Another thick file flopped down onto Detective Chief Inspector Dave Hicks’s desk. He groaned loudly and rather theatrically before looking up; an expression of woeful disgruntlement painted all over his large, bearded face. The young PC who had delivered the papers on his instructions promptly turned round and walked back to the post room, smirking to himself. DCI Hicks picked up the file and flicked it open. The contents consisted of a number of handmade cuttings culled from local and national newspapers, together with an awful lot of badly typed memoranda called things like ‘Incident Report, No. CXXXVIII’. They were packed for the most part with irrelevant and misleading details of ill-doing in North East London. Stuffed within its tattered pages were reports of domestic violence, minor burglaries, petty muggings and various misdemeanours reported in Dave’s patch over the last eighteen months. There were also a number of details concerning the recent spate of horrible human mutilations that so far showed no sign of stopping. Dave started leafing through the papers, attempting to resemble a man on top of the situation. He was Dave Hicks from Hackney Marshes, local boy made good; occupation self-styled unconvincing wide boy and full-time policeman.
‘Hicks from the sticks, that’s me,’ he’d say to anyone who would listen. He was the ideal policeman; he worked long hours, was conscientious, obsequiously subservient to his superiors, always willing to take anything on, and consequently disliked by most of his colleagues. He’d managed to climb up the slippery pole of success until here he was, at the comparatively young age of thirty- four, a detective chief inspector in a busy and extremely villainous part of North London.
He’d already solved countless crimes, assisted in no small part by the efforts of his team.
‘My boys,’ he would say, ‘are following up my leads.’
He made sure that he was constantly in touch with both the superintendent and detective superintendent, and at times also with the chief constable himself. Dave was assiduous in giving up-to-date reports on all cases likely to be of interest to the local press.
‘I expect a breakthrough’ was as good a catchphrase as any. If a breakthrough did materialise it wasn’t generally due to DCI Hicks, but his superiors weren’t to know that and probably cared even less.
With suspects, DCI Hicks encouraged strong talk and rough handling, together with a heavy use of amateur dramatics in the interrogation room. Small theatrical skits were played out every week before fascinated audiences, and featured the full repertoire of pleading, cajoling, physical threats, weeping, wailing and full-blown hysterics. Alibis were invariably broken down and confessions ‘extracted’ from the villain whose unhappy lot it was to be placed in Hicks’s own theatre of the absurd. It was said that many of his collars gave themselves up just to escape being in his company, but that was not only unfair, but also dismissive of Dave’s proven interrogation talents and his extraordinary devotion to duty as well as his fondness for creative role playing.
‘I’ve got him bang to rights!’ Dave would invariably announce and unlike some, he always got his man.
And now he was hunting for this current nutter who was cutting up bits of bodies and dropping them off, piece by piece all over the place.
‘That’s bloody rude,’ Hicks said. ‘No one’s going to nause up my manor!’
Look at what he’d already achieved in the short time he’d been around. Violent street crime was down by fifteen per cent from the previous year, burglary at twenty-three per cent and the overall clear-up rate was an amazing fifty-one per cent. Put that against the record of Dave’s immediate predecessors and it was nothing short of a revolution in crime prevention. In hardly nowhere else in the country, let alone the metropolitan area, was a senior policeman able to boast a comparable record. As a consequence, he’d been made much of in the division’s glossy annual report. Dave made sure of that by volunteering to be on the editorial panel. He was already a familiar and regular face on the local TV news bulletins, and this enhanced his media-savvy profile.
‘We are on this case like a boner fido bloodhound,’ he asserted to millions of bewildered viewers across the London area, ‘and my men are barking at the leash.’
The lads and lassies in the division never ceased to be amazed by the DCI’s aptitude for falling on his feet while passing himself off as a heaven-sent genius and saviour. If it wasn’t for the dangled juicy carrot of abundant overtime much of the conspiratorial muttering about ‘dropping him in it for once’ would have had more substance.
Anyone associated with the press was especially courted. Reporters were routinely allowed easy access to enter the police station at will, picking up confidential slips of paper left around accidentally on purpose. Many of the hacks were granted an ‘exclusive’ interview with the great man himself. An insight into modern crime detection was always guaranteed, and Dave prided himself on being on first name terms with each and every one of the reporters.
‘Morning, Bill!’ he’d bellow across the station car park to John Duffy, chief reporter on the Hackney Gazette, and virtually a daily visitor. Dave Hicks was good copy and always worth a banner headline.
‘Don’t worry, boys,’ he announced in the midst of the hunt for a perpetrator of recent sexual assaults. ‘We’re going to grasp the balls by the horn.’
DCI Hicks was at last getting to the bottom of the file. He couldn’t find anything that might be classified as a clue in this case: just the usual hotchpotch of everyday foul play — nothing out of the ordinary. Dropping the folder and spilling papers across his desk he stared slightly absent-mindedly at the worn poster pin up of a semi-clad young lady left on the wall opposite his desk by his predecessor.
