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Authors: Russel D. McLean

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BOOK: 04-Mothers of the Disappeared
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Taylor hadn’t been dumb enough to push his point too far. He’d made the crack about how well Alex had got on with the neighbours wherever he went, left that to bounce around the brain, do the hard work for him.

But this wasn’t nearly six years ago. I wasn’t an eager-to-please detective in training. Nor was I a cop who’d already found a near-perfect suspect.

Did Taylor know I was on to him? That I was seeing through his lies?

He’d be dumb not to have realized. And he hadn’t got away with what he’d done for all these years by being an idiot.

Most criminals are caught because of a simple, idiotic mistake.

The Yorkshire Ripper on a traffic violation. Al Capone on tax evasion. Your basic burglar staying in the house for too long or not checking that someone’s home.

So far Jason Taylor had stayed under the radar.

And I still couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t imprinting motivation on to him. That he wasn’t just a socially awkward IT geek, same way I believed Moorehead had been. Sure, Taylor was more polished and presentable, but you can learn that kind of behaviour if you apply yourself. The self-help publishing industry is built entirely on that premise.

How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Be All You Can Be.

Face The Fear (And Do It Anyway).

If Taylor really did have books in this impersonal white space of a home, then those would be the titles I expected to find alongside all the technical documentation and geek-speak bibles.

I said, ‘You were there, at his home, on or around at least two of the occasions when a child went missing. You told me so yourself.’ I had double-checked dates and times. Read witness statements. Gone over all the case notes. When asked about Moorehead’s social life, people had said he was a quiet man, but always there was the mention of a friend who came to stay every so often. Never named. Never questioned.

But it had to have been Jason Taylor.

He swallowed. The blood drained from his face just enough for me to see he was nervous, but no more so than any individual facing an unwarranted accusation. Still not enough. Right now I was merely probing with the knife, running it along the surface of his armour, gently prodding to find that chink before driving the blade home.

Ernie used to say, ‘
You need to be sure what the suspect will say. You need to be convinced of their motivations, of what they did. If you aren’t one hundred per cent sure and you twist that knife, then you can send an innocent man down.

But that was always a possibility.

‘I realize that, now. It’s not like we were with each other twenty-four hours a day. I just …’

‘You must have seen something,’ I said. ‘In his behaviour. I’m not a psychologist, but I know something about pattern killers.’

‘You don’t call them serial?’

‘It depends who you talk to,’ I said. ‘I’m no psychologist, like I said.’

‘There’s spree killers, too,’ Taylor said. His tone breathless. He had a theme, was desperate to change the subject. ‘There’s something about them … they kill lots of people, but only during one incident. Like … that guy … Dunblane.’

I nodded.

The Dunblane massacre, in 1996, had shocked the nation. A terrible affair; ex-army guy snapping and walking into a primary school with four handguns. That one incident was all it took for the police to crack down on handgun usage. The government took decisive action to prevent further tragedy. It didn’t stop handgun use altogether, but it had a clear effect on the populace and our attitude to weapons.

Of course, if the government really wanted to clamp down on dangerous weapons in Scotland, they’d call an amnesty on pint glasses. They had been the number one cause of serious injury that I’d seen during my years as a beat copper. Saturday nights, a bit of bevvy, and people lost all control.

But the idea of something like Dunblane happening again was too much to contemplate.

‘Maybe he was just used to the idea of killing,’ Taylor said, talking about Alex Moorehead again. ‘Maybe it didn’t affect him outwardly. Like … like the way you don’t think when you crack open another bottle of wine.’

The comparison was callous, and I didn’t think it was deliberately so. Taylor was showing too much empathy, too much of a wish to understand his friend’s behaviour.

Justification 101.

Hardly consistent with someone who claimed to feel as betrayed by Moorehead’s actions as Taylor.

I said, ‘You have a lot of insight into how he felt.’

‘I’ve had a lot of years to think about it.’

‘You think he regretted what he did?’

‘Killing those boys? Yes … I mean, I hope so.’

