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Once again we present a gory story by our guest weirdo … and this time it’s a detective story in more than one part (two or three, I’m told) … so without further ado, here’s …

Distortion
by
Zelda McLeich

xxJoanne Public has a twisted view of police work. Serial killers, for instance, are extremely rare, even in Scandinavia. Even more so in Derbyshire, which seems odd, given there’s not much else to do here. Most cop work, even in CID, is bloody routine. More form-filling that felon-fingering. Things might be edgier in the big cities, but if a tv series told it like it is in the sticks, viewers would be so bored they’d even switch over to X Factor.
xxMidsomer Murders, my arse. Midsomer Broken Windows more like.
xxThe rookie might start out dreaming of excitement, the thrill of the chase, putting life on the line to outsmart the villain, the noble act of making the world a safer place, but that soon gets knocked out of you, and you welcome the safe routine of collaring the known villains for another botched robbery, and filling in forms is a relief from subduing another batch of drunken youngsters.

xxSo it isn’t the first thing a DI wants to hear on a Monday morning: “there’s been another one, ma’am.”
xx“Shit! Number four? Only a month after the last.”
xx“Getting more frequent then. Bastard!”
xxThat’s another thing. The thrill of the chase is more than offset by the sickening nature of a lot of crimes, even the sordid domestic violence that inadequates visit on their nearest and weakest. DC Mike Strong was even more affected by our artistic killer than the rest of us, maybe because he had a daughter the same age as the victim. OK she was away at uni, but even so …
xx“Same m.o.?” I asked Sgt Morgan.
xx“Aye. Strangled, mutilated, sketched,” she replied.
xx“Hung, quartered and drawn, in fact”, DC Chapman said, unhelpfully.
xx“Thank you Eric: tasteful as ever. Any i.d. on the victim yet?”
xx“Not yet, boss. Nothing from forensics yet; scene secured and ready for inspection. Victim found in Blebbington, a room in the community centre used for art classes and stuff, no sign of forced entry …”
xx“Same pattern, different village. OK, let’s get over there, someone check on who might have had keys, not that these buggers ever keep proper records, but we must find a common name before long, unless our killer’s a locksmith too. No obvious pattern to the jigsaw, but let’s hope we catch him before we get any more pieces. Let’s get on the road, team.”

* * *

xxIn the car I ran through it all again.
xx“What sort of nutter is he? Not an obvious one, I’ll bet. Girls accompany him to secluded huts away from the city at quiet times, obviously thinking he’s a pukka artist. He can’t come across as a total weirdo. Not ruling anything out, but I’m still betting it’s a he, some guy with issues, to say the bloody least. No signs of sexual assault, though. Could be we’re looking for an ugly fucker, taking out his lookist frustration on attractive women. So he invites them, presumably to sit for a portrait …”
xx“Well, he ain’t lying,” chipped in Eric; “catch is, he strangles ’em and cuts ’em first.”
xx“Exactly. And defo in that order, according to forensics; a few stitches, just enough to hold the shape. But then why screw the sketch up and chuck it on the floor? Serial killers always keep a memento of their victims.”
xx“No, that’s the movies, Mike,” I reminded him. “Jodie Foster is an actor, not a criminologist. But the pics we find, and I quote, ‘don’t show the hand of a skilled draughtsperson’. Seems he’s proud enough of his handiwork to want to record it, immortalise it, even if he’s not proud enough of his sketches to keep them.”
xx“Maybe the one he leaves is just a rough sketch, to get his eye in, fix the form” suggested Sgt Morgan; “then he does a fair one for keeps?”
xx“That’s a sick idea of ‘fair’!” said Mike; “But why does he scrunch them up — the pics I mean?”
xx“Or the girls, in fact,” added Eric, unnecessarily. “Hey, we’re dealing with a nut job here; perhaps trying to reason it out is a waste of time.”

