Read the previous chapter, Chapter 5, here first.
Chapter 6 of Desecration, London Psychic #1. Click here for buy links to the full book.
The offices of Leighton Bowen Winstone-Smyth were situated in the prestigious row of law firms on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, just across the square from the Hunterian Museum. How convenient, Jamie thought, as she rang the bell on the imposing front door. Missinghall had returned to base to check out Day-Conti’s alibi, so she had returned alone to question Jenna’s employer and, possibly, her lover. The door was opened by an office junior, dressed in a grey suit that was just on the right side of being too small.
“I’m here to see Michael Bowen,” Jamie said, flashing her badge and as she did so, a door opened further inside and a voice called out.
“Let the Detective in, please, Michelle.”
A man stepped into the hallway as Jamie entered, her eyes adjusting to the changing light.
“Michael Bowen,” he said, holding out his hand. “Come in, Detective. How can I help you?”
Jamie shook his hand firmly. Bowen was around six foot three, every inch of him perfectly turned out. His black skin demonstrated Afro-Caribbean roots but his cultured voice and the finely cut, designer suit betrayed his current allegiance to the City. Serious brown eyes showed curiosity at her presence but he was clearly used to dealing with the police and he displayed no trace of anxiety about being questioned.
“I’m here about Jenna Neville,” Jamie said, looking around his private office at the ubiquitous bookshelves full of leather bound volumes. Even though most legal research was done online these days, places like this couldn’t quite let go of the old traditions.
“Jenna?” Bowen replied, confused. “Is she alright? I’d assumed you were here about one of our open cases.” He sat down, indicating a chair on the other side of the desk. Jamie sat and Bowen leant forward, placing his hands on the desk. Jamie saw the golden glint of his wedding ring, stark against his perfect dark skin and buffed nails.
“Jenna was found dead this morning, sir.”
Bowen froze, one hand lifting towards his mouth and, as he turned away slightly, his dark eyes shifted from Jamie to one of the bookcases.
“My God, how?”
“I can tell you that she was murdered, but we’re still in the initial stages of the investigation, which is why I’m here to talk to you.”
“Of course, whatever I can do.” His voice trailed off, and Jamie noticed his eyes flicking again to the bookcase. She followed his line of sight to where a few volumes looked scuffed and more worn than the others.
“May I ask about your relationship with Jenna, Mr Bowen?”
He nodded. “Of course, she was a brilliant young lawyer, perceptive, original. She was doing a private research project into the legality of using bodies and body parts in research, as well as art. She had quite the passion for it, as well as a keen legal mind.”
Jamie nodded. “And what about your – more personal – relationship?”
Bowen looked at her sharply and Jamie could see that he wouldn’t lie about this minor truth, suspecting he had bigger secrets to hide.
“Yes, we had an affair,” he replied, meeting Jamie’s eyes with no trace of embarrassment. “It wasn’t long, and we finished it, by mutual agreement I would add, about three weeks ago. I was happy for it to continue in an ad hoc manner as it was mutually pleasurable, but Jenna moved on pretty fast.” Bowen was twisting his wedding ring as he spoke. Jamie looked pointedly at it and he noticed her glance. “We all have our secrets, Detective, and I’m sure you have yours.”
Bowen’s brown eyes were piercing now, and Jamie caught a glimpse of the man he could clearly be in the courtroom, a formidable opponent. She could also see why Jenna would be attracted to such a man. There was a current of danger under the silk cravat, a tension of strength and sensuality under his refined speech. Perks of the job indeed, she thought.
“Did you know she was pregnant?” Jamie asked.
“No,” he said slowly, and Jamie thought there was a hint of disappointment in his voice. “We always used protection so I know it wasn’t mine. I may play the field, but I’m not so stupid as to have some bastard child when my marriage is so important to my professional life.”
Jamie pitied his wife in that moment, but his steely ambition was also impressive in its single-mindedness.
“Do you know whose it might have been?” Jamie asked.
Bowen shrugged. “Maybe that so-called artist boyfriend of hers. Did you know she was investigating him secretly, trying to find out about his supply of bodies? She was obsessed by it, and she suspected something much bigger than what he was involved in.” He hesitated. “Look, I think she was onto something because I received a threat in the mail yesterday.”
“Why haven’t you shown it to the police?”
