Mollie sat moping in her flat. No wonder she felt rough, too rough to work the streets. The tears had dried on her cheeks, but her future looked bleak; no punters, no money, no gin. And then there was Gilbert and his dirty mates. He would come for the rent soon. And she would suffer. She had no one; husband deserted her, no children, and no living relatives that she knew about. The realisation that she was alone was overwhelming.
Who had infected her?
It could have been a few.
The one without a condom? Called himself Danny Boy.
It was only a quickie. Twenty quid jump. Anyway, it didn’t really matter. It was too late and she couldn’t turn the clock back. She bent down and looked at the electric meter, there was just enough for a hot bath. She opened her kitchen drawer and stared a long time at the cutlery before selecting a slicing knife.
She took it with her into the bathroom.
DCI Angers caught Jackie in the police canteen. He put his tray down opposite her and sniffed at her salad sandwich and pot of zero fat yoghurt.
‘Got to feed the inner man’ he said.
Jackie felt a pang of envy. Unless she was out running every morning - but she smiled to herself. As a concession to his weight-watching he had a bottle of diet coke. But then there was the rest: greasy all-day breakfast, followed by a lavish portion of treacle tart and custard. Plus a Kit-Kat. And a Wagon Wheel.
‘That’s right, guv.’
He picked up a fork and poked it into an egg. Took it out and pointed it at her. The yolk dripped off onto a plump sausage while he told her he’d got Doctor Bean to cough up the patient’s address. ‘Molly Butler, Flat 14, Block G, Harmony estate.’ He dipped a large crinkly chip into his egg and stuffed it into his cavern, looking pleased with himself.
‘I want you on her doorstep as soon as you’ve finished your snack. She’s a key witness.’
Snack? Jackie couldn’t watch him slurp his way through his fry-up, grunting like a pig as he speared a sausage, followed by a bacon rasher. She finished her tasteless sandwich, picked up her yoghurt, and told him she was on her bike.
Jackie arrived at Flat 14 to the sound of the Libertines, blaring from the flat next door. Punk rock, in her estimation. The door to Molly’s flat was broken at the latch. Forced entry? She frowned; but this was Harmony estate. She peered in, but then was pushed roughly aside by a white-faced Gilbert as he rushed out with a frightened look on his face.
She knew where he lived; first things first. ‘Mrs. Butler ... Molly.’ No response. She went inside, there was no one on the bed, or the floor. She crossed to the bathroom door and opened it. She stared at the bath.
The water was red. Molly was white.
She called an ambulance and waited for the doctor to arrive. ‘Slashed her wrists,’ he said, when he certified death. He pointed to the knife. ‘Severed the arteries.’
Jackie had the pleasure of arresting a sneering Gilbert, courtesy of DCI Angers, when she explained about the low-life’s activities. And she got to sit in at his interview. Room Two, with a view of an industrial estate from the barred window. It had a large table and four chairs. On the table was the tape recorder, a carafe of water and glasses. And Exhibit 1 in a plastic bag, with a label attached.
Gilbert gave her the creeps. A dirty, fat slime ball, wearing a grubby white shirt with a few buttons missing, and stained grey jogging bottoms. But he wasn’t sneering at her now, not after DCI Angers had painted the picture.
‘So, tell me again Mr. Ehh ... Pratt. Or can I call you Gilbert?’
Gilbert seemed frustrated. ‘How many more times? She was already dead.’
‘So it’s her word against yours. And she isn’t talking. But we know better, don’t we Gilbert?’
‘You got nothing on me.’
DCI Angers jumped out of his seat, and banged his fist on the table. Pointed to Exhibit 1. ‘Except your grubby fingerprints on the knife handle. Explain that, Gilbert.’
‘I don’t have to. They ain’t mine.’
Jackie watched the body language. Gilbert looked worried. Angers had taken him out of his comfort zone. Untrue statement, but it had rattled Gilbert’s cage.
Angers said. ‘So you expect me to believe you were just paying a social visit?’
‘I was collecting rent.’
‘Is that so?’
‘Yes that’s right. She didn’t answer, I was worried.’
DCI Angers looked up at the ceiling, eyes rolling. ‘Did it occur to you that she might have been out?’
‘Not at the time.’
Jackie waited for Angers to pick a hole in Gilbert’s evasiveness and lies.
The DCI leant back and folded his arms. ‘Let me recap. She owed you money. She didn’t answer the door; so you broke it down, forced her into the bath, and killed her with your kitchen knife.’
‘It’s not my fucking knife. I told you that already.’
‘So you did break into her flat and attack her?’
No ... I mean ... okay, I did bust the door ... it wasn’t bolted and the latch broke. But that’s it. I didn’t lay a finger on her. How could I? She was in the bath up to her eyeballs in blood. Gave me a right turn, I can tell you.’ He pointed. ‘Ask her, she saw me.’
When Angers gave her a nod, Jackie leapt in. ‘But you do lay a finger on women, don’t you Gilbert?’
‘What you mean?’
‘You know perfectly well. Sexually assaulting minors ... and probably any other women who owe you rent.’
‘Is it? I’ve got a reliable witness who would testify in court that you’re a violent sexual predator, Gilbert. I’m sure there are more witnesses on the estate. That should be enough to send you down for Molly’s death.’
Gilbert looked horrified. ‘You’re stitching me up.’
Jackie stared him straight in the eye. ‘You go anywhere near Carol Naringa and you could be looking at a nice little fifteen-year stretch.’ Jackie didn’t need to say any more.
Gilbert hung his head. ‘So that’s the deal, then?’
Jackie glanced at DCI Angers. Back to him. He was smiling, and he made a point to lean close to Gilbert’s ear.
‘It’s not a deal, Gilbert. It’s what would happen. Do-you-fucking-understand?’
Gilbert nodded. Message received loud and clear.
While a relieved Gilbert Pratt waited to be released on bailon a minor charge of breaking into Molly’s flat with intent, Jackie hung around for the lab results. More blood samples had been taken from Molly. Belt and braces approach. They were sitting in DCI Anger’s office sharing a box of congratulatory “Maltesers” when the call from Helga came through. He listened, grunted something unintelligible, and handed the phone to Jackie.
She could sense a touch of alarm in the Ice Queen’s voice. Her face went white.
Molly’s HIV has been authenticated. It’s similar to Serena’s, but worse.
A resistance mutation. No drugs could prevent its infection.
Jackie handed the phone back. They looked at each other as if dreading what would come next.
‘I think we’d better start with Gilbert,’ she said.