It was disgustingly early on a Sunday morning when the call came through, some grey hour that shouldn’t even exist. I’d been up late revising my Latin, and had been looking forward to a solid eight hours of sleep. Times like this I regretted moving a phone line into the bedroom, but if you had to get woken up at stupid o'clock, better by a phone ringing than Molly giving off a silently sinister vibe while standing over you.
Much as I'd have loved to ignore it, no-one called at this hour unless it was important, so I got myself up and over to the address they gave me. It was over the river, the station on the edge of Crystal Palace Park. It was a good thing I had a car; there wouldn't be any cabs around at this time of night, let alone ones that would go South of the river. So much for my plan to avoid South London for the foreseeable.
I got there quicker than I'd expected - the journey would have taken a lot longer in the daytime - and was met by a black woman waiting outside the house. She had straightened hair and sober, serious features, and she was dressed in a plain black suit. Her whole demeanour seemed like a warning.
“PC Grant?” She asked, as if anyone else would be stupid enough to be out at this time. I nodded. “DS Gray. Sorry to drag you all the way out here. Thank you for coming so quickly.”
An apology and a thank you? I should have known right then it was going to be bad.
Crystal Palace Park is right at the edge of the London Borough of Bromley. The actual Crystal Palace burned down in 1936, and a hundred thousand people turned up to watch the flames. What that says about people in London, I’m not entirely sure. They kept the park and the name after the fire, though. The station itself was built in the 1850s, a few years after the Palace was moved from Hyde Park.
DS Gray was supervising the forensics work on the concourse, so she introduced me to DS Ripley, who was dealing with the body. Something about him was familiar, though I couldn’t work out what.
“Morning,” I said, as much a gloomy statement as a greeting.
“Sadly,” Ripley agreed. “We’re down the steps on the way to the platform. Are you getting anything up here?”
“Is that usual at murder scenes?”
”It depends. The magic could have come from the murderer or the surroundings. I won't know until I've had a proper look.”
Ripley nodded, and I could tell he was working up to a lot of theories that would probably be proved wrong.
I followed him up inside the station, and that’s where it started to get weird.
We went down the steps and I felt queasy but couldn’t work out why. It could just have been tiredness, but I thought it was probably more likely that it was going to be some vestigia – as the station had been open since the 1850s, there was plenty of it to go around. Justin hadn't noticed anything unusual.
“How strong would it need to be for anyone to notice, if they weren’t aware of it already?”
“Stronger than it is right now,” I said, wondering who they’d had around who had noticed.
“Who found him?”
”Station staff. Thought he was blind drunk, so they tried to wake him up. They weren’t happy.”
Buildings retain vestigia much, much better than people. Almost anything retains vestigia better than people, so if a body has noticeable vestigium hanging around it, you can take an educated guess that magic was used shortly before their death. Working out whether it had been used by them or on them can be a bit trickier.
He was sitting against the wall, with his knees drawn up and his arms circled round them. His head was resting on his knees and the whole thing made him look like a scared child in a charity begging advert.
I got closer to him - he’d been a white male in his thirties, I thought, hair and beard shaved down to stubble. And then the vestigia hit me. All of a sudden I felt dizzy and queasy, there was a faint sound of broken glass, and it was suddenly fucking freezing.
I stood up quickly, saying, “You were right to call me in.”
I took a step backwards and tried to catch my breath through the chill and realised Ripley was giving me a worried look.
“You all right?” He asked, although he clearly had no idea what to do if I wasn’t. It’s the thought that counts, I guess.
“I’m all right.”
He nodded but kept at a safe distance. I couldn’t really blame him - if anyone in his team had the faintest idea what to do with magic then they wouldn’t have needed to call me.
“Do you want to have a look at the rest of the station? We’re not sure how he got in here yet.”
I didn’t really, but it needed to be done. I shrugged, and Ripley nodded. I guessed he felt the same way. He stood back, letting the SOCOs do their job and letting me do mine. I walked around, checking the steps down to the platforms, but I wasn’t picking up anything away from the body.
“Is that good or bad?” Ripley asked.
“I don’t know,” I had to admit, “but let’s go with good for now.”
We went back up to the ticket office, and the fresh air coming in was a welcome relief. Gray came over to join us.
”Murder and magic, exactly what we didn’t want” Ripley said, summing it up nicely.
Gray’s shoulders slumped. “Of course it is.”
“I’m going to call the boss,” he said. “Are you all right?”
”I’m fine, Justin,” she snapped. “Call it in.”
Unfortunately I couldn’t think of a subtle way to get myself out of an awkward situation so I stood next to Erin as we watched Ripley explain the situation to his boss on the other end of the phone, and when he hung up, suddenly something clicked.
“Oh shit,” I said, suddenly working out why Ripley was familiar (I’d seen him on the news; he’d been kidnapped last year), “you’re part of DCI Luther’s team.”
”What’s wrong with that?” Justin asked, instantly wary.
“My reputation precedes me, right?" I asked, and they nodded. "When the DPS hear about me working with you they’re going to have a collective heart attack. They’re going to start collecting evidence just in case.”
Ripley burst into a shocked laugh, but Gray definitely didn’t see the funny side.
We decided I should get over to the other site before the body was moved and all possible trace of vestigia disappeared.
Gray and Ripley had a quick chat mostly made up of eyebrow raises and shrugs, with the upshot being that Gray directed me to the second location while Ripley waited at Crystal Palace for the pathologist. I couldn’t tell who’d got the better end of the deal.
DS Gray was unhappy about something, and I hoped it wasn’t me. I’d hardly said two words to her, but I’m reliably informed that’s sometimes all it takes.
“Is there something else to this? I thought you only got involved with serial killers.”
Gray paused for a moment before answering me. “This is a serial. We’ve been keeping it out of the papers, just. We’ve got bodies but no suspects.”
She was trying to keep her voice even, but it was clear she was worried.
“Where have you found them before?”
”All over. Haydons Road, Tooting, Welling. Always Zone Three or higher. Always South London. Killer’s got something for train stations. The boss thinks it’s about control, chaos. It’s bad enough when the signals go down, but with a body you have to do forensics and all that.”
“So why not just make bomb threats? It’d be less effort.”
She smiled quickly. “That’s what I said. Honestly? We don’t know. They’re not leaving us much of anything to go on. Maybe it’s about attention. Maybe they’re trying to force us to put it in the papers. Maybe it’s something else and we just don’t know it yet.”
On that cheerful note, we pulled up to Lewisham station.
People are supposed to look taller on TV than they are in real life. Well, no-one had told DCI John Luther that. He was waiting at the walkway to the DLR platforms, looming over the BTP officer. I knew who Luther was, of course. I’d heard of him and I’d seen him on TV. He liked to go on the news and bait serial killers. There are words for that kind of behaviour. I wondered what Nightingale would make of him. I wasn’t entirely sure they’d get on.
Erin took me over to meet him.
“This is PC Grant, boss.”
“PC Grant. So you’re a wizard?”
He looked amused as he said it, like he didn’t really believe it yet.
“Apprentice wizard.” I said. “Sir.”
“Apprentice wizard, then. And based on what you saw at the other site, you think someone’s been using magic to kill these men?”
”Could be. Either that or the victim at the last site used magic - a lot of it - shortly before his death.”
“And if this one is the same, what’s the likelihood of both of them using magic and then dying like this?”
”Small,” I admitted.
“He’s inside,” he said, and there wasn’t much else to say, so we followed him in.
It’s odd to go to a murder scene and find yourself thinking that there just isn’t enough blood, but this one was the same as the first. And now I knew who I was working with, the lack of blood was even stranger. It felt sterile, like all the dirty work had been done somewhere else. The body here was sitting on one of the benches, waiting for a train he was never going to catch.
He was another pale white guy, although I was beginning to think the paleness was something to do with the magic. The vestigia here was the same as at the first place; the same cold, the same queasy feeling.
“They’re the same,” I told Luther, who’d been watching me with interest. He narrowed his eyes.
"How can you tell?"
"Do you want the detailed version or the bluffer's guide?" I asked, and he smirked at me.
