Hope in the Darkest Night

Blown Periphery, Going Postal
Photo by sukhdev singh on Unsplash

Detective Inspector Charles Hope detested mortuaries. Some pathologists were matter-of-fact in their dealings with the dead and part of him understood. They had a job to do and most of them carried out their gruesome tasks with professionalism and decorum. DS Hope classed Doctor Abidi as one of the good guys. The corpse had been re-covered with a clean shroud and her hair was carefully arranged as though it had been brushed, which indeed it had been. The doctor washed his hands slowly and thoughtfully, staring down at his long, dark fingers, as though the answer lay there.

Hope would not hurry the good doctor, but already he knew. He looked at his colleague Detective Sergeant Hornsbury, who was regarding a faint, bloody stain on the floor. She concluded that the blood had come from this body on the slab, because apart from looking uncannily like the Isle of White, the bloodstain looked fresh and still vital, as the young woman on the slab had been, a matter of hours before. The stain had been caused when the mortuary assistant had misjudged the weight and slipperiness of a near-adult heart. Doctor Abidi had not shouted at him. He didn’t need to, the look had said everything.

He noted how composed the DS looked, as though this was just another step on her progression to senior management, leaving old dinosaurs like Charles Hope, buffeted in her slipstream. She was calm and composed, but Hope wasn’t fooled. He could see her flushed skin radiating from under the blouse and up to her neck. She gently wafted the collar of her blouse as though she was merely hot, and not on the way to puking up with the metallic smell of blood and the chemicals. DS Lisa Hornsbury wouldn’t allow a routine trip to the mortuary to affect her aspiration for greatness. In a few years, she would be sending other people to observe the grisly routine of the carving up of bodies, which had died in macabre, messy and otherwise suspicious ways. There would always be coppers like Charles Hope to dispatch, observe and report back. That was the natural way of things.

DI Hope felt a sudden sense of guilt for tainting the younger DS with his cynicism. He wondered if there had ever been a time when he felt greater things were mapped out for him, but he knew there hadn’t. He had done his time in uniform, then became a detective and expected to live long enough to collect his pension. He had made DI and it was increasingly becoming obvious that he had reached his ceiling. He was tolerated by his peers, liked by a dwindling few and abided if actively disliked by his superiors. Charles Hope’s problem was that he never seemed to know when to shut up. If there was a ridiculous directive that came down from the top floor, then Charles would tell anybody who would listen, just how ridiculous it was. Most of his peers simply ignore the idiocy, or at least pay lip service to it. Charles railed against it and describe its originators “cretinously morons.” It was as though he revelled in his cussedness, which indeed he did.

He stopped staring at Lisa Hornsbury’s flushed neck and regarded the body on the mortuary table, with a mixture of sad hopelessness and a seething, bitter anger. Sixteen-years-old, her disappearance diligently reported by her frantic mother and father, two days previously. Hope and Hornsbury had questioned the parents the following day the girl had been reported missing.

“No she had never gone off before.”

“Boyfriend? A few months before but it had never come to anything. She was too busy studying for her exams. She wanted to go to university and needed good grades. She had put the time and effort into her schoolwork.”

“Yes I’m sure she’ll turn up, it’s just a bit worrying, her not being…”

Doctor Abidi dried his hands thoughtfully and turned to regard the two police officers, “Just the same as the others I’m afraid. No signs of sexual activity, consensual or otherwise. Faint traces of chloroform, probably administered when she was first abducted. And the same cause of death, indicated by the ligature marks on the neck and wrists. A slipknot round the neck tied to the feet, plastic clothesline judging by the wheals on the wrists and neck. Self-induced strangulation as the victim becomes exhausted. An extremely callous and sadistic killer. Was the body found the same way as the other victims?”

Hope produced a photograph taken at the crime scene, “She was found at Great Cookshall Woods near to RAF High Wycombe. Her body was found by an NCO from the base during his early morning run. Apart from checking for a pulse, he didn’t disturb the body and phoned the police by 999. She was just like the others, on her front, legs together, arms spread out like a…”

“Crucifixion,” Hornsbury finished for him, “Naked again, died where her body was found, but no sign of ropes, ligatures or any other ties. No footprints, no forensic, no vehicle tracks. An extremely cautious individual who watched her die, then tidied up.”

