Read the previous chapter, Chapter 9, here first.
Chapter 10 of Desecration, London Psychic #1. Click here for buy links to the full book.
The incident room at New Scotland Yard was still in darkness when Jamie arrived the next day. Logging on, her fingers bashed at the keyboard, hammering out her frustration by typing up the notes from the case so far. Polly had barely opened her eyes this morning when she visited the Hospice in the dark early hours. Jamie had climbed onto the bed next to her and held her daughter, listening to her heartbeat, but there hadn’t even been a spark of alertness. Polly had seemed blank and unsure, even of where she was.
Jamie had whispered to her of the tango night anyway, her voice spinning expansive tales of a world her daughter would never know. She had avoided speaking to Rachel again, unable to bear the quiet question in her eyes, coupled with an acceptance of inevitability that made Jamie crazy. The injustice of it and the anticipation of grief made her mad, and even tango last night had barely taken the edge off her anxiety. Escape into the complexities of solving this crime was her best way of distraction.
Spinning on her chair, Jamie paced the length of the large open plan office, the movement allowing her space to breathe. Finally, she stood with her forehead pressed against the reinforced glass, looking out over London. Lights from the early morning traffic flowed around the city and she could see the spires of Westminster Abbey only a few blocks away. For a moment, Jamie felt the scale of her insignificance in the world, a moment of clarity. If she disappeared, all of this would continue without her. London had thrived for over two thousand years, a hub of commerce and culture, its people surviving plagues, fire and flood. Jamie felt a pulse of passion, for she believed that it would continue to be the greatest city on Earth for many more years, whether or not she was here to see it. She acknowledged her inability to change what must inevitably come, but right now she could make a difference for the dead, and Jenna’s case was still unsolved.
Walking back to her computer, Jamie began searching on one of the protected databases for any less public background on Neville Pharmaceuticals. Blake’s visions couldn’t be used as any kind of evidence, but if she could find something specific about the company it might give her leverage in questioning the Nevilles further. Today she was determined to speak to Esther about her relationship with Jenna and exactly why her daughter had protested against the lab.
The case room gradually filled up, the usual morning small talk ignored around her. Jamie knew that her solitary ways meant that she was considered cold and unapproachable but she still preferred it that way, avoiding difficult questions about her personal life.
“Morning.” Missinghall placed his large coffee down on the desk in front of Jamie’s, demanding her attention. “Anything I should know about?” He indicated her computer.
Jamie rubbed her eyes, lack of sleep beginning to catch up with her.
“Time of death has come back as between 10-11pm which puts most of the gala attendees in the building. But I’m just not happy with Day-Conti as a decent suspect, so I’m following up on the figurine and trying to find any leads as to why it was at the scene.”
Missinghall raised an eyebrow as he took a sip of his coffee. “It’s early days, though. We’ve still got to interview some of the others who were there that night and I need to plow through all the information from the taxi companies. That should help us alibi some of them out.” He looked at her more closely. “You look awful. Is there something else going on?”
Jamie thought of Polly lying in the dark of the hospice and she hesitated for a moment, part of her wanting to share what was really on her mind. She knew that Missinghall was genuine in his concern.
She shook her head. “No, I’m fine. Just a late one last night. Who else have we got to interview? I’m keen to get on it this morning.”
“This guy stood out from the pack.” Missinghall passed a file over the desk. “Edward Mascuria. He was on the same table as the Nevilles and he works part time at the company while he completes his PhD. Get this, it’s in teratology, the study of developmental abnormalities.”
Like Mengele, Jamie thought, remembering what Blake had said about the Nazi doctor’s obsessions.
“I’m not sure that I can cope with more medical specimens today … but I need the distraction, so I’ll go talk to him.”
She picked up the file and grabbed her coat from the back of the chair.
“Do you want me to come with?” Missinghall said, taking another bite of his morning muffin.
Jamie shook her head. “You couldn’t keep up,” she said, smiling and walking away.
It was raining hard outside, but Jamie relished the wet cold as she rode through rush hour, weaving between deadlocked cars and honking taxis. The weather enlivened her senses, reminding her that she still breathed despite the anxiety that pursued her. She relished the freedom of the bike and pulled up to the address in Clerkenwell in good time, hopefully before Edward Mascuria had left for the day.
Jamie rapped on the door and rang the bell. After a minute, the door opened a crack with the security chain on and a partially obscured face peeped out.
“Edward Mascuria?” Jamie asked.
“Yes,” the man said, suspicion in his tone.
Jamie held her warrant card out for him to see. “I’m here to talk about Jenna Neville. Can I come in?”
The door closed again, then opened fully.
“Of course. Come in, Detective. Anything I can do to help the investigation. I work with the Nevilles, so of course I’m devastated.”
Jamie noticed that his emphatic words didn’t match the coolness of his dark grey eyes, which were more like a sharks, the irises bleeding into the pupils to give him a strangely unfocused look. His eyes were too close together and his face wasn’t quite symmetrical. His skin was pale, even for an Englishman in winter, and Jamie felt her skin prickle, her senses alert with suspicion just to be in his presence. She found that this happened sometimes. A person of interest could become a suspect worth investigating when the physical meeting generated a gut feeling that everyone in the police understood. There was definitely something about this man that made Jamie uneasy.