"The detailed version."
I explained about vestigia, how it can be a magical echo, how it's strongest in stone and weakest in human flesh. I even threw in that I'd been doing my own tests to measure it, because he seemed interested. I explained about the cold and the dizziness at the first site, just in case it was important.
"Just looks like a body to me," he said when I was finished. "Justin said you need to check the rest of the area."
"For vestigia," I confirmed.
"How can you pick it up when we can't?" Erin asked.
I checked round the rest of the DLR platform but it was as magically inert as Crystal Palace had been. I was with Erin – the whole thing seemed to have taken a lot more effort than was necessary just to cause a problem with the trains. It didn't make any sense from my point of view, but the complexity was so far above what I could manage that I thought I should probably just talk to Nightingale about it.
Serious and Serial worked in an ugly, unloved building in an ugly, unloved postcode in the East End of London, somewhere no-one had bothered to gentrify yet (‘give it time’ Justin said with a grimace). They were on the second floor (I’ll be honest, I was expecting them to be hidden away in the basement), and the place looked as if it hadn’t been refurbished since it had been built. It was the kind of post-war architecture British councils specialised in before everyone realised how horrible it was.
It was still only early morning, but the whole team had been called in now that there were two murders to work on. I wasn’t entirely sure why I was hanging around, although it seemed like a given that a specialist unit that wasn’t SO15 was understaffed, so maybe they just needed another body. And as much as I’d rather be back at home, it was a relief to go to a station without worrying that DCI Seawoll was going to appear and blame me for everything. I still kept an eye out, just in case.
“Justin wants to know how you take your coffee,” Gray said.
She nodded and tapped a message into her phone.
“You and Ripley don’t get on, do you?”
She looked up, seemingly surprised that someone had caught her out.
“We get on well enough.”
”Right, yeah, I can tell.”
“We work together. We don’t have to live in each other’s pockets.”
She shrugged, and I waited, but there wasn’t anything more. Gray held her cards close to her chest. I didn’t push it – I can occasionally take a hint – and she looked relieved when I changed the subject.
“So the coffee here’s bad?”
”It’s police station coffee,” she said, which was really all the explanation needed, “and there’s a deli two streets away that does the good stuff. It’s self-preservation, really. You’ll thank us for it.”
She went back to her phone after that, not making eye contact with anyone, let alone me. Justin came in with the coffees a few minutes later.
“Everything all right?”
“Just fine,” Erin said, obviously freezing him out. He didn’t miss a beat before turning to me, which made me think whatever this was had been going on for a while.
“Benny said no offence, but can he just make absolutely sure that you’d have to actually be doing magic to kill the computers?”
”I promise. They’ll be fine.”
“Great,” Justin said. “He’s not stopped texting me since he heard; he can’t decide whether to be excited it’s all real or scared for his tech.”
Benny was into gaming, Justin explained, table top and computer. He knew a lot about fictional magic systems, which was great for him but not really any use given the situation we were in. Still, it meant there was someone here who’d be on my side if I needed it, so it was probably worth making nice with Benny, whoever he was.
I got a couple of curious looks from other members of the department when we went into the incident room. I guessed that the news had travelled fast, and I was hoping Luther was going to find a way to explain what was going on that didn’t involve me standing at the front of the room giving a talk.
Luther explained what they’d found at the two murder sites, and how it fit with the earlier murders, and then he pointed at me, “This is PC Grant. He’s the one with the answers about the weird stuff. I’ve got to talk to his boss, but we’ll hopefully get him seconded over here while we’re working on this. This could be the connection we’ve been looking for, so anything he needs, you give him. all right? You all know what needs to be done, so get started.”
They let me go after the initial briefing was done, figuring that if I went back to the Folly I could explain the situation to Nightingale and see if he had anything useful to add.
It took way too long to get back, and then Toby ran up to me when I got in, just in case I thought I could get away without walking him. I decided that for once he could wait until I was ready and went into the breakfast room, grateful for Molly’s tendency to cook for ten more people than were actually in the house.
I was halfway through a pile of sausages and eggs when Nightingale came in.
“Good morning,” he said, and I came up for long to enough to make some vague noises in reply.
“You were out early.”
”Trying not to think about it,” I said.
“I’ve had a message from a DCI Luther about your contribution. He was very complimentary. How was it?”
“Strange. Two locations, two bodies. Serial killer’s been leaving bodies at train stations all over London. Definite vestigia. They thought it was one of their normal cases until tonight.”
Normal wasn’t really the right word for Serious and Serial, but I didn’t know whether Nightingale knew what kind of cases they dealt with.
”Crystal Palace and Lewisham tonight.”
He frowned at that information, possibly because he didn’t know that part of south-east London any better than I did. “So what made them think this case involved magic?”
”I think someone must have come across magic before; otherwise it’s a heck of a leap. The bodies were way too cold, but I can’t see anyone jumping from that to magic if there’s nothing in the middle.”
“Did you notice that too?”
”Yeah. But it wasn’t vampires – the bodies were cold, it wasn’t just a feeling. One of their people got a thermometer and there was about fifteen degrees’ difference between the body and the rest of the station. The Lewisham one was the same.”
He considered this information for a moment.
“Maybe I should take a look. DCI Luther’s already requested that you remain attached to the investigation. I’ve agreed you can work with them as long as you’re needed, and he was keen for you to start as soon as possible.”
I looked down at my breakfast and wondered how long I could stretch it out before I had to get back to the station.
Adding magic to police investigations rarely narrows things down. It could open them up, just like this one, until all you could do was throw man-hours at it and hope something would crack.
Luther’s team were working on the identities of the victims when I got back. They were searching for any connection, anything we could use to start searching for the killer. Ripley pointed me to a desk and quickly explained where they’d got to: the victim they’d identified – one Andrew Roberts – lived within walking distance of Crystal Palace station. His wife had been calling round the hospitals and police stations since he’d gone out to work two days earlier and hadn’t come home. As yet, we had no information on the other victim.
The bodies had been sent straight to Dr Walid for the post mortem, and as Nightingale hadn’t made an appearance yet, I got the call to head over to UCH. Ripley drove, drumming on the steering wheel when we got stuck in traffic.
“I forget it gets like this up here,” he said when we’d barely moved a mile in ten minutes.
“Isn’t it like this all over the place?”
”If it was always like this out our way, I’d get the train in to work,” he said with a sigh, indicating to turn off the road we were on to find another route.
I’m not sure all the ducking and diving got us to UCH any faster than we would have done otherwise, but the effort seemed to satisfy him.
“You’re not from London,” I said, not really needing to make it a question.
“Warrington,” he said with a grin. It was somewhere outside of London, so my grasp of its location was fuzzy to say the least.
“Why’d you come down here?” I asked. “They must need police in Warrington.”
”My Dad’s an Inspector back home,” he said, “need I say more?”
“No, I think I get it.”
”He was a bit pissed off when I moved away. Couldn’t see why I wouldn’t just come home, but there’s just more going on down here, you know?”
”Bright lights, big city.”
He grinned at me again, and we pulled in to the car park at UCH.
Justin had yet to meet the foremost (possibly only, but I didn’t feel the need to mention that) cryptopathologist in the world, so I introduced them and then let Dr Walid get straight into it. I wasn’t keen to get up close and personal with the bodies again, but Ripley didn’t seem bothered. He was listening attentively to Dr Walid explaining that both men had died from asphyxiation and had been frozen to the core, which tied in with the other deaths.
“What did their brains look like?” I asked.
“Completely normal,” he said, sounding almost disappointed, “no signs of hyperthaumaturgical degradation whatsoever.”
Justin was looking very confused, so I didn’t stop Dr Walid from getting out the brain scans and taking him through the difference between a healthy brain and one suffering the effects of too much magic.
By the end of the explanation, he was giving me concerned looks when he thought I wasn’t looking, so maybe I’d miscalculated.
The request had already been made for the earlier bodies to come to Dr Walid for his examinations, and he said he’d call us as soon as he had anything to tell us.