“In the nature of our work, threats are regular occurrences and of course I know our legal rights. We have private security in the building and you know as well as I do that the police are unable to act on anonymous threats alone. But this letter was unusual.”
“May I see it?” Jamie asked, unsurprised when Bowen walked to the bookshelf, pulling the worn books away to reveal a safe. With his back protecting the code, he opened the safe and removed a letter.
Jamie pulled on sterile gloves from her bag and took the envelope. The address label had been printed and stuck on and the postmark was from the Aldwych, just round the corner from the offices where they stood now. She tugged out a piece of paper from within the envelope. It was a picture from the Hunterian Museum, one of the teaching models, a torso with limbs sawn off strikingly similar to the artwork that Rowan Day-Conti had shown her. At the top was printed ‘Memento Mori.’
“Remember you will die,” whispered Jamie. Underneath was a short typed message. Forget the Lyceum.
“What’s the Lyceum?” Jamie asked, aware that she had seen the very word in Jenna’s diary for this coming weekend.
Bowen shook his head. “I don’t know. The word means school in Latin but I’ve never heard of it used in this way before, more like the description of a place or a group of people.” He paced across the office with agitation. “Look, Jenna was doing this whole thing on the side as a research project. She said it would bring us amazing press and some lucrative work if it paid off. She was well connected through her family, she was brilliant and I trusted her. She also continued to deliver all her other work to the highest standard, so I didn’t meddle. But when this arrived yesterday, I was going to ask her about the Lyceum.”
Jamie shook her head. “Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen now. Could I see her desk?”
“Of course. This way.”
Bowen led Jamie through a warren of offices that stretched surprisingly far back from the street. There was a focused atmosphere of tension and pressure, but perhaps Jenna had thrived on it. It certainly felt like the lifeblood of Michael Bowen’s world.
“This was where she worked,” Bowen said, indicating a slim desk by a window that looked out to a small interior courtyard. “I’ll need to ask the tech team to get access to her computer but you’re welcome to look at anything she has here in the meantime.” He looked at his watch. “I need to get back to my own work, Detective, but please, dial 113 on the phone there if you need anything else from me.”
Jamie nodded and he walked briskly away, his expensive shoes echoing on the parquet floor breaking the hush of the legal team working around them. She turned to the desk, which was tidy and neatly organized. She texted Missinghall to send over a tech to work with the legal firm’s IT team to pull Jenna’s data, but somehow Jamie thought that they wouldn’t find much on her official drives. If the investigation was something that Jenna was threatened over, then it was likely she would have kept her research material somewhere safe. The question was where?
Jamie searched the desk drawers. She pulled one open to find a stack of printed material, photocopies of newspaper reports and articles. Sitting back in the ergonomically designed office chair to sort through them, she flicked the pages to check the headlines. The assortment related to multiple cases but Jamie couldn’t see any common thread and nothing she could tie to Jenna’s death. Then towards the end of the pack she found a sheaf of articles about grave robbery, how there was evidence of recent practice with bodies stolen from funeral homes before cremation as well as dug up from graves. Jamie pulled the piece out to read in more detail, fascinated to learn that body snatching wasn’t only relegated to the past.
One article attributed the rise in grave robbery to the demand for metals that could be extracted from the bodies and sold. In an increasingly tough financial environment, people were finding easy pickings from robbing the dead. Another headline screamed cult hysteria as bones were removed for rituals and rites in communities honoring such practices. There were marks on two more articles about newly buried bodies stolen the night before their burial. Both individuals had suffered from genetic diseases that resulted in physical deformity. A yellow letter L ending in a question mark was written in highlighter at the top of these pages.
Turning the papers further, Jamie came to an article on necrophilia, only made illegal in the UK in 2003 and still legal in some states of America. Her eyes widened as she read of the erotic use of corpses and found herself shaking her head with resignation at the depths of depravity to which humanity sometimes sank. She knew that Jenna was undertaking a specific study on the legal rights relating to corpses and body parts. Were these practices also related to the mysterious Lyceum?
She took some pictures of the articles and continued searching the desk, but there was nothing personal and no more evidence of Jenna’s investigation. She’d have to wait for the results of the tech team. Jamie rang through to Bowen and told him to expect them later that day. He thanked her, his voice courteous but she sensed that he had already moved on from the tragedy of Jenna’s death, his mind elsewhere.