What sort of maniac was this man? So far, the police had recovered a number of body parts that the chaps down at the pathology lab said belonged to ‘at least six different people’. Hicks wondered where the rest of the bodies had got to. They had half a dozen, possibly more, partial corpses in the freezer, all of them chopped up into various pieces, forming a sort of grisly incomplete jigsaw puzzle. Among the parts were arms, feet, tops of thighs, hands, torsos and a few heads, one of which appeared to stare in a particularly insolent manner at whoever was viewing it at that precise moment. As he glanced down at the dossier again, the cadaverous face and thin, rangy figure of his superintendent appeared, rapping briefly on the panel of the door as he strode in. Dave leapt to his feet and saluted. He always saluted.
‘Good morning, Mr Chief Superintendent.’
‘Morning, Dave. And yet again by the way, it’s not Chief and not Detective Chief, just Superintendent. Any news?’
‘No need to worry, I’m on top of it, sir. It’s all in the bubbling pot. I feel that it’s only going to be a matter of time now.’
Superintendent Haigh looked worried.
‘What have you got to go on?’
‘If you recall, sir, I sent you an interim report last Friday.’ He hesitated. ‘Perhaps you had time to surmise it?’
‘What? Oh, yes, of course I did, but I couldn’t make head nor tails of the blessed thing, which is why I’ve come down here today. Look, Dave, you know the press are on my back about this business day and night and I need to hear directly from you what’s going on.’ He paused and tried to look sincere, overdoing it somewhat. ‘I want to know what you think, Dave.’
Hicks swelled and at first could only stare at his superior officer in wonderment.
‘Sit down, sir, and I’ll get you a nice hot cup of something.’
Superintendent Haigh sank, easing his narrow, world-weary joints into the ragged chair, sighing deeply while Dave hurried out of his own office and barked a few orders about coffee. At length he came back and sat down at his desk, beaming like a child.
‘I’ve got the girl to get you a nice cupofchino from the café next door, sir; it’s so much nicer than the stuff from the machine.’
‘Bugger the coffee, Dave! What I really need is to understand what the hell you’re doing to catch this maniac. What the devil are you up to?’
The detective chief inspector pursed his lips, stood up from his chair and for a second considered saluting again, before thinking better of it and instead walked over to a large incident map on the wall with various, red-flagged pins stuck into it.
‘This map shows the area in question,’ he said, pausing for Superintendent Haigh to turn around and look suitably impressed. ‘Each pin represents the position where a part of a body has been located.’
The superintendent seemed a trifle more comfortable. Dave hit him with his master stroke.
‘And I believe… that the murderer must be a local man because of the small area involved and the reliance upon the knowledge of the local geography this entails…’
The superintendent was getting excited.
‘Yes?’ he said encouragingly.
‘…and that not all the identities of his victims are known to the police at the moment because of the physical difficulties pursuant to the process of positive identification. However, I also believe,’ said Hicks, with a suddenly assumed sing-song rhythm in his North London accent, ‘that we will do so, and that such identifications will enable us to carry out enquiries that will surely lead to our man.’
He walked back to his desk, smiling broadly, and sank down into his chair. There was a short, sharp moment of chilling silence followed by an explosion, sounding like that made by a frozen chicken being dropped into a sink full of washing-up.
‘Is that it?’ shouted the superintendent, aghast. Hicks looked puzzled and a touch crestfallen.
‘Yes… sir. What else did you want?’
‘Well, Dave,’ began Superintendent Haigh with more than a hint of sarcasm in his voice. ‘I don’t really think that’s going to cut it with the press boys, do you? I know you’ve demonstrated a knack for pulling rabbits out of hats in the past, but I can’t honestly see where you are going with this one. What orders have you given the division, for God’s sake?’
Hicks quickly recovered his composure and puffed himself out to full girth.
‘To boldly go where no man has gone before. To use everything in our powers to catch this maniac: grasses, door-to-door enquiries, patterns of behaviour among known villains, good old-fashioned police work, threats, looking in bins and,’ he added in a conspiratorial touch, ‘utilising my own excellent contacts amongst the local media.’
Haigh looked even more worried.
‘Now you know my feelings about the press,’ he said. ‘They’re more harm than they’re worth. Poking their noses in, getting in the way, printing confidential information as well as total rubbish…’ He sighed again, catching the ever-gleaning keen eye of Hicks. Would whatever he said to this man make a difference? And what was the alternative? ‘But if you’re doing the best you can, I suppose you’d best carry on for the time being. Just bloody well keep me informed on how things are going. ON a daily basis please! And if anything of any real significance turns up, then let me know as soon as you do.’
He got up out of the fraying chair, strode past Hicks, who again saluted, and walked out of the office at high speed, colliding with the young WPC carrying a polystyrene cup of scalding, hot coffee. As he walked down the stairs, attempting to wipe the brown stain off the front of his uniform, he heard the detective chief inspector’s voice bellowing down the stairwell.
