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«Sleepyhead», Mark Billingham

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Mark Billingham

 

PROLOGUE

Roger Thomas. F.R.C. Path.

Dr Angela Wilson,

HM Coroner,

Southwark.

26 June 2000

Dear Angela,

Following our recent telephone conversation, I write to summarise certain concerns which you might like to include as an addendum to my postmortem report (PM2698/RT) on Ms Susan Carlish, a twenty-six-year-old stroke victim discovered at home on 15 June.

The PM was performed at St Thomas's Hospital on 17 June. The deceased died as a result of a brainstem infarction due to basilar artery occlusion from what would appear to be spontaneous vertebral artery dissection. Examination being twelve hours post mortem, I was unable to test for Protein C and Protein S deficiency. This aside, and taking into consideration that Ms Carlish was an occasional smoker, there would still appear to be an absence of conventional risk factors for stroke. I also discovered some minor neck trauma with ligamenteus damage at C1 and C2 vertebral level though this would not be inconsistent with some previous whiplash or sporting injury. Traces of a benzodiazepine were discovered in the blood. Enquiries have produced a prescription for Valium made out to Ms Carlish's flat mate eighteen months ago. While I remain in no doubt as to the cause of death, and concede that all police enquiries have drawn a blank, I sin consulting a number of colleagues and copying this letter to all pathology departments and Coroners Courts in the Greater London area. I would be interested to confer with anyone who may have dealt with the body of a stroke victim (prob. female 2030) displaying any or all of the following peculiarities:

Absence of conventional risk factors,

Torn ligaments in neck

Benzodiazepines in the bloodstream.

If you wish to discuss my findings, with a view perhaps to a second post-mortem examination, I would of course be delighted to chat with you further.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Roger Thomas FRC Path, Consultant Pathologist P.S. The condition of the body (which honked like a pair of freshly scrubbed wellies!) was, as I told you, of no concern to the authorities and delighted the morticians, but it was, to say the least, a little disconcerting!!

PART ONE

THE PROCEDURE

 

'Wake up…'

And lights and voices and a mask and sweet fresh oxygen in my nostrils…

And before?

Me and the girls are linking arms to belt out 'I Will Survive' and scare the shit out of every white-sock-wearing Camberwell Casanova in the club…

And now I'm dancing on my own. At a cash point, for God's sake! Unfeasibly pissed. Top night.

And I'm struggling to get the key in the door. And there's a man in a car with a bottle of champagne. What's he celebrating? One more can't hurt on top of a bucketful of tequila.

And we're in the kitchen. I can smell some sort of soap. And something else. Something desperate.

And the man is behind me. I'm kneeling. If he wasn't holding me up I'd flop on to the floor. Am I that far gone?

And his hands are on my head and on my neck. He's very gentle. Telling me not to worry.

And… nothing…

ONE

Thorne hated the idea of coppers being hardened. A hardened copper was useless. Like hardened paint. He was just.., resigned. To a down-and-out with a fractured skull and the word SCUM carved into his chest. To half a dozen Girl Guides decapitated courtesy of a drunken bus driver and a low bridge. And the harder stuff. Resigned to watching. The eyes of a woman, who's lost her son, glaze over as she gnaws her bottom lip and reaches absently for the kettle. Thorne was resigned to all this. And he was resigned to Alison Willetts.

'Stroke of luck, really, sir.'

He was resigned to having to think of this small girl shaped thing, enmeshed in half a mile of medical spaghetti, as a breakthrough. A piece of good fortune. A stroke of luck. And she was barely even there. What was undeniably lucky was that they'd found her in the first place.

'So, who fucked up?' DC David Holland had heard about Thorne's straight-for-the-jugular approach, but he was unprepared for the question so soon after arriving at the girl's bedside.

'Well, to be fair, sir, she didn't fit the profile. I mean, she was alive for a kick-off, and she's so young.'

'The third victim was only twenty-six.'

'Yes, I know, but look at her.'

He was. Twenty-four and she looked as helpless as a child.

'So it was just a missing-persons' job until the local boys tracked down a boyfriend.' Thorne raised an eyebrow. Holland instinctively reached for his notebook. 'Er… Tim Hinnegan. He's the closest thing there is to next-of kin. I've got an address. He should be here later. Visits every day apparently. They've been together eighteen months – she moved down here two years ago from Newcastle to take up a position as a nursery nurse.'

Holland shut his notebook and looked at his boss, who was still staring down at Alison Willetts. He wondered whether Thorne knew that the rest of the team called him the Weeble. It was easy to see why. Thorne was.., what?

Five six? Five seven? But the low centre of gravity and the very.., breadth of him suggested that it would take a lot to make him wobble. There was something in his eyes that told Holland that he would almost certainly not fall down. His old man had known coppers like Thorne but he was the first Holland had worked with. He decided he'd better not put away the notebook just yet. The Weeble looked like he had a lot more questions. And the bugger did have this knack of asking them without actually opening his mouth.


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