“Just so I’ve got this straight, the brain scans indicate the magic was being done to the victims, not by them, right?” He asked as we were on our way out.
“Looks that way,” I said.
I hadn’t asked who it was on Luther’s team who’d encountered magic before, but I was beginning to get the idea it was Ripley. He’d taken it all in his stride so far, and his attitude had been noticeably different to Erin’s.
“You’ve seen magic before, haven’t you?” I asked.
“Five years ago, before I worked with DCI Luther. There was this case; this gang we knew were trafficking women. We just couldn’t find them. And we kept investigating and someone realised that this one building they used was…blank. It was difficult to concentrate on it, you know?”
He waved his fingers about in a way that was presumably supposed to indicate something...weird.
”I’ve seen that done with people.”
He nodded. “It became this challenge, seeing how long you could work on it before your attention just slipped away. We managed to put some things together but then I guess something got flagged up somewhere and your DCI turned up and told us there were wards on the building. They were stopping the girls from getting out as well as affecting us. And he fixed it. Just don’t ask me how.”
Nightingale hadn’t put wards on the curriculum yet so I had no idea how either. Still, that explained why Justin had been more relaxed about my involvement than Erin. She still seemed to want to avoid the subject entirely, but it was a bit late for that.
“Is Erin religious?” I asked. That had an effect sometimes.
“Only when her mum’s around,” Justin said, “you don’t need to worry about Erin. She just likes things that make sense, and she’s not really a fan of the grey areas.”
And Luther was all about the Gray areas, from what I’d heard.
“It’s not about you, anyway,” he continued. “There’s other things going on. Don’t worry about it.”
“What other things?”
He shook his head. “Nothing that will make any difference to this case.”
We had a gap of a few weeks before the next connected death. We’d made very little progress, given that we had no suspects. They’d mostly let me go back to my normal duties, although Nightingale had agreed to let them use me again if and when the need arose.
We had a few indicators to go on, but it seemed like Erin’s theory about the killer wanting attention was off-base, because they hadn’t reacted to the case staying quiet in any way we could find. I’m not sure why we thought it was going to end there, but at the time it seemed like it was just going to stay an unsolved case on both sides of the equation.
We found out how mistaken we were at the end of September when a young man with a rucksack ran around Charing Cross station in the middle of the afternoon, frantic and panicking, and then dropped dead. You can probably guess what happened next. The MI5 and police switchboards lit up like it was Christmas.
Evie Cooper – the MI5 liaison to the Met – was first on the scene and ascertained that it definitely wasn’t terrorism, but it probably was murder, and a Falcon case to boot. Relieved not to have to deal with an actual terrorist attack on a London station, she called Simon Kitteridge, who called the BTP and Nightingale, who called me and then DCI Luther.
I’d only met Evie once before, when she’d turned up at The Folly one evening wanting to discuss something with Nightingale that – according to her - definitely, definitely couldn’t wait until the next day. She’d been polite enough to me, but she’d freaked out when Toby had appeared, and they’d stared each other down for a full thirty seconds before she turned away like he wasn’t worth her noticing. It was an odd sort of first impression.
Once she’d gone, Nightingale explained that although she didn’t turn up often, when she did she had a tendency to think her needs were more urgent than anything else that might be going on, and she wasn’t above playing the national security card to get things done. It was easiest, he said, to let her get on with it.
He then told me that she was a werewolf, which he dropped into conversation like saying she was left-handed. I pointed out that in the light of what she’d done in the ten minutes she’d been in the Folly, I would have lead with that information. He said he’d take it under consideration. She was an impatient woman at the best of times, he’d told me, and this definitely wasn’t the best of times. According to him, this is a fairly typical character trait of werewolves. They’re always in a rush to get things done because they know they’re not likely to make it to a ripe old age. The monthly transformations take their toll, and there’s no way of stopping them.
Simon was in the middle of some argument with Evie, apparently, so he was happy to leave this case to us. Nightingale muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath and then told me it was best to leave the two of them to sort themselves out. He claimed not to know what kind of dispute they were actually having, and that there was no point looking for more trouble when it was quite capable of finding us without help. I was curious, but not that curious, so I couldn’t really argue.
It was with all this in mind that we made our way over to the station. Charing Cross railway terminus opened in 1864, and aside from a body in a suitcase in the twenties and a couple of suicides thirty years before that, it seemed like nothing interesting really happened there. I’d been looking it up online on the way over, and I’d been expecting more from a station that saw thirty seven million passengers a year.
Of course, Charing Cross serves the suburbs to the south-east of the city, so it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that it’s a boring, safe kind of station. The Victorian front of Charing Cross Station – the only bit with some architectural merit - is actually a five-star hotel where tourists pay handsomely to stay next to a busy road and a busier train station.
When we got there, the forecourt was crowded with people – angry commuters, people queuing for taxis, tourists milling around looking confused, the obligatory bunch of idiots standing there with their smart phones out, as if there was going to be anything worth photographing.
We walked past all of them, and the station manager showed us in to one of the corridor entrances to the station, where the SOCOs had set up a station where we could change into noddy suits.
Gareth Hogan, the station manager, was a middle-aged white guy in a cheap suit. He looked exactly like you’d expect the manager of a train station to look, with an added layer of stress due to the situation his station was currently in.
“The woman who got here first, she said it could be hours before you’ll be done. Was she serious?”
”Unfortunately so,” Nightingale said, “if it turns out the station is a crime scene.”
It was pretty obvious from the look on Gareth’s face that he already knew that was going to be the answer, and that it was going to cause him a massive headache, and that there was nothing he could do about it. The evening rush hour hadn’t started yet, but there wasn’t long to go, and if Charing Cross was shut, an awful lot of people were going to have to be funnelled elsewhere. The managers of the other London terminals were probably looking much the same.
We got suited up and walked through to the station concourse, where Evie Cooper was waiting for us.
Evie’s a small woman with greying hair and a fondness for jade jewellery. She wears so much of it that I’d thought it was a werewolf thing, but apparently it’s just an Evie thing. She looks like she’s somewhere in her fifties but I’m not stupid enough to ask her how old she actually is. I like my balls where they are, thanks.
The body was on the floor, face down. It was twisted awkwardly, but like the previous crime scenes, there was no blood.
Evie was sitting on a bench near the body, tapping something in to her phone.
“Nice of you to join me,” she said without looking up. “Not like I’m on a time limit for tonight or anything.”
She put her phone away and looked up, waiting for one of us to say something. I couldn’t read her expression.
“Sorry for the delay,” Nightingale said. “It was unavoidable. You could have left a message to be passed on to us, if you’re too busy to wait.”
”It’s not a question of being busy, as you well know. I wanted to let you know some things about the body and it was easier just to tell you. So, number one, he’s been cooked.”
We all looked down at the body. He didn’t look cooked.
”He’s been cooked,” she repeated, “on the inside. Or fried. Maybe struck by lightning, not sure I’ve ever been close enough to anyone to tell what that smells like. Walid will confirm it when he does the PM, I bet you.”
I knew Nightingale trusted Evie’s nose. Werewolves have a heightened sense of smell even when they’re human, which makes the ones that live in London even grouchier than normal Londoners. Well, you would be, wouldn’t you? Even so, he didn’t look totally convinced.
”Shouldn’t there be some sort of physical sign if that’s how he died?”
”I don’t know, I’m not a bloody doctor. I’m just telling you what I can smell. Second, your killer’s a woman.”
”How sure are you?”
She rolled her eyes. “Full moon tonight. I’m sure. That good enough for you?”
”Perfectly adequate,” Nightingale said, not rising to the bait. “Have you collected any evidence?”
”I could tell as soon as I got here it wasn’t one of ours, so I thought I’d leave that for you. Didn’t see any point in muddying the waters.”
”No, quite right.”
”Do you know which way he came in?”
”Of course not,” Nightingale said, finally getting frustrated. ”Do you?”
”I had to do something while I was waiting so I had a sniff about. He came in over there,” she said, pointing past the tiny pub in the corner of the station, “and please bear in mind that this is probably the only time I’m going to make this offer and I’m only saying it because it’s the full moon tonight, I’ve been here for an hour and I can smell everything right now: do you want me to try tracking his scent?”