* * *

xxThe crime scene was the same, depressing sight. Two chairs in the middle of the floor, a few feet apart, the body, now identified as Susan Smith, on the floor beside one, face cut and stitched, and an overworked but identifiable charcoal drawing on an A3 sheet of cartridge paper, screwed up on the chair.
xx“Not much of a stitcher either,” commented Chalmers, the forensics boffin. “Defo not competent enough to suggest a surgeon, any more than an artist.”
xx“Maybe just a Picasso fan,” suggested Eric.
xx“Why do you say that?”
xx“You know, Picasso,” repeated Eric, hinting at a hitherto unrevealed cultural side. “Eyes both on the same side of the face, noses like wedgey things, and all that kinda shit,” he exclaimed, dispelling the illusion. “But he ain’t got the skill or the visual imagination and has to rearrange the faces first, so he can do a modern art version from life — or death, in this case.”
xx“That’s just fuckin’ daft,” snorted Mike.
xx“True,” I said, “but whatever we’re dealing with is fucking daft, so I wouldn’t rule it out. What about this Smith lass then? Another out-of-towner?”
xx“Yes ma’am,” said the Sergeant who was at the scene when we arrived. “Sgt Tinsley, ma’am, from Belper Field Lane.  From what I understand this one’s from a bit closer to home than the previous three. ”
xx“Yeah, two from Poland, one from Kilmarnock,” said Mike. “How much closer this time?”
xx“Very, sir. Nottingham. Doing a course on materials science in Derby. Staying in shared rooms out in Little Eaton, about half way here from the uni itself. We’re waiting for the nod to inform the family — and the housemates.”
xx“I’d have thought local people’d be too wary now the press has hold of it,” said Debbie Morgan. “Maybe Nottingham folk don’t think of themselves as local here, but if some bloke round here asked to draw my portrait I’d be shittin’ meself now.”
xx“True, Sarge,” I said, “but not all young folk take that much notice of local news anyroad. Any prints or DNA, Doc?”
xx“I think there’s some old friends among the dabs on the door and the chair,” said Chalmers. “Not being a sex attack, it’s unlikely we’ll  isolate any DNA but it looks like the same perp, and if it is, we know it’s no one we have on file.”
xx“Fuck. I’m as liberal as the next copper, but I’d like the civil liberties mob to go tell this poor kid’s family that we shouldn’t have a national database.”
xx“You say that, boss,” said Eric, surprisingly earnest for a change, “but then a bastard smart and twisted enough to do this sort of thing would just take more precautions from the get-go. Gloves and stuff.”
xx“Assuming all this was premeditated of course,” said Mike.
xx“Meaning?”
xx“Well, I dunno if this is the movies again, but could it be that a serial killer’s first murder is a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, fit of temper, argument … then he develops a taste for it, the power, the mutilation …? So there’d probably have been no gloves or stuff for the Koslowski murder.”
xx“No preparation — except for a bloody great sketch pad and charcoal and shit — not to mention a scalpel and some sewing equipment.”
xx“Not that sophisticated, luv.” Chalmers was suitably withered by my disapproving stare.
xx“I don’t tolerate being called ‘miduck’ either, Mr Chalmers, not at work. But do elucidate.”
xx“Sorry, Ma’am, but it’s just that the knife used was no scalpel; more likely a well-sharpened penknife, like you’d use to sharpen a pencil or put a point on charcoal — traces of which were found deep in the wounds.  And the stiching’s not done with bog-standard cotton, but it ain’t medical suture neither.”
xx“Fine, but still came prepared.”
xx“Prepared to draw — and maybe a well-stocked artist’s goody bag includes all sorts of items. A chainsaw if you’re Damien Hirst!”
xx“Good point. Well, let’s not assume anything then. Someone can get the bad news to the Smiths of sunny Nottingham, and warn them and the housemates we’ll need to ask questions. Being more local, it’s more likely she’ll have told folks of any plans involving doolally artists, than our previous victims. Why would he ask ’em to keep it a secret if he wasn’t planning nasties — and why would they agree anyway?”
xx“Tells ’em it’d be a good surprise for their loved ones?”
xx“Possibly, Sarge; possibly. Anyhow, let’s go get ourselves some lunch and we’ll reconvene in God’s good air-conditioning at the station. Say, two thirty?”

* * *

to be continued (probably next week) …

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