N ightingale offered his pack of Marlboro to Thomas and the superintendent took one. Nightingale slipped a cigarette between his lips, lit it, and then lit the policeman’s.
Thomas nodded his thanks, inhaled and blew smoke. He looked at the cigarette and nodded approvingly. ‘Marlboro are okay, aren’t they?’
‘They hit the spot,’ said Nightingale. ‘You smoke Silk Cut, right?’
‘Have done since I was a kid,’ said Thomas. ‘How long have you been a smoker?’
Nightingale pulled a face. ‘Had my first at school but my parents were vehemently anti-smoking so I didn’t really start until I was at university.’
‘University?’ said Thomas. ‘Fast-track graduate-entry copper?’
‘For my sins,’ said Nightingale.
‘Never had much stock in that,’ said Thomas. ‘The best cops are the ones who put in the years on the streets. That’s where you learn what matters, not on bloody courses.’
‘I walked a beat,’ said Nightingale.
‘Yeah, but I bet you made sergeant in three years and inspector two years after that.’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘That’s the way it works,’ he said. He blew smoke up into the air. ‘I figure you don’t get too many serial killers in this neck of the woods.’
‘We had one back in 1995,’ said Thomas. ‘I was a lowly DC then but I was on the case. Guy called Peter Moore killed four men for fun. But you’re right – they’re few and far between. Of course, we don’t know for sure that there’s one out there now.’
‘Could be a cluster, right?’
‘Could be. You get cancer clusters and disappearance clusters, so a suicide cluster is possible.’
‘Is there anything about any of the suicides that suggests there was someone else involved?’
Thomas shook his head. ‘No forensics, no eyewitnesses.’
‘Sometimes. Not always. It could be that the ones that have notes are genuine suicides.’
Nightingale inhaled, holding the smoke deep in his lungs for several seconds, and then exhaled slowly. ‘What about methods? How did the ones who didn’t leave notes kill themselves?’
‘Hanging, like Connie Miller. Tablets. Slashed wrists.’
‘But always in private? No witnesses?’
‘Nothing suspicious in that,’ said Thomas. ‘Women tend to do it quietly. It’s men who want to go out in a blaze of glory – throwing themselves in front of trains or smashing up their cars. Women are the gentler sex, God bless them.’
‘Mrs Miller said that her daughter didn’t go out much.’
‘I’m not sure that’s true,’ said Thomas. ‘She wasn’t one for the bright lights, but she had plenty of friends. And none of them thought that she was depressed.’
‘She was online quite a lot, that’s what Mrs Miller said.’
‘Who isn’t, these days?’
‘Did you check her computer?’
Thomas narrowed his eyes. ‘You wouldn’t be trying to teach your grandmother to suck eggs, would you?’
Nightingale chuckled. ‘Wouldn’t dare,’ he said. ‘But she might have been talking to someone on email or on social networking sites, Facebook, MySpace, those sorts of places.’
‘There was nothing on her computer that raised any red flags,’ said Thomas. ‘We checked her emails. And her Facebook page. And we gave the house a going-over. And we spoke to her family, friends and colleagues. They weren’t aware of anyone in her life who might have been a danger to her.’
‘So the killer, if there is one, is a stranger.’
‘Which, statistically, means a white middle-aged male in a low-paid job who wet his bed and set fires and tortured small animals when he was a kid.’
‘That’s probably half the male population of Wales, right?’ Nightingale grinned. ‘Joke.’
The superintendent blew smoke. ‘What about you? Were you a bed-wetter?’
‘I didn’t kill Connie Miller,’ said Nightingale. ‘I live in London; why would I come all the way to Wales to kill? It’d be a hell of a lot easier to do it on my home turf. And a lot easier to hide what I was doing.’
‘You might have a reason.’
‘Like what? I hate the Welsh, is that it?’
‘Who knows?’ said Thomas. ‘The Yorkshire Ripper went after prostitutes. Harold Shipman murdered pensioners. Maybe you’ve got a thing about Welsh women. Maybe you were once snubbed by Charlotte Church or Catherine Zeta-Jones. I’m not a profiler, I’m a cop. And at the moment you’re the only suspect I’ve got.’
‘Assuming you have a serial killer and not just a statistical variation,’ said Nightingale.
‘Killer or not, it doesn’t explain why you keep breaking into houses in Abersoch.’
‘I didn’t break in anywhere,’ said Nightingale, though he instantly realised that he’d lied. The previous night he’d done exactly that, forcing the French windows of Connie Miller’s house. He took a long drag on his cigarette. ‘Look, here’s what I’d be thinking if it was my case-’
‘Which it isn’t,’ interrupted the superintendent.
‘Which it isn’t,’ agreed Nightingale. ‘But if it was, I’d be looking for someone local. Not Abersoch local maybe, but north Wales local. And not someone in her close circle but someone she knew. Possibly through the internet. Someone she trusted enough to let him get close to her.’
‘Are you on the internet much?’
Nightingale grinned. ‘Me? I’m a Luddite. I’ve barely mastered my TV remote. Anything I need off the internet, my assistant does it for me.’
‘The woman I phoned who backed up your alibi?’
‘That’s right, Jenny. She’s up on all the hi-tech stuff. Me, I don’t trust any technology that I can’t fix myself. Have you looked under the bonnet of a car recently? You wouldn’t know where to start if you had a problem. Most mechanics are lost, too. They need a computer to tell them what’s wrong and then they just replace whatever the computer tells them to.’
‘Yeah, it’s a brave new world, all right,’ said the superintendent. ‘Policing is going the same way. These days it’s all CCTV and forensics and DNA; no one bothers going around asking questions any more.’
‘You seem to be doing all right on the question front,’ said Nightingale, flicking ash.
‘Because with Connie Miller there’re no forensics, no CCTV, just a dead body and you crouched over her with a knife.’ The superintendent took a long pull on his cigarette and narrowed his eyes as he stared at Nightingale. ‘You ever worked a serial-killer case?’ he asked after he’d blown smoke at the ground.
Nightingale shook his head. ‘Not a case. But I talked to one once. He was holed up in his house with armed cops outside. I was sent to talk to him. Nasty piece of work. Liked butchering women. Raped them with knives.’ Nightingale grimaced. ‘Negotiators are trained to empathise but he was impossible to get close to. He was a true sociopath; killing to him was the same as eating and drinking. I spent the best part of three hours talking to him. He only wanted to tell me what he’d done.’
‘Like a confession?’
Nightingale shook his head. ‘It was more like boasting. He knew what was going to happen and he wanted to share what he’d done with someone. Anyone.’
‘And what did happen?’
‘He died,’ said Nightingale flatly.
‘Sort of,’ said Nightingale. ‘Charged the armed cops with a knife in his hand.’
‘Death by cop,’ said Thomas. ‘Probably best, if he was as evil as you say.’
‘He was evil, all right.’ Nightingale dropped his cigarette butt to the ground and stamped on it. ‘I can go, right?’
‘I guess so,’ said Thomas. ‘Just do me one favour?’
Thomas flicked his cigarette away. ‘Don’t come back to Abersoch.’
‘I wasn’t planning to.’
‘And I’ll be talking to Superintendent Chalmers again.’
‘I’m sure you will,’ said Nightingale.
‘And I still think you killed Connie Miller.’
Nightingale nodded. ‘I did pick up on that,’ he said.