Read the previous chapter, Prologue, here first.
Chapter 1 of Delirium, London Psychic #2. Click here for buy links to the full book.
Detective Sergeant Jamie Brooke took a deep breath, steeling herself to face the crime scene. It was her first major case since her compassionate leave had come to an end, and although she craved the intellectual stimulation, part of her just wanted to huddle under the covers at her flat and shut out the world. Thoughts of her daughter, gone only three months now, intruded at every second. Jamie welcomed them, but if she let them intensify too much, she knew she would just break down. Not quite the look she favored in front of her work colleagues. Detective Constable Alan Missinghall stood outside the squad car, finishing his morning coffee and sticky bun, waiting for her to join him on the pavement. All Jamie had to do was step out and accompany him to the scene.
Missinghall had been tremendous support during the events a few months ago that culminated in the flames of the Hellfire Caves, and she was grateful for his friendship. Despite her seniority in the force, he was one of the only allies she had after years of insistent independence that protected her from gossip but left her mostly alone. Jamie pulled down the mirror and checked her dark hair, tucking a few strands into the tight bun she habitually wore for work. Her face was gaunt, cheekbones angular, and her pale skin was dull from too long inside during the British winter. Time to get back out there again, she thought. Jamie exhaled slowly and opened the door, pulling her coat tightly around her against the chill of the early morning.
“The body was found in one of the offices in the oldest part of the building,” Missinghall said, walking slowly, as his six-foot-five frame meant his stride was double Jamie's. “This place has changed substantially since the days of Bedlam. That's for sure.”
The Imperial War Museum had been built in the early nineteenth century to house the Bethlem Royal Hospital, known to history as Bedlam. Although the hospital for the mentally ill was relocated in 1930 to the outer suburbs of Kent, this place remained the hospital of the imagination, a virtual horror movie set. Jamie shivered as she glanced up at the cupola rising above a classical facade, but it was the massive First World War guns that drew her attention, dwarfing the uniformed officers already onsite. Each huge naval gun weighed one hundred tons and could fire shells over sixteen miles. Its yellow bullet-shaped ammunition stood around the gardens, each waist height. Jamie couldn't help but touch the spiked top of one of them, a testament to man's ingenuity at designing killing machines. While this place was once a supposed restorer of minds, it was now a home for weapons of mass destruction. A building in homage to war, perhaps the ultimate form of collective madness.
“The museum is currently undergoing massive restoration,” Missinghall said. “They're sprucing it up in time for the centennial of the First World War, so the main galleries aren't open to the public right now.”
“How was the body found?” Jamie asked.
“One of the workmen was looking for a quiet place to smoke as it was pouring with rain outside.” Missinghall chuckled. “He would have needed a few more ciggies after that.”
They walked towards the steps leading up to the museum entrance, passing a slab of concrete with a graffitied face and the slogan ‘Change Your Life' tattooed on its tongue. Its eyes were manic, the open maw a frozen scream. Jamie bent to read the plaque, and saw it was from the Berlin Wall, a remnant of that divide between East and West Germany. This was a strange place indeed, aimed at commemoration without intentionally glorifying violence.
The sound of a little girl giggling whispered on the wind. Jamie looked up sharply, her eyes drawn to the trees beyond the memorial. Polly ran there, her blue dress caught by the breeze as she twirled amongst the early spring flowers. For a moment, hope filled Jamie's heart, but then the girl's face changed. It was another girl, alive and vibrant, where her daughter was gone. Polly was ashes now, her physical remains in a terracotta urn that sat on the shelf in her flat.
Jamie choked back her emotion and turned to follow Missinghall, who was nearing the main entrance. These moments still threatened to overwhelm her, even months after Polly's death. Is it self-harm or self-care to want to hurt myself? Jamie wondered. Pain is a reminder of continued life, and every day she had to make a decision about carrying on.
The craving for a cigarette was intense, her hands shaking a little at the thought. Jamie thrust one hand in her coat pocket, clutching the tin where she put the menthol butt ends, measuring her addiction. She could hardly fit the lid on by the end of the day, but right now she resisted the yearning to smoke, clenching her fist around the tin instead. She wanted to get back to the capable woman she was known as in the force. She just needed to gather her strength.
Jamie and Missinghall went through the main entrance, showing their warrant cards to the officer on the door. The crime-scene perimeter was much further inside the museum, and they walked through a warren of building works, preparation for a grand opening at the centenary of the First World War. It was organized chaos, the kind of place that would be a nightmare to process for evidence, especially with the tight deadlines for the centennial. After winding through corridors, they reached a doorway where they logged into the crime scene and put on the protective coveralls necessary to stop contamination.
The body was still in situ and a number of Scene of Crime Officers (SOCOs) worked efficiently in the room, processing the scene. Jamie tilted her head to one side, her curiosity piqued by the strange tableau. A familiar prick of interest penetrated the haze of grief and she knew that this case was just what she needed to take her mind off her own pain.
