Read the previous chapter, Chapter 3, here first.
Chapter 4 of Desecration, London Psychic #1. Click here for buy links to the full book.
Leaving Missinghall to return and process what they had so far, Jamie rode slowly through the streets of Rotherhithe towards the City Farm, where Jenna Neville had shared a flat. It was a strange suburb, a bleak, cornered world with houses crowded together, densely populated but seemingly empty. The area had missed out on the recent revival of the East End of London. Whereas the north side of the Thames had caught the imagination of the public and was now culture and party-central, this little corner of South London was concrete and unwelcoming.
Jamie parked the bike and walked to the end of Vaughn Street, looking out across the river towards Canary Wharf, the heart of London’s modern financial district, and famed for obscenities of wealth. Some people lived in this area for the ease of commuting by ferry across the water but others, perhaps like Jenna, were here to protest against the high-rises and cocktail bars, six-figure bonuses and hedonism that thrived on the bank opposite. For a second, Jamie thought of Polly’s impossible future, what she could have achieved in this city of potential. Feeling tears well, she sighed and pushed the thoughts away. She couldn’t let her emotions leak into this investigation.
Turning back, Jamie walked down to number 15, knocking on the door of the little terraced house, unremarkable in a sea of similar properties. The door opened and Jamie showed her warrant card.
Elsa McConnell was petite with a tousled head of ginger curls that she wore tied up with a lavender checked headband. Her face was clean of makeup, a few freckles were scattered across her nose and cheeks, and her blue eyes were red and raw.
“Yes, Detective. The police said you would be coming over … Please come in, and call me Elsa. Excuse me, I’m just so …”
She broke off to blow her nose as tears started to flow again. Jamie contrasted her genuine emotion with the strange stunted response of Jenna’s parents.
“I know this is hard for you, Elsa, but I wanted to ask you some questions and have a look at Jenna’s room, if that’s OK.”
Elsa nodded, stepping back into the hallway and turning towards the small kitchen. As Jamie followed her in, she caught sight of the back of her neck, crosshatched in a complicated geometric tattoo that wound beneath her clothes.
The flat was brightly lit, with all of the main lights and side-lamps turned on, almost blinding with intensity.
“I can’t stand the shadows right now,” Elsa whispered almost apologetically.
Jamie nodded, her eyes scanning the place for indications of Jenna’s life. There were People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals posters on the walls and eclectic Indian throws over the furniture. The young women were clearly not into mass-produced goods, for the apartment was furnished with artisan products, all recycled and hand made.
“So, how did you and Jenna meet?” Jamie asked, while Elsa put the kettle on and pulled out organic peppermint tea from a cupboard.
“I’ve worked at the Surrey Docks City Farm for four years now, and about 18 months ago, Jenna started working there as a volunteer some weekends. She’s a lawyer – I mean, she was a lawyer.” Elsa wiped her eyes, sniffing. “She was so passionate about animal rights, as well as human rights. She wanted to learn more about the way animals could live within a city, and how the farm could benefit the community.”
“And when did you move into together?”
“Pretty soon after we met. Before that she’d been living at her parent’s London home.” Elsa’s voice became a sneer and Jamie sensed the undercurrent of resentment. “You must know of the Nevilles’ place in Chelsea. But Jenna had become increasingly angry about the family business and just couldn’t live under the same roof as her parents any longer.”
Elsa passed Jamie a mug of steaming herbal tea. Jamie took it, then placed it back down on the counter top as she pulled out her notebook.
“Did she tell you any specific details of her work?”
“I know she was looking into the treatment of experimental subjects and tissue usage at the Neville labs.” Elsa paused, looking a little guilty. “To be honest, I didn’t pay too much attention to the detail. I’m not as – technical – as Jenna, so much of what she told me went over my head.”
Jamie nodded. “Did she have a partner?”
A brief flash of anger passed over Elsa’s face before she recomposed it into that of the grieving friend. Jamie noted that with interest.
