's senior investigator waved them in. "Hello Jack, Owen. Gwen, you better put up shields until it's time for you to get to work. It's ugly in there."
"Is Andy around?" Gwen asked.
"No. He's at Caernarfon on that kidnapping case. I wouldn't be here either, except that I was in the Chief Constable's office when the call came in and he asked me to come along."
They followed her into one of the bedrooms. It only took a glimpse for Jack to understand Kathy's warning to Gwen. A couple lay on the bed. Their throats had been slit open. They had fought hard for their lives. The room was thrashed and there was blood everywhere.
On the wall above the bed, someone had written TORCHWOOD in bright red.
"It's not blood," Kathy said. "Well, not only blood. There's soil mixed with it. Probably graveyard dirt."
Owen had put on a pair of thick spectacles and was examining the bodies. "Clear signal, Tosh? All right, then, recording. Two bodies, one male, one female, both between twenty-five and thirty-five years of age. Their throats have been cut. It's meant to simulate a ritual killing, probably satanic in origin, but I don't think so."
In his earpiece Jack heard Ianto say no suspected ritual killings anywhere in Wales in police databases in the last forty years. I'll check the cult and conspiracy sites. He loved watching his team work. As they had discovered their own strengths they had started to develop an easy, efficient rhythm that had been strengthened by Tosh's encounter with Ocypete, as the others closed ranks to protect her. The first couple of weeks afterwards Tosh had tried to withdraw into a shell but they wouldn't allow it, pulling her into all sorts of activities. The result was a team that worked as smoothly as four very strong personalities – five, if Andy was around – could.
"I've done all I can do here." Owen announced. "I don't think I'll need to do an autopsy. I'll get the results from the police surgeon. Gwen?"
Jack watched as his newest recruit moved to stand next to his oldest. Gwen took her pendant out and held it in her left hand as she extended her right, palm out. Jack followed her eyes to the corner of the room. He could see two faint outlines; he was sure Gwen could see more. He heard Kathy's sharp intake of breath as the outlines firmed and became visible to everyone in the room.
They seemed greatly agitated, but unusually for the recently dead, they didn't seem to be interested in their own bodies. They moved towards Gwen, reaching for her with suppliant hands.
"Help us. Please. We do not want to go. Help us."
"I will." She sounded utterly reassuring. "But we need to know who did this. Tell us who did this."
"The Pilgrims came for us" the woman said, "but we wouldn't go. Max was very angry."
"One goes when God decides," the man said angrily. "To do otherwise is a mortal sin."
"You were going to commit suicide?"
"The Pilgrims… we had promised before." The woman answered. "As did all the others. But we came to understand how sinful it would be. When we told them we would not go, Max… did this. And then, after… they tried to take us, but they couldn't. We wouldn't go!"
The figures began to fade, but the couple still reached towards Gwen as if for reassurance.
"When you chose not to kill yourselves, they lost any power they might have over you." Gwen said. "Go with your God and to your God. Blessed be."
She staggered slightly as they faded away completely, but Owen held her up. She looked at Kathy. "Have there been…"
"A number of suicides lately?" Kathy finished the sentence. "Unfortunately, there always are. What we haven't been getting are reports of wraith attacks."
There is a group listed in the ads of the South Wales Echo calling itself The Pilgrim Way. Toshiko spoke in their ears. It gives a phone number and requests the caller to ask for Max. I just dialed. Max Thurston. He's not answering. She read out an address.
Jack passed on the information to Kathy. "Come with us. I have a feeling we're going to need the Church sooner or later on this one."
They piled into the SUV and drove to Max Thurston's home, or at least his legal address. It was a warehouse right in the middle of a number of exactly identical warehouses in a rather dodgy area near the docks. There was a lock on the roll-up doors but the small door to the side was open.
"Not good." Kathy said. "Around here nobody leaves doors unlocked."
The front part of the warehouse was arranged as a sort of meeting room, with a big buffet table against the side wall. Chairs were arranged in a circle in front of it. There was a large mural on the other wall with a confusing mixture of religious symbols arranged in a circle around a mountain topped by a large castle more resembling one of King Ludwig's Bavarian fairytales than a proper self-respecting Welsh working castle.
"The usual," Kathy said. "People in pain, confused, are easy targets for the con artists. Or the messianic psychopaths. Or the well-meaning but equally confused."
"I lean towards the messianic psychopaths, myself," Owen said. "Considering the two bodies I just examined."
So far we've found four people who committed suicide in the last two months who seem to have some sort of connection to the Pilgrim Way. Ianto reported. There was also another murder, similar MO but no way to connect it to Torchwood.
"Ianto says four suicides and one other murder," he said to Kathy. "All right, people, let's strip this place down to the brick. We need to find Max Thurston."
"I don't think that'll be a problem," Owen said quietly.
He had wandered towards the back and was standing by an archway leading to an area which had been sectioned off with cheap paneling. They went to join him.
There was a body sprawled on the floor right on the other side of the partition. He had been nearly torn apart, but there wasn't a single drop of blood anywhere; the flesh had turned the color of ashes after two days in the fireplace. The worst part was the ghost that cowered over the body, moaning. They didn't need Gwen's help this time; this poor thing was caught between the physical and the spiritual realms, and his pain was a rasp on their nerves.
Gwen walked past them to kneel at the ghost's side. "Max? Who did this to you?"
The thing looked at her. "Suzie."
The single word sent shockwaves through all of them. Gwen swallowed hard before continuing. "Suzie Costello?"
"She said I would live forever. She said I wouldn't have to go to Hell. She promised!" It howled. "Suzie, you promised!"
Gwen stood up. "He's not listening. He won't listen. This is his place now, until he can let go." She walked out before looking back.
"She's going to be exhausted," Kathy said. "Dealing with three violent deaths is bad enough, but having to abandon a lost soul?"
"There was nothing she could have done!" Owen said angrily.
"I know, Owen. But mediums believe in helping the dead find peace. In her head, Gwen knows there's nothing she could have done. In her heart… Well, she managed to walk away on her own. She has guts, I give her that."
"That she does." Jack said. "Kathy, I'll need you tomorrow at the Hub. Andy too, if I can find him."
"What are you going to do?"
"I had Suzie buried in a piece of property her family owned near Porthcawl. We're going up there tomorrow. A wraith has to answer if her bones are used to call her."
"Four suicides and four murders," Jack said harshly. "Not to mention the people she killed while using the glove. Suzie Costello is going to answer to me, Kathy. Once and for all."