‘Don’t you worry, Super, we’ll give it our best shot across the bowels.’
The alarm on his bedside clock rang out. In the morning gloom of his queen-size comfy bed, Dave peered at the luminous glowing green digits. Six fifteen. Time to get up and catch criminals. Almost immediately he became uncharacteristically depressed. The nutter was still at large, apparently able to kill at will and dispose of bodies all over the place and until Dave could solve this case, he would just remain one amongst a growing crowd of keenly ambitious policemen in the bulging Metropolitan Police area. But just think, if he cracked it, it would make him a star.
It was definitely worth going for in a big way.
‘The world will be my lobster,’ he muttered on the way to the bathroom.
Dave washed his face, blinking in the piercing bathroom light, and peered approvingly at his familiar features in the mirror. Nice and neat and tidy; a button nose, bright blue eyes, and short, mousy hair atop his head setting off that marvellous full beard.
‘A man’s face,’ he said and smiled.
He liked to see a beard, well at least on a man. It was, well… manly. Drying his whiskers, he applied a generous amount of an aftershave called ‘Zeus Juice’ to his cheeks. Finally, after much combing of his hair, which was admittedly very thick and luscious, he placed a pair of bright blue plastic spectacles on the bridge of his nose.
‘I hate dull colours,’ he’d told his colleagues the first day he walked into the station sporting them.
Their eyes scanned over his plain grey suit, grey tie, off-white standard issue shirt and shiny grey shoes, and then back up to the almost fluorescent frames.
He ate a breakfast of sizzling back bacon, two sausages, black pudding, triple poached eggs, fried slice, mushrooms, kidneys, baked beans and badly burnt toast. As a big man he liked a big breakfast. He also liked a big lunch, a big dinner, a big tea and a big supper.
He sipped at his black coffee (‘no sugar, sweet enough, ha, ha, ha’), farted and left the flat; his shirt buttons straining against his now full belly. He lived alone, although in the same street as his mum who still lived in the family house.
‘I’ve got to have my independence,’ he said.
Mum came over to cook for him three evenings a week and he went over to hers about three times a week. Mum also cleaned the flat, did his laundry, mended the fuses and fetched all of his shopping.
‘He’s too busy what with going to work and catching criminals, and anyway he prefers me to do it for him; I know best,’ she said to her friends when they told her that the great lunk was big enough and ugly enough to do it himself. Dave arrived at work after listening to the news on the car radio. The bulletin led with news about increasing numbers of East Germans trying to flee the border into the West, but then later mentioned the nutter’s case again, only this time omitting Dave’s name. If only he could break this one, the sky would be the limit. He would be Hicks — Master Detective. The latest in a long and distinguished line; Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, Hercules Poirot, Frank Cannon and Crockett & Tubbs all rolled into one. He could be greater than all of them. He pondered what he was going to do to further the case that day on the drive to the station, having to carefully steer around the enormous piles of rubbish kicked into the street by passing oiks the night before.
One thing had so far eluded the media: a ubiquitous name for the murders. They’d been variously dubbed the ‘Bits and Pieces murders’, the ‘North London murders’, and the more alliterative ‘Bodies in the Bins’ murders, but no one name had so far captured the imagination of news editors that it was omnipresent. Perhaps in time it would come to be known as the ‘Dave Hicks Case’? Arriving in the station, somewhat cheered by his daydreaming, he called an immediate briefing with all the officers in his division. They trooped in, giving sideways looks to each other, not exactly relishing the day’s work ahead of them.
‘Right, boys,’ Hicks started, ‘I want action and I want action now. This whole thing has got to stop, or at least it’s got to get going.’
There were looks of confusion. Dave interpreted the silence as respect.
‘What I mean to say is this.’ He banged his fist very hard on the table and just managed to hide the startled wince of pain. ‘We’ve got to be seen to be doing something. The super requires it, the gentlemen of the press require it and’ — he paused for dramatic effect for a few seconds while eyeballing each one of them — ‘I require it.’
He looked keenly into each one of their tired, bleary eyes.
‘I’m arranging daily press conferences and I want each and every one of you to turn this into a Major Event. I want you to go out to Joe Public, the man on the street, and to the narks on your manor. Threaten whoever you have to. Show them we mean business on this one. Let them know we’re closing in and that when we catch this nutter, we won’t look too kindly on anyone who knew something about it and didn’t let on. This nutter must have friends or family who can see he’s a bit bonkers and who might want to grass him up. He might even slip up himself. I want us to be there when his slips up so we can debag the rotter.’
As far as Hicks could see, everyone was suitably buoyed up by his inspirational speech and as he strode out of the office, he felt pleased with the lift he’d given to team morale. One officer, in the same dynamic mould as Hicks himself, stopped and turned towards the detective chief inspector.
‘Excuse me, sir, when’s the first press conference due?’
‘Half past four,’ said Hicks, ‘just in time for the teatime news.’