Read the previous chapter, Chapter 2, here first.
Chapter 3 of Desecration, London Psychic #1. Click here for buy links to the full book.
The streets of Chelsea were always busy but Jamie wove through the traffic with ease on her bike, while Missinghall followed in the squad car, eventually catching her up outside the Neville’s residence where she jumped in beside him. The exclusive property had security cameras and the gates swung open as the police car drove up. Jenna’s parents had been notified of her death earlier that morning, so they were expected.
“You’re quiet today, Jamie,” Missinghall said, finishing off a banana. The man never seemed to stop eating. “Do you want me to take the lead on this?”
Jamie stared out at the ornate garden as they drove slowly up the drive. The grounds were like a miniature Versailles, beautiful even in the chill of early winter, precisely ordered with not a blade of grass or stem out of place. Jamie wondered if her life would ever be this ordered. Right now, she felt it disintegrating around her, but she wouldn’t share that with Missinghall, preferring to keep her distance with work colleagues.
“Sure,” she said. “Why don’t you talk to them first and I’ll hang back a little. The father may respond better to you anyway.”
“Isn’t he some kind of minor aristocrat?” Missinghall asked.
Jamie nodded. “According to the case file, the family is distantly related to Francis Galton, the eugenicist, and he was in turn related to the Darwins, so they have quite the scientific background. Their pedigree plays a prominent role in the marketing for Neville Pharmaceuticals. Lady Esther Neville is the brilliant scientist and Lord Christopher is well connected amongst the aristocracy, playing high stakes business with the manners of a perfect English gentleman.”
“I’m not sure how well he’ll like me then,” Missinghall said, emphasizing his rough East London accent.
“But at least you’re a man,” replied Jamie, smiling a little. “He’s apparently quite the chauvinist, with the media citing his preference for much younger women when out on the town.”
“Marriage issues?” Missinghall said.
“They’ve been married since they were at Oxford University together,” Jamie said, glancing through the notes on her smart phone that had been assembled by the murder inquiry office manager. “After thirty years of marriage, perhaps that kind of behavior is normal.”
“Remind me not to ask you for relationship advice,” Missinghall said. “I’m very happy with my missus.”
Jamie remained silent at his comment, ignoring the unspoken questions about her personal life. Her own failed marriage and her parents’ misery were the only markers she had against which to measure marital bliss.
Missinghall parked in front of the main doors, which were opened by an immaculately dressed butler before they stepped out of the car. Missinghall turned to Jamie, raising an eyebrow at the unexpected service.
“Good morning, Officers,” the butler said as they presented their warrant cards. “Lord and Lady Neville are waiting in the library. Please come through.”
The butler held the door wide and Jamie stepped first into the hallway. It was sparsely furnished with a few tasteful pieces, but the walls were dominated by pictures, many black and white or faded sepia. Jamie leaned close as they were led through and she caught sight of famous faces. These were ancestors of the Nevilles in classic poses, designed to emphasize the visitor’s inherent inferiority in this house of distinction. There were also pictures of Christopher Neville with senior political figures, CEOs and powerful media moguls. Jamie even caught sight of one with her superior officer, Dale Cameron, accepting some award, in the days before he had risen to the rank of Superintendent. Christopher Neville was indeed well connected, she thought, following the butler further inside.
The library was straight out of a Merchant Ivory film, with tall bookcases of ebony and exotic hardwood filled with leather bound first edition books, some behind locked glass so that they couldn’t even be read. It was another way to impress and Jamie felt its effect, the delineations of social class evident. She thought of her own rented rooms, cluttered with books for sure, but nothing on this scale.
Lord Christopher Neville was standing by the ornate marble fireplace, his hand resting on the back of his wife’s chair. He wore a three piece suit in English tweed, the mossy color palette blending into the library backdrop, like the cover of a fox-hunting magazine. Lady Esther Neville sat like an angular statue in a cream trouser suit, staring out of the window into the distance, her blonde hair scraped back into a tight chignon. She didn’t even turn her head as they entered. Jamie had the peculiar sense that the pair had arranged themselves for some effect. She noticed the tension in Lady Neville’s body, her senses attuned as a dancer to how people hold themselves. It was as if the woman was arching away from her husband’s hand, as if his very presence repelled her. Jamie knew that the death of a child took many marriages to breaking point, but this all seemed staged, as if this is how a bereaved family was meant to look. She wondered what lay beneath the careful veneer.
“Detectives, what can we do for you?” Lord Neville said, his voice cordial with an undertone of impatience. He was bordering on corpulent, barely hiding the evidence of good living with impeccable tailoring and his voice was the epitome of aristocracy, honed by years of conversation in the upper echelons of power. His light grey eyes were clear and piercing, and Jamie noticed that they lingered a little too long on her own slight figure.
“We’re so sorry for your loss, Lord and Lady Neville,” Missinghall said, with a formal tone. “But we need to ask some questions about Jenna.”