‘Really? All these years he never came forward and admitted the truth. Even Ian Brady admitted he had killed people they never found. He just played fast and loose with where they left the remains. But he was strangely proud of what he’d done, I’d say. Alex was always in denial. Not about Justin, but the other boys, the ones that the police linked to him. The ones who were killed when he lived next door.’ I took a breath. ‘You were with him at least twice when he committed these crimes. And you didn’t see anything?’

That got him. Like I’d just slapped a glove across his face and insulted his mother.

‘I … Mr McNee, I didn’t like you when we met before. I like you even less now.’

‘You’re throwing me out?’

He stood up. ‘I’m throwing you out.’

I nodded, stood up, too, and said, ‘I didn’t know better, I’d say you were hiding something.’

‘Get out.’

Ernie once warned me that you shouldn’t lie to a suspect unless you thought it would get the right reaction.

But I wasn’t a copper these days.

What the fuck did it matter?

I tossed it out: ‘The mother requested they re-examine the body. He’s being dug up as we speak.’

‘I want you to leave.’

‘Tell me something,’ I said. ‘Talking about mothers … you told me you had to see your mother for her birthday? She’s been dead thirteen years now. You thought I wouldn’t check?’

I didn’t see him move. He swung his coffee mug wildly at my head. I was aware of the heat first, as the coffee landed like raindrops on my scalp. Then, as I turned, he caught the side of my face with the mug. It shattered. My head shook, my brain battered around inside my skull. My vision blurred. There was liquid in my eyes, and I realized, only as I went down on my knees that it was more blood than coffee.

I raised my hands, expecting another blow. But it never came.

I fell forward, balanced on my hands to stop from belly-flopping completely. When I realized he was gone, I rolled on to my back, took in deep breaths. After a few moments, I got up, wiped the blood from my vision as best I could. Shaking like an alcoholic in need of his next drink.

‘Mr Taylor?’

Was he gone? Waiting for me? Playing games?

The idea didn’t fit with what I understood of him. He killed small boys. Defenceless children. To attack a full-grown man was an act of desperation. And if he’d been confident, he would have continued the assault once I went down. I wouldn’t have stood a chance. But he didn’t know that. In his mind, I was a threat. One he had to run from.

I walked forward a couple of steps, then reached out to balance myself against the back of the white-leather sofa where I’d been sitting a few minutes earlier.

‘It doesn’t have to be like this,’ I said, making sure he could hear me if he was close. ‘This can end, now.’

There was still no response.

I pulled out my mobile, dialled Lindsay’s number.

‘The fuck do you want?’

His boy was in another room, then. ‘I’m at Jason Taylor’s house.’

‘Jason Taylor?’

‘The guy who found the evidence against Alex Moorehead. The IT expert Wood called in.’

‘Jesus, McNee, leave it alone.’

‘I would. Except … the evidence against Moorehead. Taylor planted it.’

I spoke harshly down the line. All the time looking around, waiting for another attack.

‘Jesus, McNee. You really can’t leave this shite alone, can you?’

‘It was nothing to do with Wood. Call it one of life’s little coincidences. Taylor acted on his own.’

‘You have proof?’ But the question lacked bite. He already knew what he had to do. I just had to nudge him a little more in the right direction.

‘You need to be the one to call it in.’

‘Call what in?’

‘He killed those boys. That’s why Moorehead never copped to it. He was covering for his friend.’

‘Fucksakes.’

‘You know I wouldn’t be calling you if—’

‘Fucksakes, I know. I know.’

He hung up.

I was still nauseous. But recovered enough to let go of the sofa. My right leg was numb. I’d had problems with it for years after the accident. Most of the trouble had been psychological; a physical manifestation of my own mental pain. But it still troubled me. Some mornings, I’d wake up, grunting with pain, like the muscles were snapping back on themselves. The sensation would last for a few minutes, but for the rest of the day I’d barely be able to put any weight on my feet.

I limped across the open-plan living area, round to where I saw two doors that led deeper into the house. Maybe the bedroom or the study. ‘Taylor! Come on, man. Make this easy on—’

That was when I heard the rumble of rubber on pebble. I half-ran, half-limped to the front door. Saw his car at the end of the drive. He was erratic, turning too wide on to the main road.

