The Detective Chief Inspector awoke to the sound of his phone.
"Franko. You're serious? For Christ's sake, it's only been one day. Okay, I'll be there in a minute."
The digital display on his alarm clock put the time at Three A.M. Rising, he swore under his breath. He had only managed to get to sleep an hour earlier, and the prospect of returning back to the haven of sleep seemed far removed and distant. Even before The Grinner had started killing, he had found his sleep pattern erratic at best; a symptom of his own, brought about by the worry over Sarah's cancer.
Outside the window, the sky was pitch black. Touching the netted curtains, that his wife had chosen, Franko stood in the shadow for a moment and took a breath. His hand moved down and settled onto the chipped white paint that clad the window frame.
He dressed slowly, feeling numb. Distant in the darkness, hiding as he anticipated his return into the waking world.
Before he departed, he allowed a lingering look at the empty bed beside his own. Sarah's bed.
In the months since she had died, he couldn't bring himself to get rid of it. It would have been like he was trying to forget her.
The steering wheel in his hands held firm, acting as an anchor as he drove. Ahead of him, the light from the street lamps descended, throwing his face into an orange glow while his back was dwarfed in violet shadow.
Franko arrived at Lyefield Community Park and immediately felt the acid swirl inside his stomach. Police tape had been strung across the edge of the car park closest to the green, and the blue lights of the police cars set the outline of the crowd hard in his vision. Whoever had found the body must have made one hell of a scene; it seemed as if the entire street had come out to look at the site.
Wading through the crowd, his shoes crunching against gravel, Franko stepped over the tape and scanned the attending SOCOs and uniforms for a familiar face.
He found one in Detective Sergeant St. Claire. The trim man jogged up to him, from across the field, raising one hand in a wave.
"I see you also got a call," he said, stopping ten feet from the tape and beckoning the DCI to follow him across the grass.
"What do we have?"
"Not messing around then," the DS muttered, before turning and walking back towards the scene; Franko at his side. "Jane Doe. Caucasian. She's missing fingers, so it's consistent with the other murders. There was also a letter, under her shirt. Unopened. Did you want to have a look at it?"
"No. Have SOCO bag it and send it straight to the Lindum lab. From there, get them to analyse it and then make a copy. Send that to my phone."
"Will do, sir."
"Is Stafford here?" Franko asked, glancing around again and darting his mahogany eyes across the variety of faces.
"Not yet, no," St. Claire replied. "Though I'm not surprised. The man sleeps like the dead. It'd be a small fucking miracle if his phone woke him up."
Franko hummed. "Let's hope for one then. You know I want you all on this one with me."
With the discovery of the fourth victim's body, the Grinner case was now the largest real-time serial homicide investigation since Sutcliffe. However, that hadn't stopped Franko from stacking the team with Detectives from his countryside station. Previous experience and cases showed that they were more than capable and wickedly sharp, much like the ageing DCI himself.
Initially Franko had attempted to keep the press as far removed from the case as possible, all but forbidding the Officers from even sniffing in the general direction of the cameras. He didn't want it to turn into a spectacle. And if the papers had got holdof the fact that the deaths were linked, that the murders were the result of the journalistic honey pot that was a serial killer, it would be just that.
Yet there was Jessie Goodwin. Red-faced and ruddy, stood in his navy parka; a DSLR hung around his neck, and a Dictaphone clasped in one sweaty hand.
The efforts had, ultimately, been for naught.
He was leaning over the bonnet of a police cruiser, attempting to talk to someone sat in the passenger side seat. The door was open, and his recording device was angled towards the half-open window. Beside the open door, a young man was stood, attempting to ignore him.
As St. Claire also noticed Jessie, Franko heard him curse the journalist under his breath. "What is that prick doing here?"
"No idea," Franko replied. "Looks to me like someone let something slip, though."
"He's talking to the witnesses," St. Claire said, his voice bearing a nervous edge.
"Where the fuck are the uniforms?" He turned towards Franko. "You want me to get rid of him?"
"No. You focus on co-ordinating the scene. I'll send him on his way."
Without another word, he set off. As soon as Jessie spotted him, he let out an excited cry.
"DCI Franko!" he called out, waving. "Jessie Goodwin, Mayfair Star! I covered the Cat Hunter case, in twenty-sixteen!"
"Mr Goodwin, this is a closed crime scene," he said, deepening his voice and stuffing his hands into his jacket pockets. "I'm going to have to ask you to step back."
"Is it true that the murder is connected to the recent Grinner killings?" Jessie asked, ignoring him.
"We have no official name for that case, so would you please stop referring to it as the Grinner killings?"
"You didn't answer my question, sir."
"My answer is no comment. As far as anyone is concerned, this is being investigated as an unrelated case, until such point that we are prepared to make a press statement."
"Do you believe that the recent death of your wife is impairing your ability to work on the Grinner case, sir?"