She stepped into the hallway, decorated with light green William Morris print wallpaper. There was a scent of fresh pine in the air and a cashmere coat hung by the door. It seemed luxurious for someone who was apparently a student and worked part time.
“Please, come through.” Mascuria turned and as he walked down the hallway, Jamie noticed he limped and his shoulders slumped to one side. His spine looked as if it was beginning to twist and hunch, but his shoulders were powerfully muscled and his arms pumped. He certainly wasn’t weak, despite his physical disability, and he further compensated with his clothes. He wore a purple striped Marc Jacobs shirt over what looked like Armani jeans. Jamie didn’t know much about fashion, but even she knew this was not a cheap outfit.
She followed him further into the flat, emerging from the corridor into a large living space with an indoor garden, enclosed in glass, with a light well open to the roof. It was sparsely furnished but as she glanced around, Jamie could see that this was more from choice than budget. In one corner was an ergonomically shaped desk with an oversized Mac. There was a huge flat-screen TV on one wall and opposite it, a large painting of a minotaur. The beast-man stood looking out to sea, his muscled back and heavy bull’s head seen from behind, taut with longing for escape from his island prison. One strong hand pinned a white bird to the parapet, crushing the life out of this last symbol of hope. Mascuria noticed her gaze.
“Do you know GF Watts?” he asked. Jamie shook her head and Mascuria walked towards the kitchen. “To empathize with the monster in all of us is my life’s work, Detective. Tea?”
“Yes, thanks. White no sugar,” Jamie said, wondering where a graduate student like Mascuria would get money for a flat like this, or for a painting that looked original.
“You were seated on the same table as the Nevilles at the gala dinner?” Jamie asked, when Mascuria returned with her tea.
“Yes,” Mascuria indicated a chair and, as Jamie sat down, he began to speak from the dominant position. She rose to her feet again, not allowing him the benefit of the high ground. She knew that the body language of power could make a difference to the perception of the suspect and Mascuria clearly knew it too. His eyes were sharp and deeply intelligent, used to manipulation.
“I work for the Nevilles part time, helping with lab work, but I’m mainly working on my PhD. My studies are intimately connected with the Royal College of Surgeons.”
“Your specialty?” Jamie asked.
“Teratology. From the Greek for monster, it’s the study of abnormalities in physiological development, due to either genetics or environmental factors.” He paused. “It’s of personal importance to me as I have a spinal deformity.”
Jamie heard a restrained aggression behind his words, daring her to look away, the natural human response to deformity and physical imperfection. But he didn’t know about her daughter and Jamie just nodded, holding his eyes.
“Did you attend the dinner with anyone?”
Jamie noticed a micro hesitation, before Mascuria answered.
“I took Mimi, sorry, Miriam Stevens. She’s just a first year student, and she couldn’t afford the ticket. We’re not seeing each other though. I’m not … her type.”
Jamie considered his words, wondering at what was left unspoken.
“Can you describe what happened that night?”
Mascuria steepled his hands, as if about to begin a sermon.
“The dinner started late at 7.25 and the speakers went on too long, as usual. People wolfed down their starter, the main course was slower and then the mingling began. The dessert course was served on platters around the room to enable people to dance. Jenna was one of the first on the dance floor when the band started at around nine. Esther said she had a migraine and left the event soon after that, I think.” Jamie noticed the familiarity with which he spoke of the Nevilles. “Mimi wasn’t feeling so well, I think she’d drunk quite a lot by that stage, so we sat at the table for a while. Christopher – Lord Neville – was engaged in conversation with the Dean about money. Not a surprise, the man is constantly hounded for funding.”
Jamie caught a flicker of something in his eyes, but she wasn’t sure what.
“And about what time did you leave?”
“We stepped out at around 10pm. I took Mimi for a walk around the square, I thought some fresh air might help her.”
“And did it?” Jamie asked, well aware of what a walk around a square late at night after too much alcohol usually meant.
“Yes, we re-entered the party at around 11pm, and I saw Christopher there. But I didn’t see Jenna again.”
“That’s a long walk,” Jamie noted. “The square isn’t that large.”
Mascuria paused, his eyes unreadable. “We sat in the park for a while, talking. I gave her my jacket to wear as she was cold.”
Jamie changed tack. “Do you know of anyone who would have wanted to hurt Jenna?”
Mascuria looked towards his glass-walled garden and his voice was wistful. “She was fiercely intelligent as well as determined. I believe she may have made enemies through the causes she was pursuing.”
“Anything more specific?”
Mascuria turned. “To be honest, Detective, as part of her investigation she was going after the Royal College itself, focusing on the rights of the bodies that they have dissected over generations and trying to get recompense for the families, for victims of crimes against the body. She had probably made enemies of most of the people in that room, because she threatened their world.”
Jamie sensed something more behind his words but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. She only knew that this man made her skin crawl, and looking at his thin white hands, she could only imagine what horrors he had dissected with them. Her years in the police had taught her that gut feel didn’t necessarily mean the person was guilty of the crime being investigated, but it sure as hell meant something else was wrong.