I stood where I was.

Watched him disappear.

THIRTY-TWO

I
went back inside. Wished I had gloves with me. Could have done a little searching of my own before the cops arrived. As it was, I knew I shouldn’t risk contaminating the scene.

But those two doors beckoned to me.

What the hell?

I opened the first, using my sleeve to prevent prints. Found the bedroom. As spotless as the rest of the house. The bed didn’t even have the dent of someone having slept there. I could have been walking round a show home.

Why leave me alive?

A fair question. If Taylor had followed through with his attack, he’d have succeeded. The element of surprise. He could have hidden my body, and it would have been a long time before anyone tried to look for me.

Maybe Griggs would have found him eventually. After all, he had some idea of what I was up to. But Taylor didn’t know that. From his point of view, it was easier to kill me and dispose of the evidence.

He’d done it before. Years of hiding evidence. Disposing of bodies. Covering his tracks. So why run?

Blind panic?

I saw another door off the bedroom. Walked through. Found what must have been the study. Everything meticulously organized. The bookshelves were mostly textbooks and the self-help manuals I’d imagined. The self-help books were in mint condition. No broken spines. Unread. There for show. Or waiting for another day.

The computer booted fast. Asked me for a password. With the cops on their way, I didn’t feel I had the time to try my hand at amateur hacking, so left it alone.

I went back out again. Tried that second door. Expected a bathroom.

Instead I got a short corridor, with two more doors. One of them was locked. The other led where I expected.

I tried the locked door again.

Felt sick. Went outside. Vomited in the grass.

The police showed up fifteen minutes later. Wemyss riding shotgun in the lead car. He came over to me and said, ‘What the fuck have you done?’

I was lying on my back. Next to where I’d vomited. Any other day, you might have thought I was catching some rays. But mostly it was that I didn’t want to stand up; just wanted to sleep. Exhausted? Concussed? Maybe.

Slowly, I clambered to my feet. Wemyss offered me no help.

‘So tell me,’ he said. ‘What the fuck have you done?’

I gave him the short version. He listened.

Uniforms and techs swarmed the house. I tried to focus on Wemyss. My story came out in short, staccato bursts.

When I was done, he said, ‘You didn’t leave it alone. Like I asked.’

‘I had to know.’

‘You didn’t call me?’

‘Figured you wouldn’t like the fact I sneaked evidence out of storage.’

He nodded. ‘Care to remind me how you pulled that one off again?’

I shook my head. Some parts of my story, I’d kept deliberately vague. ‘I’d get someone in trouble. You know how it is.’

He sneered. ‘You should have come to me.’

‘Would you have listened?’

‘If the evidence was right.’

‘All I had was circumstantial.’

‘Tell me why he didn’t kill you.’

‘I don’t know.’

There was a yell from the house. One of the uniforms waving his hands. Wemyss made strides towards the front door. I did my best to keep pace. My leg wasn’t feeling any better. Kept threatening to just give up, let me topple over.

Inside, the officer explained that they’d broken down the locked door. There was something the DI needed to see.

I followed at a discreet distance, close enough they might mistake me for someone who was meant to be there. Wemyss didn’t say a word. Maybe he didn’t care.

The door led to a small staircase, and a basement area beneath the main house. The basement was clearly part of the original plan, following those same modern, minimalist lines. But it didn’t feel like the kind of feature that Kirsty and Phil would rave about on Channel 4 property programmes. The air was close, and the atmosphere encouraged a reverential silence.

The basement area was dimly lit, like walking into a trendy bar at the point in the evening where most folk would be looking for a quick hook up. There was a second computer system set up here, and glass-fronted bookcases lining the walls. They were filled with photo albums. On the side of the albums were sticky notes with handwritten dates.

I shivered.

Hoped that this wasn’t what it looked like.

Wemyss had pulled on rubber gloves – essential equipment for any thinking police detective – and tried to open one of the glass cases.

They were locked.

‘Fucksakes,’ he said.

He turned on the PC. Another password. Another curse.

BOOK: 04-Mothers of the Disappeared
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