”Only if you’re sure you can spare the time,” Nightingale said, even though it would save us hours of searching the CCTV footage if she did.
“I’ll be quick,” she said, standing up. “Who’s coming with me?”
”I’m sure Peter can keep up with you well enough,” Nightingale said, so I followed Evie towards the back of the station.
We walked past stalls that sold tourist tat and then onto the walkway that led to the footbridge. She’d set up a cordon at the entrance to the bridge, and she paused there to nod at one of her minions and breathe deeply.
“Can you still smell him?”
“Oh, yes. Over the bridge.”
She set off, keeping in a straight line and surprisingly quick. We walked over the bridge (which hadn’t been cordoned off, so there were people getting in our way) and then down the stairs at the other end. She didn’t need to hesitate or think about where she was going. I hadn’t realised werewolves’ senses were that strong, but I didn’t think she was likely to let me do any tests. Maybe someone else had, though. I’d have to ask Nightingale.
“It’s bloody weird in there without any people,” she said after a few minutes. “I don’t like it. You know how many passengers go through it a year?”
”Thirty-seven million,” I said.
She turned and smirked at me. “Wikipedia?”
“Thought there might be something useful online.”
”About Charing Cross? Nothing ever happens there. Apart from trains getting delayed all the bloody time.”
She stopped just past the IMAX, but only for a few seconds.
“Are you sure you’re following the right scent?”
She turned back to me, frowning. “Of course I am.”
“Even with all these people?”
She sighed, “I’ve been doing this kind of thing for a long time, Peter. I was doing it when you were still in school.”
Well, that told me. She carried on, crossing the road away from Waterloo.
She kept going at a quick pace until we turned on to Exton Street, and then she stopped without any warning.
“Oh my God,” Evie said, “that is disgusting.”
“What?” I asked. I couldn’t smell anything unusual, just car exhuast and cooking food from a nearby cafe.
“It just – here. It smells like burnt meat. It was here. Definitely here. Wow. That was – unexpected. I need to – I’ll just be over there, okay?”
She walked back to the end of the street while I had a look around. I could feel a lacuna – a pocket of magic – and it seemed far too weak for the eventual outcome. The only thing I could smell that was out of the ordinary was the scent you get after you’ve struck a match. Presumably that meant some things smelled different to werewolves, not just stronger (although the thought that maybe I wasn’t smelling cooking food did occur to me). Maybe I should ask about doing tests.
I went back to Evie, who was leaning against a wall and indulging in the traditional Londoners’ pastime of glaring at passers-by when they got too close. Still, she probably had more reason than most to wish they’d keep away.
“Are you all right?”
“Everyone stinks, I need to get home, and I can’t decide whether I want to be sick or eat a battered sausage or four.”
I considered making a Hungry Like the Wolf joke, but then thought better of it.
“Can you get the killer’s scent?”
Evie paced a few steps away, paused for a moment and then came back and shook her head.
“Maybe if the burnt meat smell wasn’t so strong. Sorry.”
“How are you getting home?”
“From here? Tube from Embankment, as long as you don’t close that too.”
“I can’t see why we would. If you stayed underground all night, would you still change?”
“Oh, yes. They checked that loophole out as soon as the tube existed. It’s a bloody shame.”
“Where is it you live?”
“Balham. Always have. Before it was decent, even.”
She rolled her eyes. “Less of that, thanks. You might be living at the Folly now, but I know where you grew up.”
I was tempted to ask what else she knew about me, but Nightingale had hinted I wouldn’t like the answer.
“Speaking of, has he finished with Sidarovna yet?”
“Not quite. Why?”
“I know a guy who wants a word,” she said, and paused, “that’s less sinister than it sounds. One of my colleagues wants to talk to her about the war. There’s a lot of gaps, even with our records, and she might be able to fill some of them.”
“You could go through Nightingale,” I pointed out.
“Or we could wait until she’s a free agent,” she countered, smirking.
“She said there were German agents in the war who could find practitioners,” I said. “She wasn’t sure if they were actual werewolves.”
The smirk dropped right off her face, “Hm. Possible, but a bit of a waste of effort if you ask me. Practitioners can sense other practitioners without our help. And werewolves have never actually been popular with the powers that be, whoever and wherever they are. We’re still not allowed in the emergency services, you know, bullshit decision that it is.”
I hadn’t known that; it seemed like a problem that could simply be solved by not scheduling werewolves to work on a full moon, unless there was some other way of transmitting the condition that I didn’t know about.
“Do you have much contact with other werewolves?”
“Well, I know who they are and I know where they live,” she said, laughing. “Sorry, bad joke. But yeah, some. We’re trying to control the population. It’d be better for everyone if we died out, really. We’ve managed to get the numbers of new werewolves right down, but there’s always some dickhead who wants to have a legacy or some such bullshit.”
Most of the magical people I knew seemed entirely satisfied with themselves, so it was strange to hear someone sound disgusted with the whole thing.
“What about children?”
“It doesn’t carry that way. But trust me when I say no female werewolf with any sense is going to see a pregnancy through to term, whether the father’s fully human or not,” she said with a shudder. I didn’t ask for clarification.
She sighed and looked up at the sky.
“We’d better get back. I need to go home so my other half can lock me in the spare room.”
“Kinky,” I said, and she winked and grinned back at me.
We started walking up towards the station, but Evie kept looking back.
“You know what I don’t get?”
“Why Charing Cross? If he was trying to get to a train to get away from something, he’s closer to Waterloo.”
I hadn’t thought about it like that, but she was right.
“Maybe he wasn’t going for a train.”
She frowned again, “So why go through the station instead of up Embankment?”
“We’ll work it out. Now we know where he came from, we can look into it.”
By the time we got back to Charing Cross, Nightingale had managed to scare up some PCs and a forensics team – presumably from Covent Garden nick - and they were crawling over the station being very efficient. I guessed someone from above the station management had pointed out that we were fast approaching rush hour, and while it was a great shame that the young man had died, there were thousands of people expecting to be able to use this station to get home.
“Well?” Nightingale asked.
”We got to Exton Street.”
”It stank. That’s where it happened, whatever it was,” Evie said, “You need any of my people to stay?”
Nightingale looked around the station at the PCs. “I think we have it covered.”
”Good. We’ll be off, then.”
“Get home safely.”
She smiled, “You don’t have to worry about me.”
She disappeared off with her people. When they’d all gone, Nightingale turned back to me and said, “This body is connected to DCI Luther’s case.”
”The signare is the same. And, as Evie said, he’s been cooked from the inside. It’s a complicated spell, which fits with what we know of the killer.”
“Any particular reason you didn’t mention it in front of Evie?”
”Never make it too easy for MI5,” he said, and I waited for more of an explanation, but he didn’t seem inclined to give one. I wondered if there was any point to the two of them hiding things from each other, or if they were just so used to it by now they couldn’t see any other way to do things.
We’d started, so we finished - we processed the crime scene as if it was one of ours, and when we were done (past the rush hour; Hogan looked like he was going to have a breakdown), Nightingale put in a call to Luther to let him know the good news.
Dr Walid confirmed that the victim had been cooked from the inside out, just like Evie said. And then the CCTV we got all but confirmed she’d been right about the gender of the killer too.
There was only one CCTV camera on Exton Street, and it was placed to mostly capture people going in and out of an office building on the corner. We requisitioned the tapes from the office building and checked the whole day. We knew he’d died at Charing Cross at 15.17pm, so it was easy enough to find him outside the building on Exton Street at 2.50. Evie had been exactly right.
He was being followed by a pale blonde who looked as if she couldn’t be older than twenty-one and at 2.51 it looked like she did something with her hands, too quickly to see clearly, and then the screen went black.
Now that we had a suspect I was back working with Serious and Serial, going through the CCTV fom around the other stations. She had moved the bodies somehow, so we thought it was a safe bet that there would be footage of her somewhere. I think Nightingale was hoping we’d see her moving the bodies so he could work out how she did it.