“And that makes the fourth that this bastard has killed,” Hope said bitterly, “All were in late adolescence, but no obvious connections, three white girls and a girl of Pakistani heritage, all working class, real working class. They were abducted in the early evening, taken off the street and no witnesses. High Wycombe, Aylesbury, Thame and Princes Risborough.”

The doctor shook his head, “Well, Charles. I’m no psychiatrist, but I would say you were dealing with a serial killer, who enjoys the ritualistic aspect of killing and who may or may not enjoy watching his victims slowly choke to death. I’ll e-mail your boss with my report this evening.”

Hope nodded and he and Hornsbury turned to leave when the doctor called out: “I hope you catch this person, Charles.”

“We’ll get the bastard eventually. He’ll make a mistake.”

“It may be a she, Charles. Has that occurred to you?”

Hope looked at the DS and back at the doctor, “No, but somehow I don’t think so.”

Outside they sat in his car in silence, alone with their thoughts. Lisa Hornsbury desperately hoped that the DI wouldn’t start smoking. The smell disgusted her and exacerbated her morning sickness, but Hope had seen the signs and instead, watched two morbidly obese elves wobble from the outpatients’ department, across the car park to the Manderville Wing, the old stomping ground of a Mr James Savile Esq.

“Bloody hell, they get earlier every year.”

“It is the twenty-third of December, Charles.”

“Is it? Oh my God,” Hope sighed, “I’ll need to go and tell the parents, for somebody to identify the body.”

“I’ll come with you.”


“Why not, Charles?”

“Because as soon as I leave that neat, little house with the shrine of her bedroom, I’m going to chain-smoke what remains in this packet and buy some more.”

“I thought your wife was trying to get you to stop.”

“My dear wife hasn’t had to look at a sixteen-year-old girl, who has been carved-up by our gentle and caring pathologist. A girl who choked to death in terror while some sadistic bastard watched her die.”

Lisa Hornsbury stared at him. This was the side of him his despairing superiors never saw or bothered to look for. Hope’s face was drawn with anger and hopelessness and he seemed close to tears. This wasn’t the Charles Hope, scourge of the senior officers and the cussed refusal to embrace political correctness. She recalled a session of “Unconscious Bias Training” that had been arranged in the station. In a classroom they were given a list of minority groups and asked to make notes or comments on each group.

“Well if they’re going to waste my bloody time, I’m going to bloody-well waste theirs.”

The first subject had been “Travellers.” Lisa who knew how to play their game wrote: Good with horses. A threatened minority. Strong family bonds. Hope whose bias was by no means unconscious wrote: Thieves. The curse of church roofs. Drunken fighting. Industrial scale shoplifting. He even illustrated his flip chart with a picture of two gap-toothed, turnip headed representatives, wearing t-shirts with Rooney on one and Wayne on the other. A speech bubble said: Do you want us to fu*k your drive up or cut down some trees? Cash only mind you.” It hadn’t gone down well and got worse when the subject was “Rastafarians.”

She reached over and touched his arm. Poor, Forlorn Hope, angrily thrashing against events that were beyond his control. She understood him and realised that under this fat, scruffy, difficult exterior was a man, a good man who still believed in right and wrong and justice for the little person. With Charles there were no grey areas, he didn’t recognise ambivalence or police politics. But she did, which was why the Lisa Hornsbury’s of the world would get on. It was as though she had read his thoughts:

“When I drop you off at the station, go and tell Harris the good news. Tell him where I’m going and I don’t know how long it will take. He likes you, Lisa.”

“Everybody likes me, Charles, because I don’t go out of my way to piss people off.”

“Unlike me?”

“If the cap fits…”

Hope returned to Aylesbury Police Station three hours later. He was profoundly depressed after having spoken with the girl’s parents and there was nothing he could say to prevent the void that had been carved in their lives by the brutal murder of their daughter. Lisa Hornsbury suspected that he had stopped over for a late pub lunch. There was a post-it note on his computer, but the DS told him anyway.