Leaving the building, Jamie stood by the park looking across Lincoln’s Inn Fields back towards the Hunterian Museum, hunching her back against the freezing wind. Her mind was trying to capture the tendrils of suspicion that encircled this case, but in these pockets of calm, she could only think about Polly and what time she might make it back to see her. She lit a cigarette and inhaled the first, perfect drag.
“You really should give it up, Jamie.”
Jamie turned to see Max Nester, one of the few men from work who could wring a smile from her serious demeanor. He ignored the fact that she was a woman and treated her like a blokey mate, albeit a prickly one, and she appreciated that. Max worked on the art theft and cultural crime that happened in the capital, a huge workload, since stealing specific artworks for collectors was a regular occurrence.
“Hey Max, are you on something local?”
“I was nearby and heard you’d been assigned to this murder case.” He paused. “How’s Polly?”
Jamie had told Max about Polly’s illness a while back and he was one of the few who knew how sick she really was. She knew his concern was that of a real friend, but she needed to keep the separation between her worlds intact. Otherwise she would just break down and bawl her eyes out here on the street.
“Not good,” she said, her voice constricted. “Best distract me, rather than talk about it.”
“Sure thing. I did hear something about an ivory figurine being found and thought I’d drop by to see if I could help with identification.”
Jamie smiled, taking another drag, the smoke curling up into the dying day. “I get it, you want in on the interesting artifact but not the dirty work of the murder.”
Max nodded. “You know me so well, but I’ve heard it may have been stolen from an as yet unknown collection so I think there’s some legitimate overlap.”
“I’d appreciate any help on it, actually. I’m not sure how it fits into the murder, but I want to understand whether Jenna was carrying it that night and why, or whether it was left at the scene by the murderer. It could be important, but I don’t know how we’re going to pursue that angle.”
Max took the cigarette from her hand and took a drag himself, an intimate gesture that Jamie wouldn’t have allowed from anyone else. But Max was only interested in slim, younger men, so she knew his attentions were only ever out of friendship. He passed it back again in smoker’s camaraderie, his face twisting into a grimace at the minty aftertaste.
“Can’t you smoke something decent?” He pulled a slip of paper from his pocket. “If you’ve got nothing else, this guy might be able to help. Blake Daniel, at the British Museum. Here’s his number, but I know he’s there today if you want to drop by. He’s a specialist in religious relics and figurines so I think this would be right down his alley.” He paused, then grinned. “Bit of a looker, too.”
Jamie smiled and took the paper. “Thanks, that’s a great help.” She noticed Max bite his lip. “So what aren’t you telling me?”
Max sighed. “To be honest, Jamie, you’ll probably think this is crazy. But he has certain – abilities – that make him unusual.”
Jamie raised her eyebrows. “Sounds even more interesting. Do tell.”
“He reads objects,” Max said, watching for her reaction. “Some call it psychometry, or psychic reading. Blake calls it his curse and he truly is a reluctant psychic, not someone who broadcasts his skills.”
Jamie considered what Max had said and weighed it against her bullshit detector. She trusted Max, even though his techniques could sometimes be a little unorthodox, and although skeptical, she had seen enough of the supernatural to not reject what he was saying outright.
“So how do you know him?” Jamie finished the cigarette and put the butt in her tin, slipping it back into her bag.
“I met him during a case at St Paul’s Cathedral over a missing relic,” Max said, thrusting his hands in his pockets as he jogged up and down on the spot in the freezing wind. “Blake was called in as an expert witness, but he knew things that I knew he shouldn’t. I took him for a drink afterwards and he became quite chatty after a few tequilas. Talking of drinks, you coming out tonight? Streeter’s leaving.”
Jamie turned to go and mounted her bike.
“You know I never drink with you guys, and besides Streeter’s going off to do something in business right? Which means in about three months, he’ll discover he’s not happy. He’ll miss the justice side, the making a difference …”
“The crappy pay, the long nights, the lack of weekends.”
Jamie smiled. “But we love it, Max, you know we do.” She pulled on her helmet. “I’ll check out Blake Daniel. Thanks for the tip.”
As she pulled away, she saw him raise a hand in a wave. For a moment, she regretted not going out for drinks over the years he had been asking, but at least he continued to try and persuade her. Everyone else had stopped and Missinghall hadn’t even tried, knowing her reputation for staying aloof. But her nights belonged to Polly, and sometimes to tango. There was no room for anything else.