Jessie cried out in dismay as Franko grabbed the digital recorder from his hand and crushed it beneath his shoe. The splintered fragments of plastic and metal decorated the Tarmac of the car park.
"When I say no comment, I mean no comment, Mr Goodwin."
"I'll have you done for that!" Jessie protested, his face growing redder. "Police brutality!"
"Somehow I think that's the least of my concerns," Franko replied sarcastically, turning away from the reporter and motioning to the closest uniformed officer. "Get this idiot out of here. He's making my ulcer act up."
"You'll regret that!" Jessie shouted, as the officer took him by the arm and began to force him away from the car.
"Goodbye Mr Goodwin!" Franko called after him, before ignoring any further shrieks from the man.
Diverting his attention to the witnesses, he smiled at them and stepped closer. Olivia Casey was sat in the passenger seat of the car, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders, and her mud-stained legs dangling down from the leather and towards the floor. Beside her, Luke Foade stood awkwardly, with his hands in his pockets.
"Awful man, isn't he?" Franko said, jerking his head to indicate Jessie Goodwin as the police forced him back into his own car. "He prods and jabs like a baby chimp."
Olivia smiled, but didn't say a word.
"Did you find the body?" Franko asked, solemnly.
"Yeah," Luke replied. "In… Uh… In the park, by the tree."
"And you already told the police everything, right?" he clarified. "You're going to give statements at the station, but I just need to ask you, to make sure. You didn't touch anything, did you?"
"I don't think so," Luke responded.
"And the young lady?"
"I… I don't know…" she muttered, no doubt still in shock after finding the body of a girl, not much older than herself. "I don't think I did. I just remember seeing her laying there… In the movies, whenever people die, they shut their eyes… But… It looked like she was staring at me…"
Franko stood and waited, understanding that she still needed time to process the situation.
Eyes misty with tears, Olivia looked up at him. "Is it bad that I don't feel anything?"
"No." He shook his head and smiled softly, in an attempt to console her. "Honestly, no. It's normal to feel numb. Lord knows it's what I do."
"I'm scared…" she whispered. "About… About how I'm going to feel once it stops."
Franko felt an emotion well inside his chest. The exact nature of it, he couldn't quite place. It felt vacant and empty, and his head swirled with lucid estimations. As he stood, looking down at the young woman, he thought that this was, quite clearly, an accurate idea of what she was feeling.
He tried to predict what she would be feeling next; adopting her emotions and extrapolating. Yet, he couldn't quite manage. As a younger man, he had been much better with empathy. Now, everything was tainted with the bitterness of his own existence.
He opened his mouth and prepared to speak, in another attempt to console her.
"Holy shit, that's Stacee Swift!"
Then the fear hit him.
He had no idea who had shouted, but he knew instantly that they were talking about the body in the field.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jessie Goodwin sprinting from his car and vaulting the police tape. The strap of his camera thrashed around like a serpent as he ran and pointed the lens at the crime scene. There was a bright flash, that seared over the green, and left blotches of red in Franko's vision.
Another shout, and he could see St. Claire running at the reporter.
Jessie dipped nimbly around him, before pivoting on one foot and charging back the way he had come. Leaping into his car, the engine purring from where it had been left running, he slammed the door. The shrill squeal of tires screamed through the night, and within five seconds he was gone.
Breathing heavily, St. Claire swore and abandoned his chase, turning towards Franko.
Excusing himself from the witnesses, Franko made his way over the tarmac and stopped in front of the much younger Detective.
"Okay, would you mind telling me what the hell that was?" he asked, his voice like iron.
"One…" St. Claire paused as he caught his breath. "One of the uniforms…"
Franko stormed over towards the site and raised his voice. "Who was it?"
A young man, shifting sheepishly beneath his neon green coat, slowly raised his hand. Shame clung to his face; chaffed by the early morning winter wind. His ears were slowly beginning to turn red.
Now that he was closer to the site, Franko could see the body of the young woman. Huddled beneath a tree, in a foetal position, her bare tattooed arms were wrapped around her body. Fanning out from her head, a shock of pastel pinkhair shimmered in the light of the erected LED sources.
"Thompson," Franko said, staring at the officer dead in the eye. "I want an explanation. Sharp."
"I'm sorry," he stammered. "So sorry. I just- I saw her and I was so shocked, I- I couldn't help it."
"You know the victim?"
"No. No. Erm… More like a, uh… A fan."
Franko looked down at the girl and grimaced. "So she's famous?"
"Kind of, yeah," Thompson replied.
"For god's sake…" he hissed, before rounding back on St. Claire. "Okay, I want you to push back the perimeter. Nobody gets near here. I want this kept as quiet as possible. That Goodwin prick is going to be on this like white on rice, but we can at least damage control this while we wait on a warrant for him." Franko pointed his chin down at the body. "And for the love of God, make sure SOCO put up that tent as fast as possible."