It was much later in the flight, during one of the moments his head nodding whipped him awake, that Will was hit by the realisation. The thought emerged unbidden from the blank void of his mind's brief shutdown. Was she ahead of him or could she be on the same plane?
Her timetable so far allowed her to release location details after her own arrival. But she'd only left the apartment in Chicago minutes before he had. He'd cabbed it from the park to the airport in under an hour. How many flights had there been prior to his?
At least four different airlines were operating flights out of Chicago so she must have made an earlier departure. The one prior to his had been cancelled, however. He hadn't checked the GPS at the airport because he'd assumed she'd already left and that he wouldn't need to track her until he got to Singapore. He turned on his laptop and opened the map, still no red dot.
The idea dug in and, having taken his place in first class after the rest of the plane had been boarded, he speculated as to who was seated beyond the curtains behind him. He considered how synchronising her arrival at the different homes with the presence of the victims would necessitate knowing exactly when she would find them in. The Ambersons had been the easiest. They were first and had been on vacation. But what about Strick's visit to his ex-wife, Monro's schedule and whoever had been murdered that afternoon in the Chicago apartment? She obviously knew their routines. Her journey hinged on careful timing.
Molly's escape had proved the woman was fallible. Had she not been able to find Monro's daughter or had she run out of time? He weighed the thought for a couple more minutes and then unclipped his seatbelt. He'd drawn it tightly across the pain and felt the ache spread as it was released. He got unsteadily to his feet.
A young, Singaporean air stewardess, wearing a multi-coloured smock, smiled at him through immaculate cosmetics as he made his way past her. He parted the orange curtain and stepped into business class.
The flight wasn't oversubscribed and only twenty or so people populated the short section of black leather seats. Windows were shuttered and lights were dimmed and many of the passengers were under blue blankets or dozing wearing headphones. Will still had a vivid recollection of the slender profile and build of the woman as she'd left the apartment bedroom. He squinted through the dingy light at each occupant.
There was nobody that vaguely corresponded with his mental identikit so he moved into the standard accommodation beyond. The largest seating area was only two thirds full, which made it easier to glimpse down the rows the inhabitants had spread out in. It was the same scenario, post-meal snoozing and only the occasional reading light switched on. The atmosphere was cool and dry.
With most of the reclining passengers asleep it was easier to look directly at them and eliminate faces row by row. A whiskered pensioner looked briefly up from the glow of his iPad. A woman's head twitched in his direction as he passed, but her mascara-rimmed eyes remained closed. Will was soon halfway down the cabin.
“Excuse me,” a female voice said behind him.
He turned and then stood aside in an empty row while another stewardess dragged a trolley backwards. She passed him, heading towards the curtained area at the tail end of the plane. She smiled and he nodded, waiting for her to get nearer to her station before following behind.
He continued his examination. A teenager wired up to the in-flight movie ignored him, as did a woman whose stark white hair was the same colour as her knitting. There were only two rows left before he was at the curtain. He got a quizzical look from the stewardess.
“The restrooms are the other way,” she advised, while she emptied the trays from the trolley.
Will nodded, but kept on walking towards her, as if he hadn't heard.
The stewardess knew he had and the smile became a deterrent. Will nodded and opened his mouth as if it had suddenly sunk in. He turned. He'd be able to inspect the last rows on his way back. He glanced left then right as he passed the first. Empty. In the second, however, a woman was under a blanket in the seat nearest the window.
She was lying on her side facing him, but the blanket was over her head. He stopped and examined the only parts of her that were visible â the white, ringed fingers of her hand uncoiled in the seat and the tops of her legs clad in black slacks. He could still feel the eyes of the stewardess on him. Without deliberating further he leaned across and gently tugged the blanket.
The face that was revealed was of a sleeping woman with broad cheekbones, her dark curls tucked up under a black velvet headband. She looked to be mid to late forties. He scrutinised her oblivious features for a moment longer and then felt the stewardess behind him. He started back to first class without turning round.
Before he'd made it through the curtains to business, she appeared from the bathroom.
She saw him, but didn't react, merely returned her attention to pulling the door closed. Then she casually turned and gauged his expression. It prompted a faint, lopsided smile. His discovery of her presence didn't faze her at all.
“Pardon me,” she said almost imperceptibly, nodded respectfully and then angled her lithe body to move past.
Will's senses stalled, his sudden proximity to her allowing him to absorb the human details of somebody far from human. The intense overhead light made her pale features seem anaemic. Even though she looked tired and fragile there was no denying the bony elegance of her face. It was without blemish, but he could see a small group of dark freckles below her right ear, just peeping from the high-necked collar of her fawn suit. It was like somebody had flicked them there with a brush.