The room smelled of candle smoke overlaid with a damp, fungal aroma. A man sat in an oversize wooden chair, his feet bound to the struts and his arms strapped to the sides. His head was entirely covered by a box made of dark wood, so the victim looked more like a dummy from the London Dungeon than a real dead body. He wore a white shirt under a dark tailored suit, and it looked like his clothes were damp. The straps that held his wrists made his suit wrinkle, and his fingertips were bloody, nails cracked, as if he had tried to claw his way out of the chair. Jamie shivered at the thought of being trapped there, unable to move, unable to escape.
Forensic pathologist Mike Skinner stood against the wall, looking at his watch every minute, as if that would hurry the SOCOs. Finally the photos were complete, the device swabbed, and the body could be moved.
Missinghall helped Mike unfasten the straps that held the box in place and together they lifted it off. The victim's head fell forward, unsupported now, onto his chest. A rush of water cascaded down and a SOCO darted forward to capture a sample. Jamie glimpsed ivory padding inside as Missinghall laid the box on the floor for SOCOs to process further. Mike unstrapped the man's arms and legs, fastening forensic bags over the exposed flesh to protect any evidence. Missinghall helped him to lift the body into a plastic body-bag on top of a waiting gurney. The man looked professorial, authority still held in his bearing even in death. He wasn't a large man, his frame short and compact, not fat but clearly more used to a lecture theatre than a gym. His hair was grey, still wet, and his lips were grey.
“First impressions?” Jamie asked.
“Drowned, I'd say,” Mike replied, his curt response purely professional. “But I'll know more after I check his lungs back at the morgue.”
Missinghall moved to the gurney and with gloves on, opened the man's jacket. From the top pocket, he pulled out a thick envelope and placed it in a clear plastic evidence bag, a wad of cash visible inside.
“This wasn't theft, that's for sure,” Missinghall said, delving back into the man's pockets. He pulled out a thin leather wallet containing a couple of bank cards and a driver's license.
“Doctor Christian Monro,” he read. “That makes things easier.” He looked over at Jamie, one eyebrow raised. “Guess I'll get on with the preliminary statements then. I'll start with the security team.”
A bustling came from the door, and one of the uniformed officers beckoned Jamie over to the edge of the crime-scene markers. A man stood there, shuffling from one foot to another, wringing his hands, eyes darting to the gurney inside the room.
“I'm Michael Hasbrough, the curator of the museum,” he blustered. “This is terrible, terrible. You have to keep the press away. The centennial is only in a few weeks, and there's a Fun Run today, as well. It's going to get busy outside soon. You have to hurry up. Please.”
Jamie put out a hand to calm the man.
“We need to process the scene properly, Mr Hasbrough. It will take some time, but of course, we'll try to be discreet.”
He shook his head violently. “How can you be discreet with a damn body and all those uniforms outside?” Hasbrough seemed to realize what he had said. “With respect to the dead, of course.” He glanced into the room again, his eyes taking in the scene more fully. “Perhaps I can help.” He pointed towards the box on the floor next to the unusual chair. “I can tell you what that is.”
“Go on,” Jamie said.
“It's called a Tranquilizer. The device was used on mentally ill patients to calm them down back when this place was the old Bedlam Hospital. They were strapped in and the box placed on their head. The padding stopped any light or sound, like a primitive sensory deprivation tank. Water was sometimes poured over the head of the patient while they were in the box. Apparently it was meant to relax them.” He grimaced. “Can't see why though.”
“Sounds more like a kind of waterboarding,” Jamie said, wondering what the victim might have done to deserve such treatment.
The curator nodded. “There are reports of people dying in the device, of course, but then much of the early treatment for mental illness was inhumane by today's standards. It was designed for control and restraint rather than rehabilitation of any kind.”
“Do you have those reports here?” Jamie asked.
Hasbrough shook his head. “No, everything to do with Bedlam is at the hospital. It has moved a number of times over its dark history. Now it's at Beckenham in Kent, a lovely campus, nothing like the cold Gothic place this would have been.”
“And this room?” Jamie asked. “Was it part of the old hospital?”
The curator nodded, relaxing as he shared his field of expertise. “Yes, the museum has been substantially altered since it was a hospital but this is one of the old wings. It could have been a treatment room, but we'd have to check the old plans to make certain.”
Jamie turned to look back into the room. “So where did the chair come from?”
“We still have some old artifacts in the basement storerooms, and many of them have been cleared out recently for the renovations. This chair could have been easily moved within the museum. It's not a heavy device, as you can see.”
Jamie glanced around at the corners of the surrounding corridor.
“Are there any cameras in this part of the building?”
Hasbrough shook his head. “Unfortunately not. We're redoing all the security but because this is under renovation, the cameras were all taken down.”
“Someone must have seen this man come in,” Jamie said.
The curator nodded. “Perhaps, but we've never had any problems here before. You can't just walk off with a tank or a plane, after all.”