Lord Neville nodded. “Of course, we’ll do everything we can to help you. Jenna was our precious angel.”
Lady Neville’s hand flew to her mouth at his words, and a stricken look passed over her face before her mask returned as her husband’s hand moved to rest on her shoulder. Esther Neville was peaky, sallow-skinned and pale, as if she spent her days away from the sun. Jamie supposed that she did exactly that, shut deep in her lab generating fortunes for the company while her husband was out enjoying its profits. It looked to Jamie as if she would have got up and run from the room, but he imperceptibly held her down. Jamie felt a pang of pity for the woman touching the edges of her compartmentalized grief about Polly. But she couldn’t let her preconceptions of motherhood cloud the investigation and, at this point, everyone was a suspect.
“We understand that you were both at the gala dinner with Jenna last night?” Missinghall said.
Lord Neville nodded. “The event was to raise money for the Royal College of Surgeons and we already fund a number of scholarships there. We’re interested in supporting the education of a new generation as well as saving the lives of millions through our genetic and drug research.”
Jamie thought he was about to launch into some kind of marketing pitch about the company so she jumped in.
“What time did you both leave?” she asked, pulling out her notebook.
“We’ve been through this already in the statement,” Lord Neville said, a note of annoyance in his voice. “But Esther felt unwell and left around 9.30 and I am sure I left around 11.”
Jamie thought she saw a spark in Esther’s eyes at that, but her face remained downcast.
“And how was Jenna when you left?”
Lord Neville frowned. “I didn’t see her before I went. She had left the table earlier in the evening to dance with one of her many beaus.” Jamie noted a tinge of anger in his voice and an emphasis on the word many. She would have to investigate Jenna’s love life carefully. Lord Neville paused. “We had an argument actually, I’m sure others will tell you of it, so I may as well. She’d had too much wine, and she said she had something to tell us, something that would change things. But she has said such things before, and nothing has come of it. I don’t know why my daughter couldn’t just leave the company in peace. She took its money easily enough.” He looked away and his voice softened. “I guess it will be left in peace now.”
Jamie wanted to explore the conflict around Neville Pharmaceuticals further, but she wanted to find out more from other sources first. People lied to themselves most of all. Those lies could hide the truth easily, and this was a family well used to displaying a public persona.
While Missinghall began to ask questions about Jenna’s home life, her studies and the law firm where she worked, Jamie looked around and began to notice how unusual the room was. Lit only by table lamps, it was hard to see into the corners, but it was as if a veneer of respectability lay over more disturbing aspects. Above the fireplace was a large painting, at first glance just a woman holding her breast to feed an infant, posed as a Madonna and Child, seated with folds of light blue fabric around her. On second glance, Jamie noticed that her belly was in fact cut open to reveal her viscera and the baby in her lap was likewise a partially dissected cadaver. Jamie couldn’t help but stare as it seemed to violate all sense of what would be acceptable to display in a public room like this. What made it all the more macabre was a framed photograph near the painting of a young Lady Neville with a baby, presumably Jenna, in her arms, the pose oddly reminiscent of the painting.
“I see you’ve noticed our interest in anatomy,” Lord Neville’s voice cut through Jamie’s contemplation, and she turned.
“I’m sorry for staring,” Jamie said. “But the painting is so unusual.”
Especially given the location and style of the murder, she thought.
“I started collecting memento-mori many years ago,” Lord Neville said, walking over to Jamie and looking up at the painting.
“Tiny sculptures of skeletons and the dead in coffins that people would use to remind themselves of the shortness of life, the inevitability of death. To see a skeleton is to behold your own death and we all need a reminder that the end is inevitable.”
A soft cry broke from Lady Neville’s lips.
“I’m so sorry.” She stood, wiping her eyes. “You’ll have to excuse me. My husband will answer any further questions you have.”
Jamie watched Lady Neville leave and heard her suppress a sob as she walked briskly up the stairs. The woman was clearly distraught, and for good reason, but she would have to find out more about Lady Neville. The interview would have to wait. She turned back to the room as Missinghall continued to ask about Jenna’s life. But Jamie was impatient now and she wanted to get past the preliminaries. For a moment, she let Missinghall continue with his line of questioning and then allowed herself to interrupt.
“Did you agree with Jenna’s career choice, Lord Neville?” Jamie asked. She was aware from the case notes that Jenna had started to specialize in the increasingly complex legal issues around tissue and DNA ownership, animal experimentation and other areas that could directly impact the practices of Neville Pharmaceuticals. There was also some photographic evidence that Jenna had participated in activist marches against the company and others labeled Big Pharma.
Lord Neville frowned and ran his hand through his thick dark hair.
“No, but my daughter was headstrong. She didn’t want to come into the family business and in fact, she seemed determined to break it apart. I know she disagreed with some of the ethics of the company, but the money paid for her education, her prospects.” Jamie could hear the disappointment and anger in his voice. “For some reason, she chose to leave us and live with that awful girl in a terrible part of town, getting into all sorts of trouble. I warned her, you know …”
His voice trailed off.
