A wedding. Why fire at a wedding party? Serrailler did not believe in random. There was always something.
Makes you think twice about getting married, doesn’t it?
He groaned. He’d missed it. How could he have missed it when it was there in front of him?
He ran down the path and back to the car to put in a call.
He pushed the Audi up to seventy on a clear road, thinking, thinking, clicking things into place.
The ball banged down the wooden slope and the skittles crashed, raising a cheer.
“Ours,” Duncan Houlish said.
Clive Rowley clenched his jaw. He hadn’t been to a bowling alley for what, five or six years? Longer? He had not wanted to come tonight, but now he was here, he revelled in it. Roll, bang, smash. Roll, bang, smash.
“Useless,” Ian Dean said.
The whole lot of them had come. It was almost like a ritual of some sort before the big day.
Further up, a gang of shrieking girls threw the balls down the aisle and through the gaps or into the skittles, equally hysterical no matter what the result.
“Looks like a hen party.”
“Sounds like a parrot house. Why do women shriek?”
“Not all women shriek.”
“Oh yes they do. My sister shrieks, my missus and her girl friends shriek, my mam shrieks, the girls across the road …”
Another lot of shrieking.
They finished a session and went up to the bar at the same time as the girls.
“Must be a thousand of them,” Clive Rowley said.
“Oi, what was that?” one of them said.
“I said happy days.”
“Can I buy you ladies a drink?”
“There are seventeen of us, and no thanks, we’ll get our own.”
“That’s a relief.”
Ian and Clive came slowly across with three pints each, weaving between the tables and the chairs and the girls. They set the glasses down.
“Look at that. Didn’t lose a drop.”
“Great stuff. Cheers. You all right, Clive?”
“Right. Where are you tomorrow?”
“Top of the tower with Ian.”
“You OK with heights?”
“Love “em. You reckon it’s someone’s twenty-first?”
“That lot? They’re way over twenty-one.”
“What did you say?”
“Listeners never hear good. Stop earwigging.”
Shrieks. They had five tables pulled together.
Dale groaned. “Pink feathers coming out,” he said. “And the handcuffs.”
“I was right. Bloody hen night, innit?”
Louise Kelly, the only woman among the policemen, stuck her head down into her glass. She was married and separated.
“You have a hen night, Lou?”
“Sort of. Mam said they were bad luck so a few of us just went for a pizza. Sort of compromise. Bad luck was, he and his mates walked into the same pizza place.”
“Your mum had a point then.”
“What do you reckon about tomorrow?”
“Keep your voices down.” Duncan. Bronze Command. Conscious they had just the one chance to get the thing right. Or very wrong.
“Be fine,” Louise said. “I’m going to enjoy it. I’m over on the left where the cars come up. Got a grandstand view. It’s uniform I always feel sorry for. Don’t get a look, faces to the bloody crowd.”
“I was surprised they’re bringing in mounted.”
“They’re bringing in the bloody works. Surprised there aren’t tanks.”
“Be glad when it’s this time tomorrow, me.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Clive said. He sneezed.
“Oi, watch it. I don’t want your snot in my beer, thank you.”
“Told you I was heady.”
The hen party got up and started the conga round the room, police helmets, pink feathers, handcuffs, maids’ aprons, fishnet tights. Shrieking.
“Come on, lads, get on the back.”
A couple of them joined on. The rest cheered.
“Last pint,” Ian said. “That’s your lot. This time tomorrow we can all get bladdered.”
The shrieks went up a few decibels and Clive Rowley sneezed again.
“I’m sorry but you can’t stay here, you’ll have to go right back.”
The special constable indicated the cordons. “Behind there.”
The women groaned. “But we won’t see anything.”
“Course you will.”
“Well, we haven’t brought binoculars.”
“Brought your chairs though.”
“Can’t stand for hours and hours.”
They folded the camp stools they had brought and went slowly in the direction of the pointing hand. The area behind the cordons was filling up.
Tactical Team Bronze Command Duncan Houlish looked up to the tower. Two officers up there and it should have been three. He had two men down, Bannister whose father had died the previous night and Clive Rowley who had rung in with a cold.
“I’ll bloody cold him. He was perfectly all right last night.”
“Bannister said he could come in, but he won’t be focused. Not fair anyway.”
“Look, your dad dying is one thing and a snuffly nose is another. I’ll bollock him on Monday.”
“If he’s in.”
“Thinks because he was some sort of five-minute hero he can take the piss.”
“Talking of that, you know the woman he rescued?”
“What about her?”
“They found her son’s body last night. Bottom of the multi-storey.” His walkie-talkie crackled.
Behind the cordon the women settled down.
“I feel sorry for these,” one said, nodding to the constable facing them. “They never get a look at what’s going on, just at our ugly mugs.”
“Place is bristling with them today.”
“Do you wonder?”
“They still won’t confirm whether Charles and Camilla are coming or not. I’ve asked three of them but they’re staying shtum.”
“They’ll be here. There wouldn’t be all of this … helicopter buzzing and everything.”
“I hope so. I like a big wedding but I wouldn’t be sitting out here in this cold just for that.”
“Lovely day though, even if it’s cold. Just right.”
“I got married on a day like this.”
“Did you? Mine was pouring down.”
Two miles away, Serrailler was arguing down the telephone.
“I know it’s a hunch, ma’am, but I have to trust it. It’s got everything he needs and no risk. I do urge you to go with me on this.”
“Simon, I can’t conjure up an ARV out of thin air.”
“Then take one of the armed vehicles from around the cathedral.”
The Chief sighed. “And if things kick off at this wedding? I couldn’t live with myself.”
“I couldn’t live with myself if I’m right and we do nothing.”
There was a long pause. Serrailler tapped his finger on the phone. His adrenaline was pumping. He knew. He just knew. Always follow your gut instincts, his first DI had said. Always go with your hunches.
