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Lynda La Plante

Above Suspicion

Chapter One

Detective Chief Inspector Langton stared at the women’s dead faces. All six of them appeared to have the same joyless, haunted expression. They were all of similar ages and worked in the same profession. The first victim on the file had been strangled twelve years ago.

It was six months ago that the last victim was found; she had been dead for at least eighteen months. Langton had been brought into Queen’s Park to oversee the case. Without a suspect or a witness, he had begun to cross-reference the way the victim had been murdered, and subsequently discovered five identical unsolved cases.

He was certain that they had all been killed by the same person, but to date he had no clues as to who that person might be. It was turning into the most frustrating, dead-end case he had ever worked on. The only thing he was sure about, and that he and the profilers agreed on, was that there would be another victim.

Due to the length of time between each gruesome discovery, there had been little media coverage. Langton wanted to keep it that way; hype and panic would do his investigation more harm than good, and police warnings usually had little effect on the prostitutes. Despite the Yorkshire Ripper being headline news for years, he was finally caught with a tart about to do the business in his car. Police warnings didn’t mean much to the street girls when they needed money for drugs or rent, or their kids or their pimps.

Langton leafed through the latest batch of missing persons’ files. A photograph caught his eye. ‘Melissa Stephens’, he read. According to the report sheet, she was seventeen. The photo showed a stunningly pretty girl with shoulder-length blonde hair and the sweetest of smiles. Compared to the other women on file, this girl looked like an innocent angel. How had the photo ended up in this folder?

Langton put the girl’s details to one side and went back to the files of missing prostitutes in their late thirties and early forties. He studied the photos of their beat-up looking faces intently. He took note that many of the women in this file were European; some were Russian.

Langton’s detective sergeant, Mike Lewis, interrupted his concentration. ‘She doesn’t fit the profile.’ He leaned across the desk and picked up Melissa’s photograph.

‘Yeah, I know. That’s why I put her to one side.’

At first, the team had concentrated their search on the local area, but now the net had spread to include Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. They were monitoring missing persons for women with similar profiles to the victims. It was sick, but it was all Langton could do; a fresh victim might provide the vital clue that would lead them to the serial killer.

‘Did you hear about Hudson?’ asked Lewis.

‘No. What about him?’

‘He called in sick. He was taken to hospital. May be serious.’

‘Shit! The Boss is already checking us out. We’ll lose half the team if we don’t get a result soon.’

‘He might be out for a while.’

Langton lit a cigarette. ‘Get someone in to cover him, and fast.’

‘OK.’

An hour later Lewis placed half a dozen folders on Langton’s desk.

‘Christ! Is this all you could come up with?’ Langton complained.

‘It’s all they’ve got.’

‘Leave them with me. I’ll get back to you.’

Lewis shut the door and went back to his desk. Langton started to glance through possible replacements for Hudson. The first file belonged to an officer he had worked with before, and didn’t get along with. He opened the next one.

Detective Sergeant Anna Travis’s file was certainly impressive. After graduating from Oxford University in economics she had done the usual eighteen weeks’ training at Hendon, then taken a uniform posting with a response team. Towards the end of her probationary period she had been attached to the local borough CID Robbery and Burglary Squad before switching to the Crime Squad. A memo from her superintendent underlined in red that Travis was a very ‘proactive’ officer.

Langton flicked through the rest of her CV with less interest. Travis had moved quickly up to the Home Office’s High Potential Scheme. The list of attachments she had covered made him smile: robbery, burglary, CID, Community Safety Unit. About the only thing she hadn’t worked on yet was a murder team, though he noticed she had applied three times without success.

He was beginning to feel his age. Slightly depressed, he read on. The glowing recommendations from her superiors he took with a pinch of salt; he needed someone with street knowledge and initiative, not just an impressive CV. It was the last paragraph that seized his attention. He straightened up as he read the words: ‘Anna Travis is the daughter of the late Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Travis’. Langton started tapping the file thoughtfully with his pen: Jack Travis had been his mentor.

In the outside office, Mike Lewis answered the phone promptly. Then put his head through the open door of Langton’s room.

‘Gov?’

Langton looked up from his desk, distracted. ‘Who is it?’

‘Wouldn’t say. You want to take it or not?’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ said Langton, reaching for the phone. ‘Stay.’

Mike leafed through some paperwork while Langton spoke tersely: ‘How old? Who’s on it? OK, thanks. Get back to me. I appreciate it.’

Langton put the phone down. ‘Body just found on Clapham Common. I don’t think it fits with any of ours — she’s young, apparently — but they’re only just on the callout.’ He rocked back in his chair thoughtfully.

‘Mike, do you know DCI Hedges? Crew-cut, square head, and full of himself?’

‘Yeah. A right arsehole.’

‘It’s his case, his area. I want you to stand by. If we get any more details I might want to crash in on it.’

Lewis looked at the photos spread out on the desk: ‘Are you thinking maybe it’s the missing angel?’

‘Maybe.’ He held out a file, and stood up. ‘Get this Anna Travis on the team.’

‘What, the rookie?’

‘Yep.’

‘She’s never been on a murder team.’

Langton shrugged himself into his coat. ‘Her father was Jack Travis. Maybe taking on his penpusher of a daughter will be good karma.’

He stopped at the door. ‘Anyway, rate we’re going, we might not even have a case. If the chief puts them all on file, we’ll be stuck with a skeleton team until they’ve all been shelved and sent over to the dead file warehouse. G’night.’

‘Night.’

Lewis returned to his desk in the incident room and dialled Anna Travis’s number.

By quarter to eight the next morning Anna Travis was sitting in a patrol car speeding to the murder site. Although all she had been told was that she was replacing an officer on sick leave, Anna was excited to be finally working in the field for which she had trained so hard.

With Anna in the patrol car were Lewis and another seasoned detective, DC Barolli. Mike Lewis had square shoulders, and a body running to fat. His round face and red cheeks gave him a look of perpetual good humour. Barolli was smaller, with dark, Italian looks but an East London accent.

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