“Superintendent Harris would like to see you, Charles. He said as soon as you got in.”

“Did you brief him?”

“Yes, as soon as you dropped me off, but he said he still wants to see you.”

Hope reluctantly trudged up to the top floor and as usual, found the Superintendent ensconced in his office. He couldn’t stand the Superintendent and the feeling was quite mutual.

“DI Hope, so good of you to pop in. I trust it wasn’t too much trouble for you?”

Hope said nothing and looked round the office where Harris seemed to spend a great deal of his time. He was the senior officer working on the case of the murdered teenagers, although he delegated the running to Detective Inspector Jordan. Harris made no move to come out from behind his desk. He had forgone the usual office chair and instead had a wooden captain’s chair, on which he could lean back and balance as it only had four, large feet. He was leaning back now, with his hands behind his head, regarding Hope with an expression that bordered on disgust.

“I’ve got some bad news for you, Charles,” Harris told him with a smile, “Barry Jordan’s requested a couple of days off to visit his family in Scotland. That means you’ll be running light over Christmas, on half manning because of leave.”

“So do you think that our resident nutter is going to spend the next couple of weeks spreading kindness and joy to all, sir? That he’s putting his feet up to have some turkey, pull a few crackers, before he carries on with his killing spree?”

“It’s a difficult time, Charles.”

“Yes. It’s a difficult time for the parents of those girls who have been killed. If Jordan’s away, does that mean I’m heading up the investigation, sir?”

Harris gave a dismissive laugh, “No, Charles. I will continue to run the investigation.”

Hope nodded, “Will you be venturing out of your office to keep us on the straight and narrow, sir. To lead us and provide a guiding hand when we go astray?”

He turned to leave, but Harris stopped him, “DS Hornsbury.”

“What about her, sir?”

“She’s got a lot going for her. She’ll go far and has already been noted by the Chief.”

“Yes, and?”

“I don’t want her to pick up any of your bad habits, DI Hope. She’s an asset and I want you to realise that.”

“I’ll try not to sully her… Sir”

“Don’t let me keep you, Charles.”

* * *

It was the twenty-eighth of December. Charles hope was in the detectives’ office alone. He had sent the rest home at lunchtime when he realised they were bored and no new leads had shown up. Hope was scouring the HOLMES database to see if there were any linking factors with other police forces, concerning a spate of murders committed against young women. He had covered the smoke alarm with a polythene bag held by an elastic band and had opened all of the windows to allow the cigarette smoke to dissipate despite the cold.

He hadn’t heard the door at the end of the corridor opening and jumped with shock when he realised that DI Mike Taylor was leaning in the doorway staring at him.

“Those things will kill you, Charlie.”

Hope threw the partially smoked cigarette out of the window.

“Mike, you shouldn’t be here. What the hell is going on?”

Taylor coughed several times into the crook of his arm and then grinned at Hope, “You’re in a bit of a pickle aren’t you? Four dead girls and you’re none the wiser.”

Taylor walked into the office and looked at the map on the wall. “Just the locations of four bodies, it’s all so random isn’t it?”

“Have you come back here to state the bleeding obvious, Mike?”

“But it isn’t random, Charlie. These things never are. For instance, where the bodies were found. All carefully selected.”

Hope scoffed, “Just random woodland near roads, so he doesn’t leave any tyre tracks.

“Look at the map, Charlie. They are a symmetrical pattern,” Taylor said tracing the locations of the bodies on the map, “These two form the base and the other two, including the one you found before Christmas are the arms.”

“Base? Arms? What the hell are you talking about, Mike?”

“A pentacle, a five pointed star. He’s taken a fifth girl, last night and the killings are becoming less between each one. Five days from the first to the second. Four days between two and three. Three days between three and four, and two days between four and the latest one. She went missing last night and her mother has only just phoned in to report her daughter is missing. He’s going to kill her tomorrow night.”

“How do you know her mother has phoned in?”

