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A young woman’s body is discovered, propped up against a bin, discarded like a piece of rubbish, outside a Chinese Takeaway in the City of London.
DS Jack Mackinnon’s first outing as acting SIO on a prominent case is not for the faint-hearted. The young woman’s arms are covered with odd marks, and he is convinced they provide a clue to the killer’s identity.
But the pieces of the puzzle are slow to come together, and when another woman is abducted, the stakes are raised. There’s a method to the killer’s madness – but can Jack get to the truth before another life is lost?
Release date: August 11, 2019
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 362
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ASHLEY BURROWS SQUIRMED against the hard wooden board. How could she have been so stupid? So trusting? She wasn’t a kid any more. She was twenty-one years old and should have known better. But he seemed so normal… so nice.
Her throat ached from the hours she’d spent sobbing. But there was no point in crying. It wasn’t getting her anywhere. She needed to get out of there.
He’d taken her clothes, though hadn’t taken her under- wear, and tied her wrists and ankles with cable ties before leaving her in the loft. His house was in the centre of a row of terraces. The neighbours were so close. At first, she’d tried to scream—sure someone would hear her—but no one had come to help.
How long had she been there? Days at least. It was hard to tell in the attic space because there were no external windows. The only light came from a dim solitary light bulb hanging from one of the rafters. Spider webs, thick with insect remains, draped over the rafters. She shuddered.
Though her wrists were fastened together with cable ties, he had at least kept her arms in front of her body so she could drink from the bottle of water he’d left. She reached for it awkwardly, plastic crunching as she gripped the bottle. She swallowed only a mouthful before putting it back down. There was only a third left, and she didn’t know when or even if he would bring her more water.
The floor of the loft was only partially boarded and the rest was exposed insulation material—fibreglass, she thought. That was probably what was making her eyes and skin itch and burn. A few boxes and black bags were scattered in the corners. She’d been so tempted to look inside, thinking they might contain something that would help her escape, but so far she’d been too scared to look. The boards creaked loudly whenever she moved, and she was terrified of him coming back.
Tears welled in her eyes again. Why hadn’t she said no? Why had she agreed to go to his house when she hardly knew him?
Her mum would be worried sick. Would she have reported her missing yet? Of course, she would. The police would be looking for her. It wouldn’t be long now. Everyone would have known something was wrong when she hadn’t turned up for work. She’d been working there for a year and had never been so much as a minute late.
Ashley curled up on her side, bringing her knees to her chest. The grain of the board beneath her felt rough against her exposed skin. She’d been lying and sitting for so long her body ached. Her shoulder blades and hip bone felt bruised. But the muscle cramps and aches were nothing compared to the desire to scratch her skin. The itching was driving her crazy.
She needed to think, to clear her mind and focus on a way out of this, but the incessant need to scratch overwhelmed everything else. Her hands twisted under the restraints until her fingernails connected with the skin on her forearm. She scratched and the relief was instant, but it only lasted seconds before the burning itch was back.
She shivered. Though her skin was hot to touch, she felt so cold and exposed lying there in her underwear. She rubbed the long red welts on her arms where she had scratched and scratched until her skin bled. Red pinpricks of blood still dotted the pink crisscrossed lines. What had he done to her?
After he’d blindfolded her, he’d babbled on, spouting a load of nonsense. He’d talked about making history and had said that together they were going to change the world. An absolute nut job. Why hadn’t she seen it earlier?
To make matters worse, he’d actually apologised. As though she would forgive him for what he’d done. She hadn’t replied, of course.
He was mad. That much was obvious. It was just a shame it hadn’t been obvious before she’d agreed to come to his house, but it wasn’t really her fault. He’d changed. In an instant, the friendly, smiling, non-threatening guy had turned into a ranting madman with rage in his eyes.
The first day in the loft had been the worst. Since then, he’d left her more or less alone apart from delivering sandwiches, cups of soup, and water.
The loft space smelled of urine from the bucket he’d left in the corner. The last time he’d come to change it, she’d been asleep and had woken to see him standing over her. Though he hadn’t touched her—that time—the mere proximity of him sent her heart thundering in her chest and left her lungs gasping for air. She must have passed out because when she woke again, he was gone, and the bucket was empty.
Her fingernails raked along her skin. What had he done to her? He’d done something. He must have. This itching couldn’t be just down to the fibreglass insulation. The day he’d taken her, he’d covered her head with a hood, and she’d felt him put something over her arms. It hadn’t lasted long, only minutes—long, terrifying minutes—and shortly after that the itching had started.
Ashley’s shivering grew worse. She couldn’t sit and wait for the police to find her. There was nothing linking her to this man. They’d met through a support group. That’s why she’d thought he understood, that he was on her side.
She pushed herself up onto her hands and knees and shuffled towards the black bags and boxes, flinching as the board creaked beneath her.
