They’d started burrowing the moment he’d come out of the coma, and the depressions they dug deepened every day. Physically, the bullets were long gone and scars covered the places where they’d torn into his body, but their psychological damage haunted him. Patrick Bailey wore a convincing mask of professionalism, and he doubted whether Superintendent Cross had noticed any change. His colleagues might have caught him drifting during a conversation, but it was only his family and old friends, like Salamander, who recognized the lingering effects of his shooting. His life was smaller, darker, and Bailey felt vulnerable, fearful—mortal. He’d noticed it in hospital, where he’d found himself jumping at unexpected noises and treating passing strangers with suspicion. Even after his doctor had given him the all-clear and he’d started his physical therapy, Bailey worried that they’d missed one or more of the bullet fragments—that deadly metal was lodged somewhere in his veins and would one day be dislodged to flow to his brain or heart, killing him instantly.
Once this fear had taken root, Bailey found it impossible to shake. And the ghostly bullets, like burrowing insects, kept digging into his insecure mind and throwing up new filth. A residual blood clot lingered near his lungs; the stress and strain on his heart had weakened it; the coma had changed his sinus rhythm, making him prone to stroke. As their burrows grew bigger, the parasites became stronger, adding new fears, which compounded Bailey’s stress. The Met’s resident psychotherapist, Jean Davis, a thoughtful woman with a dark little office off Edgware Road, tried to talk Bailey through the aftermath of trauma, and explained that anxiety would manifest itself in physical symptoms. She tried to teach him techniques to cope with his fears, and Bailey smiled and pretended to learn, so that by the end of his mandated six weekly sessions, Jean would declare him fit for duty and the force would have no hint of the damage being done by the terrors conjured by his paranoid mind.
During calmer moments, Bailey told himself he was being irrational and knew that Jean was right: he was just as fit, healthy, and capable as he’d been before Pendulum shot him, and his fears were unfounded. But whenever rationality threatened to take hold, the evil parasites burrowed deeper and revealed some new horror to unbalance him and push him into the grip of panic. Bailey had sacrificed so much of himself, saving John Wallace from Pendulum, and it had taken months of intense physical therapy for him to recover from the shooting. He’d been commended for his bravery, but he didn’t think there was anything brave about his actions. He’d simply done what was necessary, and he had paid a heavy price. His body was better, but he feared that his mind might never recover.
So Bailey spent his days pretending to be the detective he once was, wearing a smile like an ill-fitting mask, feigning competence like an actor in a TV cop show. At night he became reclusive and withdrew from those who knew him best, so that they would not question him about the changes they’d seen, and, through voicing their concerns, give his anxiety even more power. He set his intellect against his fear and tried to solve the problem, spending lonely evenings in his flat researching ways to combat anxiety. But every new fact only seemed to give the parasites greater power and each new revelation only seemed to stimulate a new fear. Finally, he realized that logic was no match for primal irrationality. He’d come close to seeing his doctor, but didn’t want anxiety or mental health issues flagged on his record, so he’d resigned himself to the hope that time would heal him, and forced his way through each day trying to ignore the growing feeling that death waited for him at the end of every step.
A uniformed officer walked in front of his car and Bailey slammed on the brake. The seatbelt snapped tight as he jerked forward, and he felt his heart start to race as he realized that he’d almost run the man over. The young officer moved to the driver’s window and knocked on the glass.
“Sorry, sir, the street’s closed,” the officer said.
“DI Bailey,” Bailey replied, fumbling for his warrant card.
“Park anywhere on the left,” the PC instructed, stepping away to move the barricade that blocked the road.
Bailey waved his thanks as he drove on, shaken by the manner of his arrival. His efforts to combat his anxiety so consumed him that he often found himself retreating into his mind, becoming oblivious to the outside world. He relied on autopilot to keep him functioning, but now and again it was starting to fail. He would miss entire sections of the daily briefing, or set out for a location and end up somewhere else. This time his autopilot had succeeded in bringing him to the right place; Ufton Grove, a short residential street that was either in South Dalston or North Islington, depending on whether you were buying or selling one of the four-story Georgian terrace properties. But he was unnerved that he’d nearly collided with the uniform and concerned at his inability to recall most of his journey through London’s busy streets.