Taylor smiled, “You’ll get a call from uniform in ten minutes to tell you a girl has gone missing in Thame. I overheard the phone conversation when I came in. You’ve got until tomorrow night.”

“Where is he going to kill her?”

Taylor began coughing and Hope handed him a tissue. He dabbed his mouth, smearing a little blood on the tissue and his hand, then pointed at the map.

“Here. The apex of the star is Wendover Woods. I reckon he’s going to kill her there.” Taylor pointed to the map and left a small smear of blood on the green area denoting extensive woods on the Chiltern Hills.

“How the hell am I going to convince Harris? I can’t exactly say that you gave me the tipoff.”

“That’s your problem, Charlie.”

Hope watched Taylor leave and disappear down the corridor.
“Thanks for that, Mike,” Hope said out loud quietly. A few minutes later, his phone started to ring.

* * *

“I appreciate your being here with me, Lisa.”

They were sitting in Hopes car in the woods, no lights and no engine. Hope had opened the driver’s window so he could hear if another vehicle was abroad in the woods.

“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. Is this another one of Hope’s legendary hunches?”

“Sort of, but I suspect more to do with giving me enough rope to hang myself.”

“What did Harris say, Charles?”

“He said: You might want to waste your time, but I’m not having the rest of my team chasing around Wendover Woods on a wild goose chase. I spoke with her mother yesterday and it was exactly the same as all the others. She just went missing with no history of disappearing and never been in trouble. ”

“So here I am,” she observed, “Where did you get the key for the barrier and why did you re-padlock it?”

“From the Forestry Commission offices and I re-locked it so it doesn’t look suspicious to out murderous friend.”

“How do you know he’ll come in this way?”

“Because the other entrance has vehicle traps, making it a one-way entrance and exit.”

“You’ve had a look?”

“Today, when I picked up the key.”

“I’m getting cold,” she told him.

“Then it’s just as well he’s coming. Hear that?”

“An engine.”

“Diesel,” Hope confirmed.

On the steep hillside below them, a vehicle showing no lights passed on the metalled road. They waited until it was ahead of them and then Hope started the engine and pulled slowly out of the firebreak between the trees. He had his night vision, but Lisa’s eyes were younger and better.

“Not too close. I just hope we’re not going to give a courting couple the shock of their lives.”

The van in front came to a halt on the road and Hope pulled in about fifty metres behind it, tucked into some foliage, and then killed the engine. A figure opened the driver’s door, looked around and went to the rear of the vehicle. The double doors were opened and Hope watched the figure drag out a bundle and pull it into the trees.

“Shit, he’s got a girl trussed up, the bastard!” Hornsbury exclaimed peering through the windscreen.

Her eyes were definitely better than Hope’s. She wrenched the car door open and the interior light went on. The figure in the woods was startled at the noise and light and stared into the darkness.

“Lisa WAIT!” but she was out of the door and running for the shadowy figures.

“Oh FUKIT!” Hope bellowed as he tried to follow her, but he became entangled in the seatbelt.

The man, it was definitely a man, Hornsbury saw him turn to face her. She hit him as hard as she could with her weight and he went sprawling on the ground. She tried to get astride him to use her handcuffs, but he was very fast and she thought he had punched her. The DS cried out as she saw the blade of the knife covered with her blood. She clutched her right side and felt a searing pain below her rib cage, falling off him and curling up into a ball. The man snarled and pulled her head back to slash her throat, when the car hit him, throwing him clear of Hornsbury and the knife went spinning through the air. Hope was out of the car and on top of the man who screamed. It was obvious that the impact of the car had caused significant internal damage. He handcuffed him and switched on a torch. First he saw the girl, trussed and hogtied and found the knife. He swiped through the plastic clothes line and heard her gasp for breath then went over to where Lisa was lying.

“Lisa, are you all right. I’m so sorry…”

“Charles, he stabbed me, right side below the ribcage.”

Hope opened her coat and saw the spreading black stain, then rushed back to the car.

“This is Mobile Delta One. Location Wendover Woods, look for the lights. I have an officer down, severely injured with a stab wound in the abdomen. Also I have a young girl who is suffering from shock. The suspect has been apprehended. Send backup and medical support. Do you read me?”