“Rowan Day-Conti,” Elsa said. “I guess he’s her boyfriend right now. He was actually a friend of mine from way back, we were at Uni together, but he and Jenna have been seeing each other for almost a year now. They’re a funny couple though, since he’s so mod and she is – was – pretty vanilla.” Jamie raised an eyebrow, her look clearly confused as Elsa continued. “You’ll know what I mean when you meet Rowan. He indulges in body modification and believes in the use of the body for expression and pleasure. He says it’s the ultimate canvas for art. Jenna, on the other hand, was pretty squeamish, despite the detailed investigations she had going into animal experimentation. I know he wanted her to start experimenting more but she wasn’t keen. In fact, they had a huge argument only a few nights ago, lots of screaming and banging doors.”
Jamie noted that down. “I’ll be visiting Mr Day-Conti later today. Is it OK if I see Jenna’s room?”
“Of course,” Elsa nodded. “I haven’t been in there … I was waiting for her mother actually. I thought she might come for Jenna’s stuff.”
“Were they close, Jenna and her mother?”
Elsa shook her head.
“Not at all. But I thought she’d come since the bitch would want to make sure there was nothing left of the Jenna she disapproved of. You know they do animal experiments at the Nevilles’ lab, right?”
“I’d heard something about it,” Jamie replied and added a visit to the lab to her list.
Elsa pointed to the stairwell. “Her room’s the one on the right at the top of the stairs. I’ll let you go up alone if that’s OK. Here, take your tea, it’s soothing.”
Jamie took the pungent brew, and carried it carefully up the stairs. There was a bathroom directly at the top and then two rooms, one to the right and one to the left in a compact, modern design. Jamie ducked into the bathroom and poured most of the tea away, hating the hippy stuff. Give me black coffee any day, she thought, especially on days like these.
Going back out to the hallway, she opened the plain wooden door into Jenna’s room, immediately noting the stark poverty of the place, despite the girl’s wealthy background. Jenna evidently hadn’t brought much with her, and clearly hadn’t purchased much since moving in. There was a double futon with a plain white duvet and pillow, neatly made, and a white lampshade on the floor next to the bed. The dominant piece of furniture was an old wooden desk, but not the type of elegant antique you’d expect to find in the bedroom of an heiress. It looked like it had been discarded from a school and left, unwanted, at the back of a charity shop. On it, Jenna’s diary and some papers were scattered haphazardly, in contrast to the neatness of the room.
Jamie put on her sterile gloves and opened the diary. It was a slender Filofax, nothing flash, something you could buy in any high street store. She flicked through the pages, but nothing immediately stood out. In fact, it contained very little for a woman who Jamie would have expected to be far more socially active. Perhaps she kept another diary at work or details were on her smart phone, which Missinghall would be processing along with the other evidence. Jamie checked the time and her stomach rumbled on cue. He should be getting back to her with something shortly.
She continued checking the papers, taking some pictures with her smart phone of the pages directly before and after the date of death. The only thing that looked strangely out of place was the word ‘Lyceum’ occurring this Saturday, in just a few days’ time, at 11pm. Jamie wrote it down for follow-up, for there were several Lyceum theaters in London, and the word meant school in Latin, but 11pm was late for either of those possibilities.
Moving the diary, Jamie looked at the papers underneath, finding a sheaf of large artistic photos, beautiful but highly disturbing. A woman’s naked torso was displayed in alabaster white, her breasts perfectly shaped, but under the right breast the body had been dissected away to show the internal organs. It was unclear whether the body was an artwork or in fact a real dissection. Jamie shuffled through the pictures and it became clear that Jenna was the model for the work. There was a photo of her lying naked on the futon here in this room, her arms provocatively held above her head. She was beautiful, her body perfectly formed and her smile was that of a lover, her eyes inviting. The digital date in the corner of the shot was only a few months ago, so perhaps the photo had been taken by her boyfriend, Rowan Day-Conti. Jamie snapped a photo of the image and wondered how Jenna had felt about artwork that had been modeled on her body, then turned into a partially anatomized torso instead of the live, warm flesh of a beloved. Was this the source of the couple’s recent argument?
