Author’s Note: Women police officers during this time in Britain had the title of Women Police Constable or Women’s Special Constable. They were not integrated into the main police force until 1973, but were part of the women’s auxiliary police force instead. They also received a lower salary than their male counterparts. This story was first published by Pagan Writers Press in 2013. I’ve included this story in the publication as an extra.
Women’s Police Constable Mavis Hart opened the door to the office. Detective Chief Inspector Barclay flicked a look at her, his gaze falling immediately back to the paper he was reading. “I’ve not time for this, love, and I don’t see a pot of tea there.”
She bit her lip and the thought of walking straight back out the door crossed her mind. She knew exactly what he was thinking. He was one of the “good old boys”, who thought women should stay regulated to mere secretarial positions. “Sir, I need to speak to you urgently about this.” She held the manila folder in front of her. He did not bother to glance up. She stood at the door and watched him while he continued reading. When it looked as though he had finished the page, he rolled his eyes as he sat back in his leather chair.
“Well, come over and take a seat then.” He motioned to the chair in front of his desk.
“Thank you, sir,” She took the seat and couldn’t help but notice it was a couple of inches lower than his, forcing her to look up at him.
“What is this, another road safety campaign for the schools?”
“It’s to do with the murder of Elaine Smith.” She pushed the folder across the table. He made no attempt to pick it up.
“Right. Got to you, has it, love? Grisly….”
“No, I was the WPC who investigated the burglary at her home. I’ve done some investigation and there have been two other women who’ve been murdered under the same circumstances.”
He let out a sigh and picked up the file, flipping through it briefly, before he paused on the last page and read it carefully. He closed it and stared at her for what felt like minutes, his expression unreadable.
“I know your type. Overzealous, desperate to make a name for yourself. That’s a good man you’re trying to pin this on. There’s no evidence, just the desperate ramblings of a madwoman.”
“With all due respect, there are far too many similarities for it to be a coincidence and each of the women has a link to Arthur McLain.” Her heart sank as a smile twitched at his thin lips. He shook his head and reached for his cigar box. She wanted to smack it from his gangly hand.
“Look, it’s all right there.” She half rose from the chair, so she was now in his eye-line and tapped the black-and-white photograph of Elaine Smith. “Please, if you’ll only just…”
“Just get out, or you ‘Il be the person whose name is dragged through the mud.”
* * *
The conversation with Barclay replayed over and over again in her mind as Mavis perched on the hood of a Ford Zephyr—Jack Craven’s Zephyr. She’d been waiting for him in the station car park for twenty minutes already. She’d double-checked the shift rotas and Detective Sergeant Jack Craven was due off ten minutes ago.
It was a mild evening for a night in December, but the sharp frost still nicked at her face and ears. Her fur coat kept out most of the wind, but her fingers had gone numb, the case files clutched in their icy grip. She prayed he would be the one to listen to her. She would make him listen.
“You’ve got the wrong car, love.”
She jumped off the bonnet, her beaded shoulder bag and the case files slipping from her fingers, onto the ground.
Jack Craven walked around the car as he retrieved a packet of Player’s Number Six from his tweed blazer. He placed the cigarette to his lips and lit it.
“I was waiting for you, actually.” She scooped her things back up, her hands shaking as she held the files close to her chest. If he said no, then…,
His blue eyes left hers, his gaze focusing on the folder, and he shook his head.
“Listen, love, just go inside and speak to the desk sergeant. What is it? Your husband done a bunk or something?” He slotted his key into the door.
She let out a laugh. “I’m a policewoman. Mavis Hart. WPC Hart?”
He took a drag on his cigarette and said nothing. He got into the car and she stepped forward, grasping the top of the door before he could shut it. He wasn’t going anywhere until he listened.
“We’ve spoken a couple of times in the canteen and I’ve seen you around at the pub on a Friday night.”
Jack nodded and the faint hint of a smile appeared on his lips. He recognized her at least.
“Aye. I remember now. I just didn’t expect you to be sitting on my bumper, sweetheart.”
