Or something more sinister?
It wasn’t priority; it would have to take its turn...
Most desks had similar piles of paperwork; seemed like computerisation just created more and more print-outs. Officers were constantly in and out; chasing up futile leads, grasping at straws, and as each day passed bright-eyed faces were beginning to droop.
We need a breakthrough.
The phone ringing broke her concentration. She sighed and picked it up - recognised the voice.
‘There’s something you should see. Can you come over?’
It was the tremor in Helga’s voice that had Jackie sitting up on full alert. ‘Something wrong?’
‘It’s bad news.’
Jackie felt a pang of anxiety inside. ‘What?’
‘You need to see for yourself.’
Shit. So unlike Helga; why the secrecy?
She glanced out of the window; flakes of snow drifting in the wind. She could feel a cold draught caressing her neck – it made her shudder. ‘Okay ... I’ll be over shortly.’
She signed herself out; told Albert she was visiting the morgue, and asked for a pool car – with a working heater.
He laughed, thought it a good joke. ‘You’re out of luck ... morgue you say? You can warm yourself up when you get there.’
She gave him a dirty look. ‘If I get frostbite, I’m making a claim.’
He didn’t seem interested; gave her a set of keys; same as yesterday.
‘Haven’t you got anything else? Apart from the heater, the tyres are illegal ... I was all over the road coming back from Cheltenham.’
He shrugged. ‘Times are hard ... budget cuts ...’
Jackie sniggered. ‘Maybe we should pension you off ... that’ll save a packet.’
‘You’d miss me ...’
That reminded her. She dug into her bag and pulled out the “get well” card. ‘Albert ... spread this around, will you? It’s for Angers ... I’ll sort it when I get back.’
He backed away from the card as though it was an incendiary device. ‘I’m a bit pushed ...’
Jackie stood there, hand on hips and gave him the evil eye reserved for murderers and rapists. ‘Albert ...’
He hesitated. ‘Well if it’s that important ...’
‘It is ... and it cost a fortune ... so come on; chop, chop.’
She left him holding the baby; still unsure how to handle it. But she had no time to waste; it would be a good opportunity to visit Winter-bollocks after Helga.
The journey was predictable; usual snarl-ups, but no patrols pulling her over for defective windscreen wipers – that was another fault she’d discovered – and no parking spaces by the morgue. This meant a ten-minute waltz around the hospital grounds, until she gave up and parked in a consultancy bay.
Inside the morgue, she spotted Helga immediately; the Ice Queen was wearing a spotless white gown over her clothes; in Jackie’s mind, an angel ... an angel of death. Helga beckoned her into the lab, and over to a microscope. ‘Take a look.’
Jackie bent over and peered into the glass; it was fascinating. A mass of red microbes seemed to be engorging themselves on some white ones. Jackie straightened up and looked at Helga. ‘Cherry and Whites ... same as a Gloucester rugger match, then?’
Helga didn’t smile. ‘What you see is the AIDS virus attacking and consuming cells from the immune system.’
Ah ... yes.
‘Initially, there were a few red AIDS cells against maybe a couple of thousand white ones. It replicated, and attacked. It’s out of control.’
Jackie was still puzzled. ‘You knew all this. So what’s different?’
‘This blood sample came from Georgina Okoro.’
Christ will look after me, sugah...
Helga gripped Jackie’s arm. ‘But that’s only part of the bad news. I re-evaluated my preliminary findings. The neck marks, remember?’
Jackie nodded. Her mind was whirling; maybe Georgina realised she had AIDS. Maybe that’s why...? Helga was talking...
‘... They could be consistent with fingers holding her head under water.’
Jackie punched the air. ‘I knew it.’
Helga lifted the microscope out of harm’s way. ‘There’s more. Slight abrasions on her ankles ... inconclusive ... but maybe because of the survival instinct ...’
A final tattoo?
‘Is that it? Tell me there’s no more.’
‘There is. Gilbert Pratt. The fresh blood samples indicate a high occurrence of this AIDS strain ... more than last time ... significantly more. He’s a dead man walking.’
Jackie wasn’t particularly disturbed – rapists got what they deserved. ‘I can’t say I’m sorry to hear that.’
Helga’s mouth broke into an icy smile. ‘Unfortunately, his DNA doesn’t match your killer’s samples.’
Hillock would not be over the moon.