The same blonde turned up on CCTV from Welling an hour before the body was found, but we only saw her walking along on her own, so either we were seeing her after she’d dumped them or she had some magic invisible means of transporting bodies.
Someone had questioned the minicab office at Crystal Palace, but the guy on duty had been on his laptop or taking calls the whole evening and claimed not to have looked out of the window at all. She showed up on CCTV from inside the station once, again on her own.
Invisibility was starting to look plausible.
When I called him, Nightingale grudgingly agreed that it could be done, but said it took so much energy and so long to learn that it had fallen out of favour a long time ago. I told him about how old she looked as well, and he asked me to bring back some stills from the CCTV when I came home. Attacking the latest victim the way she had done was obviously escalation – we couldn’t keep this case out of the papers – but we kept the ‘serial’ part of it quiet and there was no reaction from her. It didn’t make much sense.
Meanwhile, Luther had pictures of the bodies and the crime scenes plastered all over the wall. The order looked random, haphazard, and he was sitting on an office chair in front of the wall, staring intently.
“That’s the process?” I asked Justin. It didn’t look as dynamic as I’d expected, but then again I wasn’t exactly in a position to throw stones considering my process involved Toby and the yap scale.
Luther glanced up at us briefly, then went back to the photos.
“What’s missing, gentlemen?”
”Blood,” I said.
“Motive,” Ripley said.
Luther nodded. “The killer doesn’t like making a mess. Peter’s right, there’s no blood. No bruising, nothing physical before death. She doesn’t even touch them as she’s killing them. She doesn’t like getting her hands dirty, does she?”
”And she’s not following any sort of ritual, right? So if she doesn’t like the mess and she’s not following a pattern, why do it?”
“Settling scores?” Justin suggested.
“With this lot?” Luther said, emphasising the wall with a wave of his hand. He spun round on the chair to face us and fixed me with a serious look.
“I’d like your boss to take a look at this stuff, see if he’s got any ideas. Can you get him to come in?”
Nightingale looked out of place just walking in to the Serious and Serial offices. He was wearing an obviously expensive suit (although that was all his suits, really), the herringbone tweed one, and the rest of us…weren’t.
He looked at the picture wall for a long moment but didn’t react.
Luther was in Schenk’s office, but he came out when he noticed we’d arrived.
“DCI Nightingale? I’m DCI John Luther. Thanks for coming in.”
”Pleased to meet you. I hope I can help, but from what Peter’s told me I don’t think I have any more knowledge than your team does.”
“I have to be honest with you; we’re stumbling around in the dark here. We haven’t been able to identify her yet, and she’s not giving us much to go on otherwise.”
Nightingale looked over at the photos again, paying more attention this time.
“Could this be a ritual thing?” Luther asked. “Do you get religious nuts?”
”There are practitioners who follow religions, certainly, but I doubt any of them would consider something like this. Religion and magic aren’t usually a smooth fit.”
Schenk came over to join us, nodding a greeting to Nightingale, which he returned. I wondered if this meant they’d met before, and if so, why Nightingale hadn’t mentioned it.
“Your doctor said she kills these men by asphyxiation,” Schenk said, “but she doesn’t touch them. Is that something that matches up with your experience of killers who can utilise magic, or is it something specific to this woman?”
”I think it’s specific to her. It’s not something I’ve come across before, at any rate,” Nightingale said.
“It seems ridiculous given that she’s killed six men, but could she simply be too squeamish to kill them with her hands? Could that be why she’s using magic at all – so she doesn’t have to get involved with the world the same way as the rest of us?” Schenk asked.
”That is entirely possible. She may have been practising for a long time before she started killing, and it can…leave marks.”
“Compulsions?” Luther asked, looking interested.
“I’m not aware of compulsions being part of the symptoms, though long-term magic can cause degradation to certain parts of the brain. It’s possible she’s suffered some degradation.”
“How long can she have been practising? She barely looks like she’s in her twenties.”
“Ah,” Nightingale said, looking uncomfortable. “It’s likely she’s a lot older than she looks.”
Schenk and Luther looked at him incredulously and at then at me.
“PC Grant, could you give us a moment?” Luther said, and I reluctantly took the hint and stayed behind as they went into the office.
I didn’t see Nightingale again until I got home that evening. He wouldn’t tell me how his explanation to Schenk and Luther had gone after I’d left, but I could read him well enough to tell that it had a been a tiring day. He told me it would be fine and sent me back to off to Serious and Serial anyway.
I found Erin and Justin in the canteen, seeing as they didn’t have Molly around to cook for them. They seemed to be getting on marginally better this morning, although I couldn’t figure out any reason why.
“You want anything, mate?” Justin asked me, but I’d had plenty already.
“I’m good, thanks. What’s the plan for today?”
“Thought your boss might be in again, but they seem to have gone off that idea,” Justin said, looking at me expectantly.
“Difference of opinion,” I said. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Can’t argue with you there,” Justin said, grinning, and I realised he thought it was Luther who was the cause of the disagreement.
“We’re going south of the river again,” Erin said, “on the hunt for witnesses. He’s driving.”
Justin shrugged at that. “What have you got against it? What’s wrong with being south of the river?”
”Spoken like a man who lives there,” I said. It was a guess, but he didn’t seem like the North London type.
“Far enough away from the river it has absolutely no impact on my day-to-day life, I promise you.”
I knew better than anyone how untrue that could be, but I kept it to myself.
“It’s not his fault. He’s not from around here, and he lives in Catford,” Erin said, making it sound like something bad. In all honesty, it wasn’t the greatest.
She smiled at me and glanced at Justin quickly, making sure he wasn’t taking her too seriously.
“I suppose someone has to,” I said.
“Piss off,” Justin said, rolling his eyes. “You two couldn’t even point to Warrington on a map.”
I winked at Erin and asked, “why would we need to?”
He sighed and pushed his plate away.
“Are we hanging about here for a reason or can we get going?”
Erin and I avoided each other’s eyes so we wouldn’t start laughing, and quietly followed him out of the canteen.
We caught a break later that day, when the sister of the victim called in, saying she’d seen her brother on the news. DC Payne – a woman of as few words as possible – had been dispatched to be FLO that evening (a job she seemed entirely unsuited to, in my limited experience). Luther sent me and Erin off to talk to the sister the next morning.
We had to go right out towards Hither Green, wherever that was. The flat was on a long residential road, which meant we had to park down by a bridge and then work our way up past wheelie bins and scraggly trees until we got to the flat.
They lived on the converted first floor of a standard 1930s suburban London house, the kind that really has nothing to make it stand out unless the occupants paint the door an unsuitably bright colour.
Payne let us in and showed us up to the living room.
“How’s she doing?” Gray asked quietly.
“Pretty much how you’d think,” Payne said, “I keep trying to get her to call someone but she keeps insisting it was her and her brother against the world.”
Sian Wilson was sitting on her sofa swamped in a large, shapeless cardigan. She looked up briefly as we came in and introduced ourselves, then went back to fiddling with the sleeve of the cardigan.
“What can you tell us about your brother?”
She shrugged, chewed her thumbnail. “He just wanted to work hard and get on. We moved from Aldershot last year. I manage the Paperchase across the road from Cha–“ she stumbled over the words “the station. He was getting training. He was going to be an accountant.”
“You work near Charing Cross?” Erin said, as we shared a look.
”Yeah. I know. I’ve worked it out. He was trying to get to me before – it happened. I know.”
That was one mystery solved, although it didn’t look like it was any comfort to Sian.
“Did he have a girlfriend? Boyfriend?”
”Neither. He wasn’t interested. Or, he would have been if he hadn’t been studying so much. My mum…she walked out years ago. My Dad wasn’t much use. So me and Stevie looked out for each other. I’m supporting us now so he can get trained, and then we’re – I mean, we were –“
She stopped talking suddenly and started crying. Gray and I both froze for a moment, not sure of the best way to approach her. I thought women were supposed to be better at that kind of thing, but Gray looked as uncomfortable as I felt.