She held out the folder. “Look. If I’m right about what I have here, then another woman is going to be murdered tomorrow.”
He blew smoke into the air. Mavis took in a deep breath of the sweet, tarry smoke. It soothed her. Damn, I could use a fag. He must have known what she was thinking because he offered one to her, but she shook her head.
“Murdered? You’re serious?”
She nodded. “Please, Jack. I just need you to look at what I have. No one else has. DCI Barclay laughed me out the office today, called me a madwoman, but I know I’m right about this. What have you got to lose? If Barclay finds out what I’ve been doing, I’ll be out on my ear. I wouldn’t put my career on the line like this for nothing.”
“You really think someone is going to be murdered?”
“Yes, yes, I do.” Her nails dug into her palm and she held her breath, waiting for his answer.
“How are you getting home?”
“The number twenty-one.”
He motioned to the passenger side. “I have a date down the boozer. This better be bloody worth it.”
* * *
“Bit of a Dave Clark fan, eh?” Jack Craven stood in the living room of the bungalow she rented. Mavis listened to him from the kitchen, where she was putting the kettle on. She didn’t have any milk and she hoped he wouldn’t ask. It was the first time anyone had been into her home and about two weeks since she’d done any shopping.
“Only a little,” Mavis replied as she returned to the main room with two mugs of black coffee. He was busy nipping through her record collection and glanced up as she approached. He seemed to be nodding in approval.
“I think I have every record and I’ve seen them twice too.”
She let out a laugh and set the mugs on the table along with a packet of Simmer’s rice biscuits. “Right then. Shall we get down to business?” She sat down opposite him and opened the folder.
“Not got anything stronger than that?”
“You haven’t tried my coffee yet.” She offered him a somewhat apologetic and sheepish smile.
He shrugged and slipped the records back into their holders. “Right. Get me interested then. You’ve got…” he paused and made a show of looking at his watch, “ten minutes before I’m away to the pub.”
“I think I have a serial killer. Does that pique your interest?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Go on.”
“This was my first case, a petty theft two years ago. Elaine Smith. Here.” She took a sip of her coffee, something to do while she tried to calm her erratic heartbeat. As the warm liquid coated her throat, she tried to read the expression on his face. Was he going to laugh? Mavis took out the first page and handed it to him. “This is the statement that I took from her when I went around to her house after a break-in to dust for prints.” She withdrew a photo. “This here is her washing line. Notice how all of her undergarments have been covered with black ink?”
“Aye.” He stared at the photo. “But that doesn—
“There’s more,” she interjected. “A dress of hers was taken as well as a nightgown, and a month ago she was found dead in a back alley.”
Jack took a long time to reply. “Yes, but that could be that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You don’t know that it has anything to do with that robbery.”
“No, I didn’t, not at first. I checked with other forces for past cases like these and I found two more. 1957 in Berwick, Elizabeth Hart, and in 1962, Dalkeith, Tina Blackworth. All middle-aged, single, reported break-ins at their house, clothes missing, some found stained with ink, and all found dead. No one has put the cases together because he’s smart. Different forces dealt with each and he has left a gap in between each break-in; leaving enough time for everyone to forget.’
Jack didn’t reply, but held out his hand for the folder, which she relinquished. He pored through the pages and pictures. They sat in silence. After giving him enough time to read through them, she told him the rest, that Tina Blackworth had bought a bed out of McLain’s department store in Edinburgh the week before the break-in. Elaine Smith also. That wasn’t a coincidence. It was a pattern. And the facts she presented were not the ravings of a madwoman, but a woman seeking justice for other women.
“You have something here, Mavis, but it’s not enough. No fingerprints were found at any of the scenes.” He closed the folder. “No witnesses either.’
She smacked her hand down on the table. “Jack, please, that’s just common sense, wearing gloves, making sure there were no witnesses.” She grabbed the tile and flicked to the right place, making sure he could see it. “A drop of blood was found at Tina’s home. Type O.” She pinched the bridge of her nose. Maybe Barclay was right.
“Aye, but, Mavis, love, that’s half the population right there.” He shook his head and rubbed a hand through his brown hair. “It’s just not enough.’