She paused, hearing banging from below. He was home.
Ashley didn’t move, listening hard. Was he coming up here?
She cocked her head. She could hear whistling. Anger made her clench her teeth. He was down there, whistling away happily as though everything was normal and fine.
She inched forward again, heading for the nearest black bag. She tugged on the plastic until it fell over. A white t-shirt and a shopping bag fell out. It was her bag. It was her stuff!
She felt a spark of hope. There was her small pink clutch bag, too. Breathing heavily, she put both hands inside the clutch and tried to feel around.
Please, please, please let my phone still be in the bag.
Her fingers closed around her purse. If that was still there, then surely…
Her heart leapt as she felt the cold case of her phone, but in her haste to pull it out, she lost her grip, and the phone clattered onto the board.
She turned, watching the loft hatch. Had he heard? He’d stopped whistling.
Her heart pounded.
He could be on his way up here right now. She didn’t have much time. Grabbing the phone with shaking hands, she flipped it over to look at the screen. It hadn’t broken. But the screen was black.
She fought against the need to scratch her arms again, trying to focus, and pressed the on button. But nothing happened.
The battery was dead.
It had been there all the time, and she hadn’t realised. The phone had sat in that bag with its battery draining away, along with her chance of escape.
With a sob, she threw the phone back at the bag. That was it then. He’d won. There was no way she was getting out of here.
Viciously, she scratched her arms and then stopped when she heard footsteps below. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to hide her bare skin. Her limbs trembled.
Ashley held her breath as the loft hatch began to open.
DR WENDY WILLSON looked at her patient list and sighed. She had a busy morning ahead, and now she had two new additions to her patient list. Great. That was all she needed. The extra appointments would eat even further into her lunch hour. Not that she resented treating patients who needed her care. She usually spent her lunch break finishing off paper- work and chasing up test results.
She glanced again at her patient list and felt a flicker of irritation when she saw the first name on the list. She always tried to be sympathetic and thorough with all her patients, but this particular patient was a problem.
She’d had dealings with him before, as had most of the doctors in the practice. It was unusual for a week to go by without a visit. Privately, just between the doctors at the practice, they referred to him as the hypochondriac. Cruel, perhaps. But he turned up week after week with new complaints, demanding they run tests and prescribe unusual medications.
He probably spent most of his free time researching symptoms on Google.
The Internet was a problem with certain patients. Health education was a good thing, but the information on the Internet wasn’t always correct, which wasn’t helpful for doctors. The number of her patients who now turned up with a self-diagnosis, or more accurately misdiagnosis, was verging on dangerous.
She wondered what it would be this time with the hypochondriac. Parasites, perhaps? That seemed to be his current favourite fixation.
She closed the file on her computer for her previous patient and then pressed the intercom to call him in.
Nervously, she waited, busying herself at the keyboard. He had a way of making her feel on edge, uncomfortable. When he started reeling off research studies to back up his self-diagnosis, Wendy couldn’t help feeling inadequate. Which was quite ridiculous. She’d spent seven years in medical school and then had further training to become a GP, and she’d been working in this practice for five years. Wendy was very good at her job.
She’d dealt with many varied conditions, but as every practising doctor knew, you had to rule out the most obvious things first, and parasites were not a common cause of disease in the Western world. He could be convincing though, and it was tempting to prescribe something just to shut him up.
Dr Farquhar, who headed up the practice, had told her conspiratorially that he always gave the hypochondriac a prescription for something—usually an emollient cream or vitamins, something that would do him no harm, but Wendy didn’t think she could do that. It wasn’t right to prescribe something when it wasn’t required.
When the door opened, Wendy forced a smile. “Hello again.”
Immediately, he frowned. She had said the wrong thing by drawing attention to his frequent visits.
She pushed on. “Take a seat and tell me what’s wrong.”
“I need antibiotics, a broad spectrum one.” He sat in the chair opposite Wendy and met her gaze steadily.
No preamble this time, Wendy thought. He’s clearly already decided not only what’s wrong with him but also what treatment is required.
How about I, the only person in this room with a medical degree, decide what medication you need? Wendy wished she could say that out loud. Instead, she nodded and said, “I see. What do you need the antibiotics for?”
His facial features tightened and Wendy half expected him to say it was none of her business. Finally, he said, “I’ve got a rash. I think it’s bacterial.”
“Let’s take a look shall we?” Wendy said and stood up to put on some protective gloves. “Where is it, this rash?”
He held out his arm. When he turned his arm over, she saw a line of red bumps that ran across his pale skin.
Snapping her gloves on, Wendy leaned forward to take a closer look. At least he wasn’t making it up this time. It wasn’t an imaginary symptom. That said, it didn’t look like a bacterial infection to her.
“Have you changed your washing detergent recently?