Mike Skinner finished the initial processing of the body, covered it and fastened the straps on the gurney. As he rolled it towards the door, the wheels squeaked on the tiled floor. Hasbrough moved back, his nostrils flaring like a skittish horse, as if the mere presence of the body could contaminate him somehow.
“Can you at least take it out the back way?” he asked as the body was rolled past. Skinner ignored the man, heading towards the main entrance. “There are children out there,” Hasbrough called. “Bloody half term. Always a crazy time.”
“What's going on today?” Jamie asked.
“It's a charity Fun Run for Psyche – you know, that politician Matthew Osborne's thing. Advocates for equality and justice for the mentally ill, or something like that. They got permission for the event months ago. Thought it might be an appropriate place given the history here, and the new hospital is too far out for the press to bother going. But here, there will be some attention and Osborne knows the strings to pull, for sure. I think he's even running today, along with a load of yummy mummies and their brats, no doubt. There are hundreds of people due to turn up, raising money for charity. Be hell to shut it down now.”
Jamie glanced down at the plans of the museum she had on her smartphone.
“It looks like the field is far enough away from the crime scene that we don't need to stop it, but we'll need statements from all the people who were here early, including your staff.”
Hasbrough nodded. “Of course.”
Jamie turned back to the room, watching the SOCOs go about their work, seeing Missinghall on the phone. He waved his hand at her as he began to read the registration details from the driver's license, clearly not needing her right now.
“Can you show me the outside of the building?” she asked Hasbrough.
“Sure, follow me.”
Walking out into the fresh air, Jamie breathed in deeply. The sun was peeking through the clouds and it looked like the day might brighten up. Volunteers were hanging bunting around the bushes, putting up Psyche signs and big arrows pointing to the field beyond the museum where the Fun Run would be. A blast of rock music came from the speakers, swiftly muted. Heads turned briefly and then returned to staring at the police vehicles in the forecourt. Jamie had no doubt that gossip about the murder would be round the group in no time.
“There's a back way into the museum,” Hasbrough said, walking left from the main building.
“What time would this lot have started setting up?” Jamie asked, counting more than twenty volunteers across the field.
“Some of them were already here when I arrived at six,” he said. “That Petra Bennett is some kind of superwoman, I swear it. She was ordering the lads around, getting the stage set up.” He pointed across the field towards a figure in shades of moss green and gold, the colors of the charity. Her mousy hair caught a ray of sun, and she brushed an almost-blonde strand from her face, the gesture impatient, as she bent to lift another box.
“The Fun Run starts at ten a.m., so they'll be packing up again by two. Will you have to disturb them?”
Jamie watched Petra speaking to a young volunteer, her hand gestures fast as she pointed down the field. Here was a woman who knew what was going on, and a potential suspect.
“We'll need a list of everyone who was onsite this morning, and then the team will be taking some statements.” Jamie saw his disturbed glance. “But we'll try to keep it low key.”
They walked on a little way.
“This is the back entrance and the one I use.” Hasbrough pointed at a cream safety door. “It was unlocked this morning, but to be honest, it usually is. George, the main night watchman, comes out for a smoke now and then. You can keep time by his addiction.”
Jamie clenched her fists as the wave of longing for her own cigarettes swept over her.
“What time does he usually come out here?”
“Every hour on the hour. You can check that with him, but I reckon it gets him through the nights when nothing happens. And nothing ever happens, Detective.” Hasbrough paused. “At least, it didn't use to.”
As they walked back to the main entrance, Jamie saw a man arrive on the other side of the field, his arms laden with bags and balancing a box in one hand. Petra ran to help him, and a smile lit his face. Jamie had seen Matthew Osborne before on TV, that slightly crooked smile flashed for the press, the gaunt jaw highlighted by an artful line of stubble. He was Secretary of State for Health, but the papers were more interested in his love life. Jamie didn't pay too much attention to politics, but she could see how this man fit right in, as he leaned into Petra and kissed her cheek. She was like a dull little bird, eager to help him, fluttering around his bright plumage. She wondered if he had that effect on all women.
For a moment, Jamie envied Matthew's easy way with people, thinking of her own inability to get close to anyone. It used to be her and Polly against the world, mother and daughter bound together, but now Polly was gone. Fighting the world alone was like standing under a freezing shower all day every day, and sometimes she was beaten to her knees by its force.
Jamie's phone buzzed and she turned from the field to check the text. Today's picture was a clear milk bottle on a red brick step, a daffodil sticking out at a jaunty angle. As usual, Blake had signed it with a smiley. Jamie grinned. For a moment, she felt the darkness in her mind lift a little. Since Polly's death, Blake had kept his physical distance, but every day he let her know he was thinking of her. That alone meant a lot, but she still couldn't see him, for he had a gift. Blake's ability to read emotions in objects meant he would feel the depth of her loss, and she was afraid she would break if he knew.
“Jamie, I've got an address. It's in Harley Street,” Missinghall called as he left the museum entrance, walking towards them. “The guy was a psychiatrist. His housekeeper can let us in.”
“OK,” Jamie said. “Let's go check it out.”