“Yes, Mobile Delta One. We will dispatch assistance. Wait, out.”

Hope untied the girl and pointed to the car, “Get in the car. There’s a blanket on the back seat. Shut the doors and keep warm.”

Hope took off his hat and applied gentle pressure to the wound in Hornsbury’s side, “What the hell were you thinking of, Lisa?”

She gripped his arm, “Charles, is she OK?”

“She’s in the car and yes, she’s OK. More than can be said for that bastard,” he said indicating with his head to where the man lay groaning, “He’s ruined the front wing and broken the headlight.”

“Don’t let us die, please, Charles…”

Us? “You’ll be fine. An ambulance and back-up is on its way. Just hang on in there.”

After what seemed an age, Hope saw flashing blue lights making their way through the woods towards them. Lisa’s grip had gone and her head lolled backwards. Hope shouted in anguish.

* * *

She was still in the critical care ward when hope visited her the next day. Lisa was conscious but still in a great deal of pain, but she managed to smile wanly at Hope.

“Lisa, why didn’t you wait?”

“Because by then the girl would have been strangled to death. And you know that I’m right, don’t you.”

“You’re always so bloody right, Lisa.”

“That’s why I don’t piss people off, Charles,” She held his hand, “At least the baby’s OK and the liver can take a lot of damage.”

“Baby?” he grasped trying to understand.

“I’m pregnant, Charles.”

“I didn’t know you were married.”

“Not yet, soon.”

“Who’s the lucky chap? Is he Job?”

“No, she’s a catering manager at the prison.”

“Err… She?”

She laughed and immediately regretted it as the pain shot through her side, “And no, Charles, it wasn’t a turkey baster.”

“Jesus!” he said feeling bemused.

“Welcome to the new Police Service, DI Hope.”

“I’d better tell Harris you’re OK.”

“It’s not catching, Charles. How did you know?”

“You just told me.”

“No. Where we’d find the girl.”

“Mike Taylor told me.”

She looked him with bemusement, “Very good, Charles.”

He stood up to leave and she said: “There’s nothing Forlorn about you, DI Hope. You’re a bloody good Copper, but a lousy team player.”

“See you, Lisa.”

* * *

Harris was entrenched again in his office when Hope got back to the station. He went up to the top floor where the Superintendent kept him waiting for a fitting amount of time, while he played with his Newton’s Cradle. Eventually his boss deigned to see him. Hope went in and stood in front of Harris’ desk.

“Well, that was a good result for the team.”

“Team, sir?”

“Yes, team. My team. And you go and get your skipper stabbed, while you sat on your fat arse in the car.”

“You hung us out to dry, didn’t you, Sir?”

“Hornsbury will get a commendation. You are suspended on investigation for using excessive force. You broke the suspect’s hip instead of doing your job properly.”


“Yes Hope, Investigation. The Independent Office for Police Conduct are all over this like a rash,” Harris tilted his nice admiral’s chair back and put his arms at the back of his head, “With any luck we’ll be rid of you.”

Harris smiled and went back balancing on the chair’s two legs. Hope nodded, “I see.”

“Nothing personal.”

“Oh, of course not.”

Hope pushed his considerable bulk against the front of the desk. Harris’ smile turned to a look of panic as he felt himself overbalancing backwards. He made a futile grab for the desk and he went down, his computer, office tray and Newton’s Cradle crashing down on top of him.

“Nothing personal… Sir.”

* * *

The churchyard at Haddenham was deserted in the darkening afternoon. Hope made his way through the graves and found the stone in a corner of the churchyard. He lay the flowers on top of the grave and stood there, silent with his thoughts. Finally he said: “Thank you, Mike. You played a bloody blinder.”

Hope turned sadly and went back to his car as the first flurries of snow came down. Inscribed on the gravestone was:

In loving memory of Detective Inspector Michael Taylor.
Cruelly snatched from us, killed in the line of duty.
A loving father, husband and Gallant Police Officer.
1965 – 2007


© Blown Periphery 2020

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