After a moment, the FLO rolled her eyes at both of us and went over to sit next to Sian, putting an arm round her.
“I’m sorry,” Sian said, “I’m sorry, I just – we had a plan, we had the next five years all worked out, and now it’s just…gone. It’s just me now.”
“When did you last see your brother?”
”Wednesday morning. We just saw each other at breakfast. Nothing special. He went off to college. I went to work. And then Charing Cross got shut down in the afternoon and…well.”
I shared a look with Gray; Sian had a solid alibi, and her grief was real. Her relationship with her brother was obviously rock solid. I’d have put money on it not being her. Gray nodded at me.
“I think that’s all we need for now. Unless there’s anything else you can think of? Anyone he might have known, or anywhere he might have gone after college?”
”He liked being outside. He used to go up to Crystal Palace if the weather was good, or Greenwich Park if he had time. If it was a green space, he was there.”
Gray and I shared a look; this was the first possible connection we’d found between any of the victims.
“Thank you. You’ve been really helpful.”
Back at the station, we checked everything we could think of around Crystal Palace. We requested CCTV and the victims’ bank statements. Gray explained what Sian Wilson had told us and she set Benny off looking for any connections he might be able to find faster than we could.
Once we knew where to look, it all opened right up.
“We’ve found something,” Erin told Luther, failing to keep a note of excitement out of her voice.
“Come on then, don’t hold on to it.”
“At least four of the victims used or worked in the same pub. The Alma on Church Road. They’ve all been there in the last month – Steven Wilson, Andrew Roberts, Matthew Atkinson. Dean Baker worked there.”
”Benny’s working on collating dates and times from receipts and we’ll be requesting it shortly, guv. We’re looking for the others as well.”
“Can we use that to identify the killer? Does she work in the pub, or does she live nearby?” Luther said, “Good work, you two. Keep going.”
We all ended up pulling a late one, so by the next morning we knew that the victims who didn’t live in the area had also visited the park or the stadium. We also knew that the killer went to Crystal Palace Park for a run twice a week, without fail, and that she stopped in to the Tesco Express afterwards to get a drink or a sandwich.
We had an idea of her route thanks to the CCTV Benny had picked up, so we staked out the park early on Saturday morning. Luther had asked for Nightingale to be there too because we didn’t know what kind of reaction she’d have to being asked to come quietly, but we were pretty sure she wasn’t just going to meekly wait for the handcuffs. He and I were hanging back for now, just in case she knew who we were, and Ripley had been volunteered to follow her when she did show up.
Ripley was stretching, trying to look like a normal guy out for a run and not a police officer waiting for her to turn up so he could follow her round the park, with the rest of us positioned as back up. There was a light drizzle in the air, so the park was emptier than it could have been. Even so, Schenk wasn’t happy about us trying to arrest her out in the open, but Nightingale had argued that there was likely to be less collateral damage that way.
“You know what the plan is, Justin?”
”Don’t approach without the signal, don’t let her know I’m here.”
Luther cut off the communication and looked over at Nightingale.
“You’re sure this is safer than just picking her up when she gets off the train?”
“Safer is relative, but out in the open there’s less chance of property damage.”
He had a point about the property damage, and the last thing either of our departments needed was more destruction to our names, so they had to accept what he was saying. Erin was waiting outside the station café, and she came on the line exactly when we’d expected.
“She’s just come out of the station, boss,” Erin said.
“Great. Follow her until you’ve got eyes on Ripley,” he told her, and all we could do after that was wait.
One by one, Luther’s team reported in or reported that they were joining the chase. The idea was to surround her in the hopes that the numbers would make her think twice about trying anything.
She didn’t always take the same route around the park, so when she took a turn by the lake, Ripley followed and we lost sight of them for a moment and both of them just disappeared.
We waited for a minute or two while the rest of the team caught up to Ripley’s last position, and when they confirmed there was no sign of either of them, we all moved in.
It didn’t do any good – whatever she’d done, they were long gone, and we were back to square one.
Back at the station, Luther, Schenk and Nightingale were in Luther’s office, and a shouting match was starting in earnest. Erin, Benny and I were sitting at our desks, pretending to focus but really trying to listen in and trying not to think about how Justin was probably going to turn up dead in a train station some day soon.
“Don’t worry about Justin. He’ll be all right,” Benny said to me. “He’s pretty tough.”
“I’m not sure that’s going to do him any good against someone who can strangle him without even touching him.”
Benny shrugged, and I guessed he was trying to convince himself as much as me. “Even so. It’s not the first time someone’s tried to kill him.”
“Even Justin’s not that lucky,” Erin said, and Benny glared at her.
“How did she know we were following her?”
”Maybe she’s more aware than we thought,” I said. “I think Nightingale would have known if there was anything funny going on before she took him.”
Erin looked over at the office. “are you sure about that?”
“He always has been before,” I said, which was the best I could do but not really that great now I thought about it.
Ripley turned up the next morning at Catford Bridge station, somehow, shockingly, alive. He had injuries that suggested he’d been hit by a car and he’d been left in a place that suggested the killer knew where he lived, but he was alive and that was honestly more than any of us had really been expecting, whatever we might have been saying out loud.
We searched the station and took forensic evidence, because that’s what you do, even when the killer knows you’re on to them and is going to be even more careful this time. Nobody was talking about how the sensible thing for her to do would be to go to ground or leave London entirely, so the relief of getting Justin back was tempered by the knowledge that the one shot we’d had to arrest the killer had gone wildly off-target.
Erin had been quiet all morning, but I couldn’t imagine she was unhappy about Justin’s survival, however much they didn’t get on, which meant she had to be thinking about something else. We were back at the station and searching for evidence of her on the Catford Bridge CCTV by the time she spat it out.
“She wasn’t trying to kill him,” she said suddenly.
“He’s going to be in the hospital for weeks.”
”Yeah, exactly. This is a woman who can cook someone alive from the inside. If she wanted Justin dead, he’d be dead. She could have easily killed him, couldn’t she? You know she could.”
It made sense when she put it like that.
“I think she’s showing off. All of this, it’s set pieces. Like a showreel.”
“For the police?”
”I don’t think so. I think she wanted someone’s attention, but not ours. I don’t think it even occurred to her until today that we’d be after her.”
Before she could explain how she’d got to that conclusion, Luther called and said Ripley had woken up, so we went to meet them at the hospital.
Ripley didn’t look entirely pleased to see us all, but that was understandable. He was looking at a couple of months to recover and he probably wanted to sulk about it in peace.
“She hardly even acknowledged me. She didn’t seem that interested. She only said one thing the whole time I was there. She said I should be grateful she wasn’t vindictive.”
“Implying that she’d have killed you otherwise.”
“That’s what I thought,” Justin said. “She’s definitely not English, either. Sounded Scandinavian to me, but I can’t narrow it down any further than that.”
“I thought you had to speak the words to make the spell work?” Erin asked.
“That’s the tradition in most of the places we know about, but there are gaps in our knowledge. If she is Scandinavian…”
”Then it’s possible she learned another way of doing things. Great.”
”She moved her fingers a lot,” Ripley said, “like she was playing piano in the air.”
“Well, that gives us something to go on,” Nightingale said, though I thought he might just be saying that so Justin didn’t feel like his injuries were for nothing. The chances of us finding out anything useful in the next few days about the tradition she was using were slim, to say the least.
“You should get some rest,” Luther said.
Justin didn’t look like he was going to argue with that, so Erin and I put the grapes we’d brought him on the table by his bed and followed Luther and Nightingale out of the room.
Erin waited until we were waiting for the lift before she spoke up.
“I don’t think she knew she was the focus of a police investigation until she worked out Justin was following her.”
That got their attention quick enough; they both turned to look at her.
“So what do you think?”
”If she wanted him dead she’s hardly lacking in options, and this time it served her purposes better to leave him alive. But this is about performing complicated spells for an audience.”
“Who’s the audience?”
”I don’t know. But I’m sure it’s not us. Ripley was only the last one because he was after her. The victims aren’t important. It’s the spells she’s doing that matter.”
They considered it for a moment.