He could smell her scent as she tried to move round him: berries and incense. Her slender fingers clutched the canary yellow clutch purse. Was the phone still inside? Her long, dark mane shone glossily as she moved to his left.
As he remained motionless, her elongated eyelashes flicked up. Something was missing, something humane absent from her demeanour. As their pupils engaged it allowed him to see past her facade to what hid behind it â raw, hostile intelligence appraising him.
She returned her attention to the gap beside him. “Pardon me, please.” She spoke slightly louder, but retained a similar politeness to the stewardess. It was the voice from the end of the telephone. American accent.
That the slight, fragrant woman rustling around him was capable of mutilating women and children would have been inconceivable to anyone on the plane. His joints remained jammed.
She addressed his chest. “Ironic that we meet properly on a plane.” Her tone was companionable. “Excuse meâ¦” She waited, a muscle slightly twitching below her ear. Will noticed her eyebrows were pencilled on.
She'd acknowledged their association and Will realised he had no choice but to comply. He leaned his body away from her as she stepped past.
“Please, return to your seat now,” she said without turning.
He watched her walk to hers. An athletic guy in a Foo Fighters tee shirt was dozing at the end of the row. He got quickly to his feet and bowed slightly as she squeezed past to get to the window.
He realised her presence had no consequence. What could he do? Restrain her; attack her? He would probably end up being pinned down by the other passengers and taken into custody. How could he prove anything? Show them the website? Why would they believe she'd constructed it?
Nothing had changed. Whoever she was, she still had the power of life and death over Libby. Nothing he felt compelled to do could result in his daughter's safe return. The woman may as well have been seated in first class with him.
She leaned forward and plucked a magazine from the back of the seat, opening it casually and tilted her head so her hair hung down one side of her face. She flicked it back. He knew she wouldn't look up until he'd left.
The manner in which she'd casually navigated past him proved she was sticking to the programme, regardless of any unforeseen events.
She licked the edge of her thumb and turned a page.
She didn't care that he'd seen her. That in itself was more frightening than where they were headed.
Her instruction had been genteel but categorical and all he could do was obey. Will staggered back to his seat. The plane was experiencing turbulence and the stewardess asked him to secure his seatbelt. The pain throbbed against it.
He visualised her sitting back from him, leafing through the magazine, considered what those fingers had done.
He maximised the website on his laptop and again examined the images of the Singapore address. Whenever the photos had been furtively snatched the rooms had been in the middle of being decorated. Will could identify a small bathroom and kitchen. Most of the furnishings in the other quarters were covered in dustsheets and slid out of the way of metallic stepladders. For the second time the snaps had been taken standing inside the rooms. Was she showing him how easy it was to intrude?
His flight was about to deliver the murderer of whoever lived there. And soon he would be visiting the real rooms to examine her handiwork.
Ironic that we meet properly on a plane
What the hell did that mean?
The first of Tam's senses to revive was his smell. He identified an all-too familiar aroma and knew where he was before he opened his eyes. He was inside the cage, a terrifying place that had seemed so far removed from his world even though only thin wire had separated him from it.
The girl was with him. He was lying on his side facing her and through the murk of waking he could just discern the dark material of her hood gently bowing inwards and outwards with her breath.
He tried to sit up, but couldn't. Blood pumped heavily at his wrists and ankles where they were bound and his cheeks ached around the large bung of cloth in his mouth. He instinctively yelled, but doing so vibrated the mucous at the back of his throat and blocked the air supply through his nostrils. He spluttered and punched some holes through the snot to let in oxygen.
The girl didn't react, even when he nudged his shoulder against hers. The beating she'd taken had probably put her out cold. Another pain hit him and his scalp clung tighter to his skull with each pump of his heart. The other man had struck him on the head and the injury had been waiting for him to wake. He remembered rolling down the ramp and wondered how badly the fall had injured the other parts of his body. But his bonds were cutting off all sensation and he could scarcely move anything below his neck.
How long had he been lying here unconscious? He thought of his mother and father looking for him and his eyes immediately boiled over with tears. The sliding door was shut again now and probably locked. The halogen bulbs were out. His lashes chopped the tears across the bridge of his nose and he felt them pool cold under his cheek. Fear released itself in whimpers until it eventually subsided.
Then he remembered the cage wire he'd unstapled. If he could just sit up he could push himself to the back with his feet and slither through the gap. His stomach muscles tensed. Dark shapes swooped over him like birds across a skylight. His body wanted him unconscious again. The floor of the cage capsized as he bit down on his gag and hinged upwards.
He hung there, a furnace of blood in his ears as he tried to lever himself all the way. The birds flocked around him, sensations draining away. He ground his eyes, clenched his stomach hard and counted to eighteen before he was sitting straight.
