Most people were still asleep, tucked into forgetfulness. As George Farrow stepped from the car and crossed the pavement, early morning frost crackling beneath his feet, he glanced up at the curtained windows and felt a stab of envy so acute he had to deep breath it away.

Half an hour ago, he'd been wrenched from his own warm and welcome oblivion by the clamouring of the telephone. Even as his hand groper from beneath the doover, he'd felt the chill of the morning settling on his skin, seeping into his bones.

Detective Sergent Jackson's briskness, as ever, infuriated him.

"We've got another one, sir, Cumberland Street. Less than a mile from where Louis Castle was killed. I've taken the liberty of sending a car 'round for you, sir. Save you driving. Should be there in fifteen minutes."

Shit, thought Farrow, and mumbled something in reply before dropping the receiver none too gently back into its cradle. He suspected that Jackson was sending a car because the younger man thought he might otherwise dawdle, or even turn over and go back to sleep.

But by the time Banks tapped in his door, Farrow was washed and dressed and making toast, which he ate in the car on the way over. Despite his hasty ablutions, he was still uncomfortably aware that he must look how he felt, which was like several different kinds of shit. Banks, however, was as courteous and respectful as ever, as was the uniformed constable standing outside the high wooden doors of the builders yard on Cumberland Street. However, the instant Farrow set foot into the yard, Jackson shot him the kind of look he might normally reserve for some smelly old bum who'd just wandered in off the street to scrounge up enough money to buy some more booze.

Farrow bridled. He was aware that he did not look his best at the present time, but he had his reasons. Besides, who was this boy to pass judgment on him? He could imagine what Jackson and his cronies were saying behind his back - that he was washed out, that the strain of handling such a serious investigation was getting too much for him.

Jackson was smiling now, offering a brisk "Morning, sir," a small balloon of white breath curling away from his face. With his double-breasted suit, expensive haircut and bright questing eyes, he looked more like an advertising executive than a policeman.

Even as Farrow was mustering a response, Jackson was striding towards a large yellow plastic construction at the end of the yard, calling over his shoulder "Deceased is in here, sir."

Farrow, aware that in the eyes of his colleagues he was already trailing by several points, smoothed his thin but wayward hair and said, load enough to draw the attention and smiles of the dozen or so people in the yard, "Really, Christopher? You do surprise me."

Jackson had at least the decency to pause, blush and mutter an apology. He even held the flap of the incident tent open so that Farrow could enter without taking his hands out of his coat pockets.

The killer's work was several hours old. The girls innards, exposed for all to see, had long ago stopped steaming.

"Careful sir," said a uniformed constable, placing a restraining hand on Farrows arm and pointing down at the floor as the Detective's gaze followed. He'd been about to trample a piece of the girl underfoot, he realised; some unrecognisable gobbet of bloodied flesh, torn from the body and now circled in yellow chalk.

Despite the cold August morning, the inside of the tent was oppressively warm and smelled like an abattoir.

"Do we know who she is?" Farrow asked, narrowing his eyes against the glare of the girls blood.

"We're not so sure sir. As you can see, the killer took not only the face, but the hands have the fingers shredded, so there's no point taking fingerprints. But we're pretty sure she's a 23-year-old barmaid called Sarah-Jane Springer. She was reported missing by her boyfriend just before one a.m. after failing to return from her seven to eleven shift at The Crow's Nest."

"That big pub on the corner of Maddeley Road?" said Farrow.

"That's right, sir. According to the landlord, Miss Springer normally got the twenty-five past eleven bus just across the road from the pub, which got her to the corner of Juniper Street, take a left on to Cumberland Street, and then a right on to Markham Road, which is where she lived, number 42."

"So she'd get home…what? Around quarter to twelve?"

"About that, sir."

"What's the boyfriend's name?" asked Farrow. His head felt thick as his nostrils got clogged with the smell of blood.

"Ian Latimer, sir."

"Ian Latimer…" said Farrow, repeating the name as if tasting a fine wine. "What his story?"

"Not much, sir. Him and Miss Springer have lived together for the past two and a half years."

"And does Mr Latimer have a reason for not reporting Miss Springer's disappearance before one a.m.?"

"The call was logged at oh-oh-fifty-one, sir," said Jackson pedantically, and then added hastily, " He says he fells asleep watching TV, sir."

"Hmmm" said Farrow, turning his attention back to the girl. From the waist upwards she had been ripped apart, just like the others. All that identified her as human were the out-flung arms and legs and the blood-matted blond hair. Her fingernails, where the forensic guys had found them, were long and varnished as red as her blood. On her left wrist were a thin gold-coloured watch and a silver bracelet.

"I assume this is just like the others? No obvious motive? No sign of robbery, sexual assault?"

"None, sir," Jackson said depressingly. "Whoever did this just likes killing people. Correction: killing young woman."