“Good work,” Luther said, and then turned to Nightingale. “Is that sound?”
”I would agree with DS Gray. If the victims were the thing that mattered, there are far easier ways of killing people with magic.”
“So how do we track her now? She could go to ground now we’re on to her.”
“I’m not so sure she will. I think we should wait. I think now she knows we’re on to her, she’s not going to be able to let it go.”
We’d put the word out about Maja to all the police stations in South London. We included the part about her being dangerous and the part where she’d committed GBH on a police officer but left out the rest.
We got a call from East Putney telling us that one of their patrols had identified Maja hanging around the train station. They were going to pick her up but our alert had pointed out that approaching her would be a very silly thing to do, so they thought they should check first. Quick as you like, Benny told them to keep eyes on her and keep their distance, and that someone would be with them in double quick time.
Luther took Nightingale with him, wanting to keep the rest of us out of harm’s way. That was all well and good, but that left Gray, Benny and me kicking our heels in the office. Benny was alternately bursting with unasked questions (he’d promised Luther he’d leave them until the case was finished) and worrying about Justin. Gray was still working on Maja’s pattern, trying to puzzle out her motivation.
Gray’s theory was that killing people the way this woman did – not just using magic during, but after as well – had to take a lot out of her one way or another.
“You mean magically?” I asked.
“You’re the magician.”
”Wizard, then. So you tell me. It just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you can do without consequences.”
“They’re usually more long-term than you’re thinking,” I explained. “Brain damage if you do too much, that kind of thing.”
She was pretty insistent. ”But you’re doing small spells regularly, right? She’s strangling people or boiling them. It must be like the difference between picking up a bag of shopping and picking up a wardrobe.”
“So you think the gaps are…recovery time?”
”Yeah. Have you got a better suggestion?”
I thought about it for a moment, about Nightingale making Lesley rest in between practices and Dr Walid’s brain scans, and everything we didn’t know about the Scandinavian tradition.
“No, I haven’t. So if she’s at the bottom of the curve at the moment, this would be a good time to catch up with her.”
”Exactly,” She said, giving me a serious look. “She got off the train at Crystal Palace. Unregistered Pay As You Go Oyster card.”
“It’s still got an identification number,” I said, guessing where she was going with this. “where did she get on?”
Gray sent a text to Luther before we set off to let them know where we were heading. The killer had got on the transport network at Canada Water, which is a mostly characterless area of Rotherhithe notable for an ugly library and a decent view of Canary Wharf. A one-bedroom flat in one of the luxury blocks will set you back around half a million pounds, for which you’ll get a freshwater lake, a tube station and a place that, if our experience was anything to go by, got creepily quiet after everyone had gone to work.
It all felt a bit sterile to me, though I could see why our killer was using it as her base. It was as bloodless as her murders, and not the kind of place you’d ever get comfortable. You could do what you wanted and no-one would notice. I couldn’t imagine anyone thinking of it as their manor, even if they’d spent their whole lives here.
We started in the library, not expecting to be that lucky, but knowing we had to be methodical about covering the area or we had no chance of finding her.
The librarian on the desk looked at our picture for a moment, then nodded.
“Really?” I said before I could catch myself. She’d have to have given a name and address for a library card, so finally we’d have something to identify her.
“Yeah, Swedish girl, right? Hang on a sec.” She tapped something into the keyboard, then snagged one of her colleagues as they walked past. “That Swedish girl who complains about kids being noisy all the time, what’s her name?”
“Maja something. Hang on, I’ll go and find the complaints folder. What’s she done, then? Started bothering you lot with complaints too?”
“If you could just find the file,” Erin said, ignoring their disappointed looks. He disappeared and returned a few minutes later with a name and address.
Erin managed not to grab at it, which took some serious self-restraint.
We left the library and she looked down at the piece of paper.
“Maybe we should wait for the boss,” she said.
“We’re here now,” I pointed out, “does she live nearby?”
Erin passed me the piece of paper and checked the map on her mobile before sending the address to Luther.
“It’s just a couple of minutes away.”
We looked at each other, and I decided that if there had been a time for turning back, we’d passed it already.
Maja had a flat in a glossy high-rise tower block a few streets away from the library. I wondered where her money came from, but reasoned she'd had a long time to build up enough capital to afford one of the properties here. We talked to her neighbours to see if they could tell us anything about her but all they told us was that she didn’t like to talk and she was out most of the time.
As we were walking back to the lift, I noticed that Maja’s door was slightly ajar. Gray called out, identifying us both, and pushed the door slightly wider. There was a holdall on the floor. Maja came out of another room carrying some clothing.
She looked up and saw us. She took a couple of seconds to realise her mistake – long enough for Erin to say her name, and long enough for us to get inside.
Her eyes widened but she didn’t speak, and she stood completely still for a moment before dropping the clothes. I had Ripley’s words in my head – like she was playing piano in the air – and I tried to grab at her wrists before she could do anything.
She stepped back just too fast for me to catch her, and her hands moved quickly. I’d already started forming a shield and Gray was behind me, so neither of us got hurt by the impello. I sent one back as quick as I could, but she dived behind the sofa so all I managed to do was make a dent in the wall.
Gray and I looked at each other and Gray slammed the door behind her; we still didn’t know if Maja was using invisibility or transportation to get herself out of trouble, but there was no point making it easier for her.
I was a bit surprised she’d scared so easily; she obviously knew much higher-order spells than I did, and she probably could have beaten me quickly if she’d just kept hitting me with everything she had. Then again, she didn’t know that so maybe it would be a bad idea to let on.
“Maja?” I said, but there was no response. “You need to come out now.”
“Fuck off,” she said after a moment, and I could hear the panic in her voice. “You saw what I did to your friend, I will kill you both.”
“I don’t think so,” Gray said. We shared another look and I shrugged. I moved closer to the sofa she was hiding behind, as quietly as I could, while Erin tried to distract her.
“Maja, we’re not going to hurt you. You can’t escape.”
“You don’t know what I can do.”
“You could tell us,” Erin suggested. “We’re very interested.”
She was quiet again, so I crawled round the sofa and found her crouching on the floor. She jumped up at me, moving faster than I expected, but this time I managed to grab hold of her hands.
She struggled against me for a moment, trying to pull her hands away, and when that didn’t work she headbutted me.
I’m still not sure how I held on, because it hurt like hell, but I stumbled against her and we fell over, my weight helping to keep her in place. She struggled a bit, but it felt half-hearted, like she knew it was over already.
Erin gave Maja the whole arrest talk, including the names of all the men she’d killed, and she finally stopped struggling. Nevertheless, I couldn’t convince myself to let go of Maja’s hands until Nightingale and Luther arrived.
Maja didn’t recognise Nightingale or react to the name, which was a first. He had to explain in very clear terms that if she tried any magic she was going to regret it.
She just nodded and looked at him incredulously.
“But – you’re police? I don’t understand. How is that allowed?”
Technically the handcuffs wouldn’t have stopped Maja from doing anything, but the psychological effect of being arrested seemed to have calmed her down. I wondered whether we’d need to tape her fingers up to make really sure (if it was to do with the movement of the fingers and not just the hands or arms), but it wasn’t like there was anyone to ask. She sat quietly in the police car on the way back to the station, and was signed in to custody without a murmur. It was weird and suspicious, but everything she’d done so far had been weird and suspicious.
Luther and Gray interviewed Maja, with Nightingale and I observing from behind a one-way mirror. We’d planned to run an unofficial interview first, where we could get her to talk about the hows and the whys, and then to go through what would be in the official interview. We were starting to think Maja might need some help with that part.
“Can you tell us where you were on the twentieth of September?”
“I don’t know when that was. I don’t watch days.”
”A month ago. Do you watch months?”
She shrugged. “I’ve seen a lot of them. I was in central London, maybe.”
”Can you be sure?” Erin asked, and Nightingale huffed next to me, getting frustrated.
“I have a diary,” she said. “It will be in my flat. You have access to my flat, yes? It might be in there. I don’t always write these things down. Where’s the other policeman?”
She looked nervously at the glass.