Fatigue snatched ever-longer moments from Will. His brain slid into a familiar place and, for a moment, he inhabited the wet body, choked on the bubbles and felt the urgency of the prisoner's revolutions within the paint pot. He opened his eyes, but still heard its claws scoring the sides.
The crab had dropped from the sky. They'd been anticipating rain but, as they'd waited for the grubby gang of clouds to reach the beach, it had landed on an outcrop of rocks at the shoreline. He'd turned to his parents for an explanation. Neither of them had shifted their gaze to his, but their expressions clearly said they didn't have one.
Nothing ever happened in their small, private, Dorset cove a hundred and thirteen steps from the bottom of their garden. It had been predominantly his territory for line fishing and building driftwood fires and his mother and father's presence had been rare. But that afternoon his mother had suggested they all eat together on the beach and had even managed to drag his father from his study for the occasion. They were just about to get a head start on the storm, when the animal had crash-landed a few feet away from where they were seated on a blanket.
The crab had pitched on its back and its legs clawed at the sky until it toppled from the edge of the rock pool and embedded itself on its side in the wet sand. Then the ugly gull had swooped down. It had been huge and had patches of feathers missing and a yellow, misshapen beak. It had flipped the crab onto its back and viciously pecked at its stomach until it had impaled it. It had taken off again, circling and then swooping at the rocks, releasing the crab so the velocity of the fall broke it against the jagged ridges. It had been trying to split it open.
Will's family had watched as the gull relentlessly repeated the process, shards of shell and legs pinging off the crab as its body was battered by each new impact. Will hadn't been consoled by his father's assurances about the food chain and had frantically waved the gull away before rescuing its prey.
He'd emptied out one of the many paint pots that he'd confiscated from the garage to make sandcastles with and had dropped the crab inside it in the hope that it could convalesce there. His father had told him he was wasting his time and that it would have been more use as feed for the gull. He was sure it had been his father's indifference to the animal's fate that had made him want to save it.
As the wind had picked up and the rain started hammering the beach, his mother had packed away their picnic. His father had loitered behind him, puffing on his pipe and peering into the pot. Will hadn't wanted to return its injured body to the sea and had been determined that the ugly gull wouldn't snatch it. The clouds gushed rain and the broken crab had scratched its circuits, froth pouring from its mouth. Will had stood guard.
The pot had filled with rainwater. The bird had kept circling, as had the helpless crab.
He rubbed the image out of his eyes again and thought of the predator biding her time in his present. Will's attention returned to the screen. Clicking back to the home page of the website he found a new message above the houses. She'd made time to send him a warning.
LEAVE THE AIRPORT AS SOON AS WE LAND
DON'T LOOK BACK FROM ARRIVALS
Will obeyed the instruction as he left passport control at Changi International and limped through the pristine dÃ©cor of Terminal Three. He paused for breath under a decorative palm tree and hoped she wouldn't pass him.
If the phone remained in her purse he would know exactly where he was being sent before she told him, but if he wanted Libby back he was still effectively powerless to prevent what would happen there. He felt a desperate need to be out of the airport before her. If he watched her leave, he would feel even more complicit. He inhaled sweet air and felt dizziness swell as he looked up at the shutters in the ceiling. The humid climate made him feel like he was wearing a hot face towel and he hadn't even stepped out of the air-conditioned building.
He'd changed his watch to local time as he'd got off the plane. Even though it was just before three in the morning, when the sliding doors opened, he walked into cloying heat. As he approached the polished, blue taxis under a row of orange lights, he called Carla.
“Will? She's only just appeared on the GPS.”
“I know. She was on the same plane as me.”
A smart, Chinese driver in his fifties grinned and opened his back door for Will.
He didn't wait for Carla's reaction. “So much for the phone giving us a jump on her, she's right behind me.” He dropped onto the leather seat and the impact felt like he'd fallen a hundred feet.
“I should have monitored her closer at the airport, but I wasâ¦dealing with an emergency.”
“Dealt with now so forget it. I've sent a request to start tracking your new phone.” A wary pause. “Did she speak to you?”
He gulped the pain down. “Hardly. But then she doesn't need to.” Will recalled the moment he'd met her raptorial eye. “She knows we'll be obedient.”
The driver slid in front of the wheel and turned the key in the ignition.
“Are you heading straight there?”
“Going to find somewhere to wait.” He grimaced as he pulled the door closed.
The driver turned to him, beaming emptily. There was a deep scar across his chin that looked as if it had been carved there with a blade.
“You want Serangoon Central?”
Will registered it sounded similar to the woman's voice. “How long to get there?” He tried to find a comfortable posture.