“And Lady Neville, did she support Jenna’s choices?” Jamie asked.
Lord Neville paused, grasping for the right words. Jamie watched as he wrestled with what to say, finally settling on platitudes.
“Esther works too hard, spends long hours at the lab,” he said softly. “She’s wedded to the company, but she loves Jenna and she only wanted the best for her.”
“Do you have any enemies?” Missinghall asked, changing tack. “Have there been any threats against you or the company, your family?”
Lord Neville walked to the other side of the fireplace and waved his hand dismissively.
“Of course, we get so many threats that we have a full-time staff member who goes through it all and decides which ones to forward onto the police. Not that you lot ever do anything. My legal team has restraining orders on a number of individuals, but in this country, the right to protest runs deep. There are ringleaders, of course, and I’ll get everything forwarded onto you for the investigation. I personally get several death threats a week related to the business, but it’s my life, Detectives, and not something I expected to impact my daughter, especially given her activism. Do you think her murder was related to the protests against the company?”
“The violation of the body didn’t suggest a crime of passion or an unskilled criminal,” Jamie said. “In fact, quite the opposite. We’re looking for someone with surgical knowledge. What about any disgruntled employees, people who have worked in your labs who may hold a grudge?”
“Again, I’ll have the files sent on but the nature of our business attracts a fair share of crazies and psychos. To us, the human body is a treasure trove, an addiction and a fascination. The way my daughter’s body was displayed was not unlike the models I have in my collection, and so I can see it as a warning of course. But of what? I have already left my body to science and it will be cut up the day I die, but for someone to do this to Jenna … It’s unthinkable and I will see that person punished.”
“Of course, Lord Neville,” Missinghall said, a curious deference in his voice. Jamie could see that he felt the class difference keenly. “We’ll be working hard to pursue the leads around the case.”
“Did Jenna still have a room here?” Jamie asked. “Or did she leave any personal items with you?”
Lord Neville shook his head. “No, she was quite determined to prove her independence. Anything she didn’t want to take, she gave to charity. An animal rights charity, can you believe it?”
Jamie pulled out her smart phone to show him the photo of the ivory anatomical Venus found by Jenna’s body.
“Do you recognize this, sir?”
Lord Neville looked at the photo and his eyes narrowed with interest. He hesitated just a fraction too long before handing it back.
“No, but I have similar pieces.”
“It was with Jenna’s body, wrapped in her clothes. We think she might have had it with her that night.”
Lord Neville’s expression was guarded and Jamie saw a flicker of doubt there. Was it guilt or just the devastation of a parent whose child had suffered too much?
“I don’t know why she would have that with her.”
Jamie nodded. “Of course.” She hesitated, looking at the painting of the dissected woman behind him. The similarity to the museum exhibits in the Hunterian was too much of a coincidence to pass over. “May we see your collection? It might help us understand more clearly the artistic value of this piece.”
“Of course, I’ll have Matthews take you through. Is there anything else, or I will see to my wife.”
Jamie shook her head. “Thank you for your time. We may be back with further questions.”
Neville called for Matthews, the butler, who showed them through the library and out into another hallway, then up a staircase to the next floor. He led them into a salon that had been set up as a small museum with glass cabinets and even tiny handwritten labels. It was full of old anatomical teaching devices and artwork around the subjects of death and the human body.
“I’ll leave you here to browse,” Matthews said. “Can I bring you some coffee or tea?”
Jamie shook her head, walking further into the room.
“I’d love a cuppa, thanks,” Missinghall said, then Jamie saw his face fall as he realized that he hadn’t escaped the macabre by leaving the Hunterian. She looked into the nearest case as Missinghall walked around the room, his body arching instinctively away from what he saw.
Jamie found herself next to an anatomical model of a female torso, her face turned into the room. Her perfect eyelashes lay on wax cheeks, one blue eye gazing into the distance. She had perfectly kissable lips and skin like alabaster but one side of her face was deconstructed down to bone and tissue. The jaw was opened up to display tongue and teeth, the veins in the neck exposed, and her internal organs opened to the air. The model was more disturbing because the limbs had been cut off, legs sawn through so the bones protruded through the middle of steak-like fleshy rings. Between the stumps, a vagina complete with pubic hair was expertly modeled. Like some kind of sex doll for necrophiliacs, Jamie thought, wondering where the line between teaching and pornography lay. Anatomical Venus indeed. She found herself wanting to hide the woman from view. This room was a testament to the development of science, but at the expense of human dignity.
“What do you think of all this?” Missinghall asked, his voice tinged with disgust. “I just don’t get why people would want to look at this stuff?”
Jamie stared at the case with the dissected woman. Jenna had clearly inhabited a world where this was considered normal, where the human body was part of study and work. Jamie was sure that this had played a part in her death.