“You’re talking to us now,” Erin said. “You’re facing some very serious charges here Maja, so we need to know where you were on these dates.”
“Is she putting it on?” Schenk asked.
“I’m not sure,” Nightingale said. “Has she been like this since you found her?”
“Yeah. I’m not sure she’s all there.”
”Could it be a side effect of her advanced age?” Schenk asked. “You seem to have all your faculties intact.”
“There’s not enough data to compare,” Nightingale admitted. “She’s only the third person we know of who’s aged like this.”
In the interview room, Maja was looking at the list of dates.
“I remember some of these.”
”Not all of them?”
”Not...no. I’d have done it differently if I had.”
”Done what differently?”
She looked at Luther. ”Killed them.”
He sat back in his chair. “You’re admitting it?”
She shrugged. “If you found me, you know what I did. Why would you look for me otherwise? So yes, I’m admitting it.”
“You killed six men, and moved five of the bodies to train stations around London?”
“How did you move them?”
She looked at the one-way mirror for a long moment, hoping for something. Her shoulders slumped when whatever she was waiting for didn’t happen.
“There’s a way you can lift things. Big things. A spell.”
”And there’s a spell for invisibility as well?”
“For hiding, yes. But that one is very difficult.”
I wondered how they named the spells, if they weren’t saying them out loud.
“And you have spells for killing them as well?”
“Why did you change your method for Steven Wilson?” Gray asked.
“It wasn’t working the other way. I would have carried on with that, if you hadn’t stopped me.”
”You didn’t kill DS Ripley.”
”I knew it would be worse for me if I did.” She shrugged.
“Why target these men?” Luther asked, gesturing to the list. Maja put it down on the table and smoothed it out.
“They hated their lives. They were trapped. They all said so! Just complained all the time about how their lives did not work out the way they thought they should. I didn’t take anything they were interested in keeping.”
I couldn’t see Erin’s face, or Luther’s, but I guessed they probably looked as horrified as I felt.
“Where did you find them all?”
”The Alma,” she said, “Men like to talk while they drink.”
”You didn’t work there, though?”
”He used to drink there. A long time ago.”
“My teacher,” she said, “my master.”
Behind the glass, Schenk and I looked at Nightingale, who was looking at Maja.
“You’ll have to explain it for us, Maja,” Erin said. “Why would you need to kill six men to find someone?”
”Because nothing else worked. I had tried everything, all the spells I can do, all the ways to find someone. The only thing left to me was to show him that I am still here and I am still active, and I am still getting younger. Look at me. I need him to come back and tell me how to stop this, because I do not have that many years left before I am a child again, and then what?”
“Are you telling us he stopped it?” Luther asked, and Nightingale went very still next to me.
“Yes,” she said. “That is what I am saying.”
“Why are you so sure he’s still alive?”
“He could do anything,” Maja said. “He is very good at staying alive.”
“And you think he’s here? In London?”
”Care to tell us why?”
“This is the last place I saw him. He wanted to settle here. I did not.”
Luther leaned back in his chair, watching Maja carefully. He waited for a moment, then smiled at her. She looked unsure and smiled back weakly.
“So you went to all this effort – killed all these people – for him, and he hasn’t come back. Where does that leave you?”
The smile faded. “I don’t understand.”
“You’re his apprentice. He put all that time and effort in to you when you were younger, and now you put all that time and effort in to reaching out to him – so you could ask for help – and he’s just…ignored you. If he’s still alive.”
Maja glared at Luther.
“He had high standards. Perhaps I did not meet them. Perhaps he is aware of all I have done but does not wish anyone else to know he is still alive.”
“It’s a shame you didn’t consider that before all those people died.”
“He would not have cared about that, so neither do I.”
Just looking at her, I suspected that wasn’t true.
”Is it just me, or is she less convinced about this than you’d expect?” I asked.
“If she was reluctant, it could explain why she avoided touching the bodies,” Schenk replied.
“Her desperation seems to be genuine, at any rate. Do you think he can still be alive?”
“I very much doubt it,” Nightingale said, but he was looking thoughtfully at Maja.
“Did you get the train station thing from him? What’s that about, anyway? Surely if you’re trying to stay under the radar, it’s a risky strategy.”
She tried to answer, and when she faltered I guessed that this was something else she’d picked up from her teacher, and she’d taken the instruction without questioning. He had a lot to answer for, if we ever found him.
“You can’t always protest openly,” she said, “but you can make things difficult in a thousand little ways. You can shape things without being in government.”
She definitely hadn’t come up with that on her own.
When both the unofficial and official interviews were over, Erin and Luther left Maja sitting on her own. It was a risk, but we wanted to see what she’d do. They were pretty sure she wasn’t going to try to escape now, and it seemed like they were right. Nightingale kept watching her through the glass.
“What’s going to happen to her?” Schenk asked.
“A secure hospital, hopefully. Where we can keep an eye on her.”
Dr Walid would probably want to take a look, I thought. And Nightingale had to be curious – if she was telling the truth then she could be a glimpse into his future.
“Can you stop her using magic?”
”We can,” Nightingale said, refusing to elaborate. He’d been quieter than usual since the interview, and I was starting to worry about him.
Luther came into the room.
“She wants to talk to one of you,” he said. “She really can’t get her head round you being in the police, for some reason.”
I looked over at Nightingale. “I’ll do it.”
Maja sat up a bit straighter when I came into the room.
“Thank you for talking to me,” she said, weirdly formal.
“What do you want to know?”
”Why are you allowed to be police officers? Why do the other ones know?”
“Because sometimes people like you commit crimes that normal police can’t solve,” I pointed out, and she frowned. She leaned closer to me.
“But they know,” she said in a whisper, “and they haven’t locked you up.”
It took me a moment to work it out.
“Did they lock up practitioners where you came from?”
“Only when they know we exist! So we hide. We’re not stupid.”
”Did your teacher tell you that you’d be locked up if anyone found out?”
”He knew people who had been found out!” She insisted. “They were killed. Being locked up forever was lenient.”
I didn’t point out that if her teacher had known people who were killed for practising magic, it could well have been in the nineteenth century and that things had moved on from that. I wondered if it had occurred to her that things might have changed since she was young the first time round. I didn’t say anything as it was becoming obvious that as I wasn’t her teacher, she wasn’t likely to take in what I said.
“We don’t do that here,” I said, “unless they’ve committed crimes like yours.”
She nodded slowly, and I thought that, given time, it might just dawn on her that she could have lived her life differently if she hadn’t placed so much trust in her teacher.
Once we’d worked out what to do with Maja, Serious and Serial no longer required our services, so it was back to the Folly and back to our quieter normality. I heard from Justin that almost as soon as he’d got back to work, Gray had requested a transfer out of the team. He thought she was using this case as an excuse, using our name and reputation to give her a clean break.
Evie called me in a flap about Maja’s teacher, saying that he was on their radar for being involved in the riots in Catford, so it looked like Maja hadn’t been completely wrongheaded about his survival skills. We started looking for him but he had a two-year head start so we weren’t expecting quick results. Maja took the news stoically, but something changed in her attitude and when I got her a computer to work on and she happily typed out everything she knew about the Scandinavian tradition.
She hadn’t complained about getting a bracelet similar to Varvara’s - she seemed relieved that her ability to use magic would be taken away, even though we didn’t know what effect that would have on her aging. She stayed with us at the Folly while Nightingale worked on the bracelet. I didn’t bother telling Nightingale that I thought it was a distinct possibility she’d transfer her loyalty from her teacher to him, but he seemed just as relieved as I was when she was transferred to a secure facility in Kent.
I wondered if her teacher hadn’t come out of hiding because he hadn’t been aware of what she was doing or because he thought it wasn’t worth helping her. She wasn’t quite like the other practitioners we’d faced; she just wasn’t as smart or as innovative. She wasn’t that good as fitting in and seeming normal, either. She’d been living a solitary existence for years, not even realising there were options other than normal or practitioner, not building relationships with anyone in case they found out what she was. It seemed to me like a strange life to choose when you had the potential for so much more.