“Twenty minutes, but because you're with me â fifteen.”
Will nodded and spoke into the phone with a lowered voice again. “I have to check into a hotel. I don't feel so good.”
“What's wrong, are you sick?”
“I just need to lie down properly.” He let his head loll back on the seat.
“Did you sleep at all?” She didn't sound as if she had.
“It's just been a bad flight.”
“I can take you to a hotel in Serangoon. Cheapest rate.” The driver assured him as they dropped down a ramp.
As the taxi jolted him, Will grimaced with pain. “OK. Did you catch that? I'll call you when I'm there.” He rang off. His eyes swam.
Outside the cab window the sprays of spotlit flowers hiding the ugly new buildings became impressionistic blobs.
“Just enjoy the ride.” The driver's smiling mouth was hidden below the edge of his mirror.
Pope and Weaver monitored the red GPS dot on the iPad they'd propped up on a stack of brochures. It was positioned on the low table they were seated around in the lounge area of their Wintershore suite.
“Do we really believe that's her? That could so easily be Frost.” Weaver chewed hard, a vein jutting out on his forehead.
“We're about to find out.” Pope checked the afternoon daylight at the window, looked at his watch and did a calculation. They were twelve hours ahead so it was early morning there.
They'd been in the hotel room for less than twenty-four hours, but it looked like he'd been holed up with Weaver for a week. Bottles from the mini-bar and empty food trays were dotted around and the whole place smelt of armpits. They'd both slept and taken showers, but neither of them had a change of clothes.
They had NBC on and, just over an hour ago, the police had announced they were making headway in relation to the suspect wanted for the murders of the Ambersons, the Stricks and the Monros. More details were about to be released. Weaver was right, the website was fast becoming a record of the past.
“Surely she should have landed earlier than this. Frost should be there by now.” Weaver stretched in his armchair and his spine cracked.
They had the website open as well as a detailed Google map of Serangoon positioned beside the GPS coordinates. They could follow its progress street by street. Pope zoomed the display with his fingers. The dot was halfway along the Pan Island Expressway that led from the airport. Was it Frost?
All the information Mrs Frost had submitted to him when she'd given up the password for the GPS seemed too bizarre to be faked: where Frost had planted the phone, the killer being a woman. He'd asked her if she had anything else that could help him tie Ingram to the victims and she'd answered flatly that she didn't. That seemed extremely suspect but, after eighteen hours ransacking the Internet had yielded nothing, he was beginning to believe she was telling the truth.
The cops certainly hadn't named Frost as a suspect so it looked like his evasion of suspicion so far and the fact they hadn't heard about anyone else discovering the website ruled out any obvious link. Was Mrs Frost lying about anything? If the phone was a ploy to stall them she knew that would run out at the next address.
If the GPS was actually pinpointing the woman's location that also troubled Pope. Why should she be present if the victim had already been murdered? There was only one reason for her to be there. Somebody was very probably about to die and they were going to sit by and allow it to happen from nine thousand miles away.
He'd made a promise in return for the live information they were now in possession of. It was Libby's life if they interfered now.
Serangoon was in the northeast region of Singapore. It was the sort of place that was changing every day, its own redevelopment casting new shadows over its inhabitants as it rapidly grew upward and outward. The streets were spotless and, as they passed under the boxy high-rises, it felt like they were driving through an architect's model.
Will got the driver to call at an all-night pharmacy and bought the strongest painkillers he could obtain without prescription. He chewed a mouthful while they took a straight, tree-lined road to the Ambrosia Hotel. He just needed to get horizontal, however briefly.
The driver pulled them into a car park at the back of an unlit, green tower block that glowed luminously against the smog-choked stars. He pointed to the small entrance.
“Tell them Shoushan sent you. Better room that way.”
Will paid him and the taxi purred away. He headed for the door, the noise of traffic and his footsteps muffled by the night's thick heat.
Inside reception the smell of damp caught in his throat. Shoushan's name didn't stir the compressed features of the old woman hunched over the tiny desk. A single lamp angled down at the guest book allowed her to duck out of his scrutiny. He signed and paid in cash and her shadowed head nodded towards the fire exit.
“Floor three. Elevator not working.”
He climbed the concrete steps and wondered how long he'd have before he was summoned. As he turned the handle of room 39, the fresh paint sucked at his knuckles. The bedside lamp came on automatically. Will was in a tiny cell with a silver blind closed against the window. He opened the laptop. No update in the box. On the GPS site he could see she was moving through the east quarter of Serangoon. At least he knew she hadn't followed him. Will collapsed on the mattress.
Lying flat didn't alleviate the pain. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth against it then scrabbled the phone out of his inside pocket. It rang before he could hit Carla's number.