“I’m sorry, Simon. It’s too risky. We’ve got to keep the cathedral covered.”
He hung up. Waited a moment in thought. Then picked up the phone again.
The helicopter dropped several feet and hovered like a gnat over the tower. The draught hit the two marksmen in the face. They did not take their eyes from the direction of their rifles, resting in the spaces between ancient stones.
“ETA three minutes, twenty seconds,” the small black box said.
The marksmen focused. The space in which the royal car would halt was bang on target.
The helicopter swung to the west.
“Bloody racket,” Duncan Houlish muttered.
In the reserve AR vehicle in Cathedral Lane the driver’s box also crackled into life.
The voice confirmed.
“On our way.” He turned to the boys in the back. “Change of venue.”
“What’s going on?”
“Serrailler says we can leave this lot to the others. We’re needed elsewhere.”
“Keep your eyes peeled then,” the constable said and moved an inch or two to give the women the best view.
“I knew it, I knew they’d come.”
“Charles isn’t one to be put off.”
“Not by some lunatic, he isn’t.”
The car doors opened. The security men leapt out, eyes scanning the crowd.
“I’ll say this for her, she’s done wonders for the older woman has Camilla.”
“Oh, look at that!”
“Not sure about the colour.”
“Oh, I like that pale sea green.”
“I love those feathery head things—she’s made them her signature.”
“I love a man in a morning suit.”
“Look, his tie matches, same sort of green.”
“They’re looking over here, they’re looking.”
“Wave, Janet, wave!”
“Now then,” Bronze Command muttered, “show your face if you dare.” Tactical Team officers were high voltage.
The Prince and the Duchess walked, calm and smiling, up the path to the east door beside the Dean.
Ten minutes later, the bridesmaids glided into sight.
“Oh. Four big ones.”
“I like little bridesmaids, I hope she has some littles.”
Two more cars. Six small girls. Six small pageboys. Velvet. Satin. White flowers. White ribbons.
All around them, unseen rifles were trained and eyes scanned the crowd and every inch of the building. Small children walked self-consciously up the long path.
The duty armed response vehicle with full complement pulled out of Cathedral Lane as the bride, glorious in white and silver, tulle and diamonds and a fifteen-foot train strewn with white roses, was helped with extreme care out of her car.
“Pray now,” Houlish muttered into his mike.
One of the papers had had a long piece about people like him with a profile by an expert, a professor no less. He had read it with great care and growing amusement.
“Inside the mind of the Lafferton Gunman.” He read it to find out about himself because this woman apparently knew him better than anyone. She knew what made him tick, what his thoughts and feelings were, why he did what he did, what his child hood was like, his father, his mother, how he had grown up. Most important of all, she knew about the women he had had relationships with. Everything, every detail. He read it a dozen times.
She was right. She was hopelessly wrong.
He had a father and a mother. Yes, ma’am. He’d had an unhappy and lonely childhood. No.
An only son. Yes.
No sisters either. That was wrong.
He had a fascination with guns, loved gun movies, westerns, reading books about men who had gone on the rampage with a gun at schools and colleges. To a point. But she was wrong about the books.
He had served in the armed forces and seen armed combat, in the Gulf probably. Wrong again, ma’am.
He was probably unmarried, after a painful divorce. Wrong.
He hated women. Wrong.
He had been let down by a woman. Correct.
He had never been able to have a full sexual relationship with any woman.
He had started to laugh.
He lived in a meticulously clean and tidy house and planned every detail of his life as well as his crimes with extreme care. Spot on.
He bore a grudge. True.
He loved killing. The more he killed the happier he found he became.
He had set the paper down at this point because he was troubled by what he was reading. She had sent the thinnest but sharpest of needles through to the right place, this woman expert, this profiler who had got so much wrong and then, bingo. He sat in a chair by the window looking out at nothing—darkness, the neighbour’s outside light—nothing of any interest to him because what was of interest was in his head.
“He loves killing,” she wrote. “This man started with one and it escalated and maybe now he is worried that he has an addiction to killing. No one who becomes addicted to anything—alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, beating up their partners—no one actually enjoys it after a while. Maybe it was good at the beginning but not now. Now it is a strain and a burden, something he cannot stop, cannot get away from, but in his heart of hearts he hates it and hates himself even more. He doesn’t want to go on doing this. Every time, he says to himself that this is the last one, the very last, that he’s giving it up, has done with it. It has served whatever purpose it had—though he can’t remember clearly what that was. What was its purpose? Why is he taking out his hurt feelings and his desire for revenge on all these people who have had nothing to do with it, are innocent and blameless and deserve none of it? He doesn’t know.”
She ended by talking to him.
“Jim,” she wrote (she called him “Jim” for no reason, it was just a name), “if you are reading this, and I am sure you are, then you know I’m right. It doesn’t make sense any more, if it ever did. And a lot of people have suffered who you didn’t really want to suffer. So stop. You can do it still. You still have the will and the strength to stop right now. And when you have, give yourself up. Until you do that you will go on carrying this dreadful knowledge, the burden of this addiction. Until you stop and give yourself up, put an end to it all, you will go on hating and loathing yourself. Just listen to me, Jim. Think about what I have said to you. Then do it. Do it now.”
He thought about what she was asking him. He’d been thinking about it for some time. But if he agreed it would mean his plans for today would go up in smoke and he had been looking forward to today. It had been a long, careful time in the planning.
It seemed a waste just to abandon everything now.
Maybe after today.
Yes. That was it. He stood up, leaving the paper on the table. Today. Then he would do what she told him. Stop. Not give himself up. Why would he do that? What would be the point of one more body in prison? But he would have today, which he had been working up to and planning, today would be his parting shot. Then stop.