“Jack, we have a serial killer here. Take a look at all these women. They could pass for sisters, don’t you think? All the victims are pretty, slim, shoulder-length blond hair, and brown eyes? You say there’s not enough, but I say there’s too much.”
He bit his bottom lip and took out his packet of cigarettes. “You don’t mind if I…?”
He offered one to her and she shook her head. He lit his and took in a deep drag, exhaling the smoke slowly through his nostrils.
And here she dropped the gauntlet. “Don’t you think they look like me, Jack?”
His eyes widened. “You’ve not gone and… He stood and brushed past her, making a quick jog down the hall. Her bedroom door was open. In the centre of the room stood a knotted pine double-bed and dresser. The odour of fresh furniture permeated the air.
She stood behind him. “I was going to go for a more modern-looking set, but he made me an offer I couldn’t resist and you know a girl has got to snap up all the bargains she can on a W. P.C.’s wage packet.” She stepped closer to him. “Also let it slip that I was single. Do you want to bet that Arthur McLain is also type O?”
“Do you know what kind of danger you could be putting yourself in?’
She ignored him. “Do you also know that Arthur McLain is friends with DCI Barclay? They play golf together every other Sunday.”
“Now, are you going to help me or not? I will do this with or without you.”
* * *
Nausea hit Mavis like a punch to her stomach. She couldn’t see Jack or his car. What if he didn’t believe her? If he told Barclay, that would end her career. She fished in her bag for her house keys. She’d told Jack where to park, up at the front, so he would have a perfect view of the alley and her back garden.
She gripped the steering wheel of her Mini tightly, mustering the courage to exit her vehicle and enter the house. On her drive home from the station, she had found herself watching every car that came up behind her in the rear-view mirror. Was McLain watching right now’? No one knew better than her what he had done to the other women.
Why was she letting this get to her? This was her job and she would do whatever it took. The sound of a dog barking spilled into the car. She rolled the window up. With firmer resolve, she scooped up her handbag and headed into the house.
Mavis went straight to the kitchen and popped the kettle on. From she had a perfect view of the back garden and her trap still looked to be in place. She had taped the bottom of the gate with duct tape, so Jack would be able to see if anyone had tampered with it. Relief battled goose pimples of fear on the back of her neck. The gate was still shut at least. She still hadn’t had time to do any shopping, so she grabbed a couple of the biscuits leftover from the night before.
Coffee made, she padded through to the living room. There was still a Manfred Mann record on the turntable and she turned it on before sinking into her easy chair and taking a sip of her coffee, the biscuits discarded on the nearby table. She closed her eyes and finally noticed it, the smell. Sweet but faint. Aftershave and a hint of nicotine.
She reached for her radio, but he was too quick for her. He came from behind and ripped it from her hands. Searing-hot pain shot across her temples and stars blurred her vision as a blow caught the back of her head. She released a startled cry as she collapsed in a heap on the carpet.
McLain held her radio up high as if examining it. “You don’t need to worry about your friend out there. I’ll speak with him when I’m done with you.”
What was he talking about? Jack? Was Jack out there?
Exhilaration chased away the cobwebs of pain and confusion. Mavis made a point of looking McLain straight in the eye. If he wanted to see fear, he would be disappointed. She forced the words from her mouth, “Even if you do manage to walk out of here, I’ve left such a paper trail on you… the whole world will know who you are by morning.”
“It’s got to end sometime, hasn’t it?” McLain removed his suit jacket and draped it over the chair. He was wearing disposable medical gloves and when he noticed her looking at them, he waved to her and flashed a smile. “You have to love the modern world, don’t you?’
A bang at the front door caught McLain by surprise and it was all the time she needed. Jumping up from the floor, Mavis grabbed the brass lamp from a nearby table and swung it.
A loud thump sounded as it connected with the back of his head. He dropped like a dead weight in front of her. Before he could come to his senses, she slipped on the handcuffs taken from her pocket. She looked up and smiled just as Jack opened the door. “Jack I’ve got him.”