"Yeah…" Farrow said absently. He frowned. He was finding it difficult to concentrate. What he wouldn't give for a cup of strong, dark coffee to kick-start these tired old cells of his into life…or preferably another hours sleep.

"Are you alright, sir?" asked Jackson, spoiling Farrows' melancholy mood and not bothering to lower his voice.

Farrow was aware of people turning to look at him. He turned his frown into a scowl of annoyance.

"Perfect, thank you Christopher. I was just thinking. You should try it some time."

"Sorry, sir," said Jackson woodenly.

Farrow glared at Jackson just long enough to re-asset his questionable authority, an then turned to a fussy-looking man in a white coat and skin tight latex gloves, who had been hovering around the body like an albino vulture.

"What's your verdict this time, Doctor Quinn?" Farrow asked.

The little man looked unhappy. "It's very perplexing, Detective, very perplexing indeed. Same M.O. as the others, of course, which means she could have died from any one of a number of injuries. It appears – just like the others – that the killer came at her in a frenzy, rendering her unconscious and probably even killed her before she had the chance to fight back. Whoever this man is, he's got tremendous strength. I only wish I could determine what type of weapon or weapons he uses."

"Any new idea's?" asked Farrow.

The pathologist pulled a face. "Not really. As before, the injuries are ragged, so it isn't a blade, unless it's a very jagged, very uneven one. If pushed, I'd guess that he's using something like…a rake head, but much sturdier…much more compact…much more lethal. It might be worth checking locally wether anyone's had some kind of…metal claw or unusual tool built recently. I know it's a long shot, but…" He shrugged.

"Yes. I think that particular investigation is already underway. Christopher?"

"No results so far sir." Said Jackson smoothly.

"And the killer left nothing behind? No hair, no footprints, no stray buttons with bits of thread attached?"

The pathologist offered a watery smile. "Nothing at all, which again is unusual, although as I say, the girls died before she got the chace to fight back."

"Okay." Farrow sighed. "Well, give me a shout when you're ready to do the post-mortem. I'll try to pop along for the show." He took a grubby hanky from his pocket and used it to dab beads of sweat from is forehead. Quietly he said, "Let's leave the good doctor to his work Sergent."

Outside the tent, Farrow breathed in the icy air for a moment and watched uniformed constables ranging the ground, searching painstakingly for evidence. They looked as though they were helping a colleague search for a lost contact lens. That thought prompted a snigger, which he barely managed to stifle. He saw Jackson looking at him curiously, and made an over-elaborate show of clearing his throat as an attempt to pull his thoughts together.

Procedure, he thought. What needs to be done? "Who have we spoken to so far, Christopher?"

"Sir?" said Jackson, making the word sound increasingly like a weary, puzzled rebuke.

"Whom have we spoken to? In detail, I mean. The landlord? The boyfriend? Who found the body?"

Farrow clamped his lips, aware that he was beginning to bluster. Jackson's face remained deadpan.

"A Mrs Esther Woodworth, wife of the man who owns the yard, found the body, sir, at six-fifteen am. She says she came out to rake the leaves."

"And where is she now?"

"She's sitting outside in a patio with Constable…Butlin, sir, having a cup of tea."

"Very cosy."

Jackson turned a steely gaze to his superior officer. "She's very upset, as you might imagine."

"Yes, yes, of course. She must have been." Said Farrow, feeling somewhat ashamed for the selfish outburst.

Jackson sighed. "As for the boyfriend, sir, Constable Plat and Munro are with him at the moment. He was very upset too. The landlord of the Crow's Nest, a mister David Smithers, has only been spoken to briefly, so far."

"And was he also upset?"

Jackson's expression seemed o indicate that he found Farrow's attempts at humour tiresome. "I don't know sir." He said evenly.

"Right," said Farrow, trying to sound and look purposeful. "Well, I think I'll go have a chat with our friend Mr Smithers, and from there move onto some of his regulars, see if any of them saw or heard anything or anyone unusual in the pub last night. What I want you to do, Sergent, is to get the statements from the boyfriend and Mrs Whatshername…"

"Mrs Woodworth, sir."

"Right, Mrs Whatsherface. Then I want you to trace the driver of the bus that Miss Springer would have caught last night, and as many passengers as you can, and find out what you can from them."

"Is it?" asked Farrow, surprised. "Good. Well, I'll leave you to it. Perhaps we'll rendezvous at the post-mortem later? Buzz me when the doctor's ready for us will you?"

"Yes sir." Said Jackson with an icy patience that bordered on the fictitious.

"Oh, and Sergent?"

"Yes sir?"

"Smarten yourself up a bit will you? Your ties crooked."

Jackson had his hand to his throat before he saw Farrow's grin replicated on the faces of everyone else in the yard. As the detective turned ad ambled away, he wondered whether the reddening of Jackson's face was a blush of embarrassment or a flush of rage.