Turning back to the room, Jamie went over to the freestanding clothes rack which served as a wardrobe, covered with an opaque plastic sheet to keep the dust off. She unzipped the front and pulled it back to reveal a small selection of clothes. Here was evidence of the heiress who couldn’t quite leave it all behind, for there were several designer dresses and jackets in gorgeous fabrics. Jamie felt a tiny pang of longing for dresses like these, that she could dance in like a goddess, but she could never afford them on a police salary.
There was a shopping bag at the bottom of the makeshift wardrobe. Jamie opened it and pulled out a shimmering blue satin sheath dress. It was gorgeous, barely there and yet would hang like a gossamer dream on a body like Jenna’s. The price tag was still on it. £2400. Clearly Jenna was still taking an allowance from her parents, Jamie thought, while at the same time becoming an activist against their company. For where else would this kind of money come from?
Next to the bed was a shoebox, simple, plain white. Jamie knelt down to open it. Inside were folic acid supplements, most often taken by women planning on being pregnant or in the early stages of pregnancy. The lab results were still outstanding but this might explain why Jenna’s uterus had been removed, Jamie thought. So who was the father? Day-Conti, or someone else? Jamie looked around the room again. Why was the place so empty? Did Jenna really reject everything in favor of this simple life, or was there somewhere else where she kept her personal items? This didn’t look like the room of a girl who had lived here for eighteen months, a professional lawyer, an activist, the heiress to a substantial fortune.
Jamie left the room, stopping on the stairs to look down into the living area. Elsa was curled up in a big chair, staring out of the window, her eyes fixed on something outside, her face a picture of Pre-Raphaelite beauty. She looked up as Jamie came down, and there was a hint of flirtation in her eyes, a suggestion of an invitation.
“Did you know Jenna was pregnant?” Jamie asked Elsa, watching for surprise. There was none.
“I wondered, to be honest, because she’d stopped drinking last month. Said she was over the drunken nights, but then she had actually been physically sick as well. Morning sickness, I guess. But she wouldn’t talk about it. I did ask her, Detective, but we lived quite separate lives most of the time.”
Jamie nodded slowly. “Was she seeing anyone else apart from Day-Conti?”
Elsa looked up, her eyes piercing, showing a level of hurt that was unexpected in a mere flatmate.
“Since we’re being honest here, I think she was banging her boss at work, you know, that law firm. Perhaps you should ask him about it.”
Jamie came down the stairs completely and knelt by Elsa’s chair, intimately close, wanting to elicit her more personal thoughts.
“You loved Jenna, and that hurt you. Am I right?”
Tears welled up in Elsa’s eyes, spilling over to run down her cheeks. She nodded.
“When she first moved in here, there was chemistry between us. I know she was bisexual, I’ve watched her with women at the clubs, and yes, I guess I was dazzled by her perfection. But she was also principled – about the things that matter.” She indicated the PETA poster behind her. “We campaigned together, we worked on the farm together, and then she chose Rowan and I would have to listen to them fucking, when it should have been me with her.” Her eyes narrowed. “She deserved more than that bastard. All he was interested in was her body, corrupting that perfection into some kind of perverted art. That’s all he cares about.” She looked down into Jamie’s eyes. “You’re going to him next, aren’t you? Because he was always violent. It turns him on.”
Jamie saw the shadows in her eyes. “Did you have a relationship with Day-Conti too?”
Elsa paused, then shrugged.
“Sure, at Uni, years ago but it was a web of intrigue back then and we all fucked each other. It didn’t mean much, but he was darker psychologically than the others, he took everything to an extreme. That’s when we all started playing with body mod and I got this tattoo.” Her hand drifted to the back of her neck. “But Rowan took it much further because he has such a high tolerance for pain and expects others to enjoy it too. You’ll know what I mean when you meet him.”
Jamie stood, and handed Elsa her card.
“Thank you for your time, and please will you let me know if you think of anything else? That’s my mobile number. Call me anytime, really, I want to find who did this to Jenna.”
Elsa took the card and brushed Jamie’s fingers gently.
“And you know where to find me, Detective, anytime.”