Perhaps used a new shower gel?”
He gave a harsh laugh looked at her through narrowed eyes. “I’m not an idiot, Doctor. No, I haven’t changed anything.”
Wendy held back the response she would like to have given him and said, “It’s not bacterial.”
“How do you know that? You haven’t even taken a swab!” “I don’t think we need to take a swab. It will probably clear
up on its own. It looks to me like it could be bite marks. Do you have any animals?”
He looked thrown by the question and then shook his head. “No, I don’t have any animals. Why do you ask?”
Wendy peeled off her gloves and put them in the bin. “They look a little like flea bites.”
He looked down at his arm with fascination. “Fleas?”
“I’m not saying that’s what it is for sure. And it doesn’t mean your house is dirty because fleas can come into the cleanest of homes,” Wendy added hurriedly. She sat down beside her computer. Reluctantly she began to type. “I’m going to prescribe you a special cream to treat the rash. Keep the area clean and dry, and if it hasn’t improved in two weeks, come back and see me.”
“What kind of cream? An antibiotic cream?”
Wendy tried not to roll her eyes. “It’s a special cream, specifically for rashes. An emollient cream.”
He was quiet for a moment, processing the information.
She really hoped he would take the prescription without argument. There was no way she was going to prescribe antibiotics when he didn’t need it. She could get in big trouble for that.
“I don’t know…” he said. “I really think it needs antibiotics.”
“I can’t prescribe antibiotics unless I’m sure you need them,” Wendy explained. “There’s been a lot of research about antibiotic resistance. It would be very dangerous if antibiotics lost effectiveness due to overexposure, so we only prescribe them when absolutely necessary.”
“That’s ridiculous.” He leaned forward suddenly making Wendy jump. “Most antibiotics are used in factory farming. Surely you’ve heard of that. Maybe they should stop giving them to animals before they try to limit human use!”
Wendy murmured something noncommittal and gave her computer screen her full attention.
It wasn’t enough to deter him.
“Are you listening to me? You doctors are all the same.” He stood up, towering over her.
He wouldn’t physically attack her, would he? Not here in the surgery, surely.
Wendy glared back at him. She shouldn’t let him intimidate her. He was nothing but a bully. But then… there was something wrong with him. These imaginary conditions were a cry for help, and as a doctor, shouldn’t she be a little more compassionate?
“Sit back down, please,” she said in a firm voice, usually reserved for her three-year-old son. “I think we need to revisit the possibility of referring you to a mental health specialist.”
He practically exploded. “There’s nothing wrong with my head.” He tapped his temple. “All I need is you lot to do your job properly and I’d be fine.” He clenched his fists, and his mouth contorted with anger. “Why do you never listen? Don’t you think patients are the best judge of their own bodies?”
“This is ridiculous. I’ve been coming here for years, and you’ve still not found out what’s wrong with me.”
Wendy was tempted to say that was because physically there was nothing wrong with him. His problems were usually purely mental. On this occasion, he did have a rash, perhaps insect bites, but it was nothing that wouldn’t heal on its own. Week after week, he was using up her time, and the time of all the doctors in the surgery, time which could be better used for patients who really were physically ill.
“It’s easier for you to say I’m crazy than to actually try and help me.”
“That’s not true,” Wendy said.
“Yes it is. It’s the current trend in the UK. The hot topic. Everyone has mental health problems. I bet half the waiting room is filled with people who want you to sign them off work for depression or a breakdown.”
“Depression is a very serious condition.”
“Sure. But most of them lot out there are only pretending they’ve got it so they don’t have to work for a living.”
Wendy shook her head. There was no use arguing with him like this. It was true that many of her patients visited to discuss mental health issues more often than they ever had in the past, but Wendy thought that was a positive step forward.
“Look, I know this is hard, but if you could talk to some- body about your anxiety—” Wendy began.
He interrupted. “My anxiety? I’m not anxious.”
“Your anxiety relating to your medical conditions. The brain can be a funny thing. It can convince you something’s wrong when in reality you’re perfectly healthy.”
He gave a roar of outrage and thumped his fist on the desk. Wendy pushed herself back in her wheeled chair as far as she could go. Then stood up, pulling the chair in front of her as a makeshift shield. “Calm down!”
“How am I supposed to keep calm when you won’t even listen to me?”
“Losing your temper won’t help. You need to talk to someone.”
“Forget about it,” he growled and stalked out of the room.
Wendy leaned heavily on the back of the chair and took a few deep breaths. For a moment, she’d thought he might hit her. They didn’t prepare you for that sort of thing when you went to medical school.
After a few more calming breaths, she walked back to her desk, wheeling the chair behind her. She picked up her pen and scrawled on her notepad: delusional parasitosis?
Then she picked up her phone and dialled the direct number for Dr Farquhar.
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