Bailey pulled into a space marked by police cones, behind one of the two liveried police cars that were on the scene. The forensics truck was parked directly outside number 112, an end-of-terrace home located on the southeastern corner of the street.
He turned away from the low afternoon sun slanting through the branches of the budding blossom trees and hurried across the street into a tiny garden. As he walked up a stone path set between patches of brushed gravel that swept like a frozen sea around a handful of pot plants, Bailey willed himself to focus. He challenged himself to rise above his anxiety and to allow his keen eye and incisive mind to truly connect with the world. A detective cut off by fear was no use to anyone.
A shabby-looking man waited for Bailey on the threshold. Greasy black curly hair fell around a lard-white, puffy face.
“DI Bailey?” the man asked as he offered his hand. “DS Murrall. Call me Jack. Thanks for coming.”
Bailey shook Murrall’s clammy hand and wondered whether the sheen of perspiration that covered his face was a sign of nerves or ill health. Murrall’s poorly fitting, cheap suit was speckled with patchy stains—he looked more like a deadbeat traveling salesman than a cop.
“Happy to help,” Bailey replied with a smile. “What you got?”
“Upstairs,” Murrall said as he headed inside.
Bailey felt an arrhythmical thump in his chest, and fear instantly shrank the world to nothing. He paused by the front door, aware that he was incapable of doing his job until the wave of panic had subsided. His mind turned inward, studying his body for further signs of imminent death. He longed to take his pulse, but knew he was being watched.
“You OK?” Murrall asked.
“Sure. Just getting my bearings,” Bailey lied.
As suddenly as it had arrived, Bailey was through the tunnel of panic and the sensory world burst into life all around him. He became aware of his own reflection in a large, gilt-framed mirror that hung in the white hallway. You’ve aged, he thought, looking at his haunted eyes. The rest of his body hadn’t markedly changed since the shooting, but he knew he was carrying a few more pounds on his previously athletic frame, and a close observer would notice that his dark skin was blemished by traces of stress-induced acne.
He followed Murrall up a narrow staircase. The thick green carpet reminded Bailey of a stately home, and the red runner, complete with brass fixings, suggested old-fashioned class combined with easy access to money. Family photographs lined the stairs. An attractive couple, both lean, both exuding confidence, smiled with two hand- some young boys.
“Sylvia Greene,” Murrall noted as they climbed the first flight of stairs. “Editor of the London Record.”
“I thought I recognized the name,” Bailey observed.
“Husband is Connor Greene. He’s a graphic designer,” Murrall continued. “The two boys are Hector and Joseph. They’re at their cousins’.”
“The mother?” Bailey asked, studying a portrait photograph of Sylvia. He saw it now, a familiar look in her eyes that lay well concealed beneath the confident ease—a haunting.
Murrall nodded. “She’s upstairs,” he said, indicating another flight of steps.
Bailey followed the rotund detective, who was already slightly out of breath. He glanced into the family’s bedrooms as they crossed the landing and saw that even the boys’ were immaculately well ordered. The furniture was an eclectic mix of antiques that looked as though it had been cobbled together at numerous estate sales. Creating this casually beautiful family home had taken a great deal of careful effort. Bailey noted more silver-framed family portraits on an occasional table that stood at the foot of the next flight of stairs. He followed Murrall up to a tiny landing set in the eaves of the roof. Two doors led off the small space. Bailey sensed activity in the room that lay to the right and followed Murrall inside.
Sylvia Greene’s body was hanging from an exposed rafter. A couple of forensics officers working in their white overalls acknowledged Murrall as he and Bailey entered.
“They haven’t finished,” Murrall said, “but I wanted you to see her. See why we called you.”
Bailey noticed the similarities immediately. The rope around Sylvia Greene’s neck was the same gauge as the one found in John Wallace’s flat, and, like Wallace, Sylvia was in her underwear.
“Is that blood?” Bailey asked, noting deep red droplets on the green carpet.
“We think so,” Murrall answered. “She isn’t wounded, so we think she might have cut an assailant.”
“May I?” Bailey said, stepping forward.
“Sure.” Murrall nodded, and Bailey continued toward the body. “Who found her?” Bailey asked as he studied the scene.
“The husband, Connor Greene.”
Bailey concentrated on his surroundings and tried not to think about the man’s profound horror as he discovered his dead wife. A large leather-topped desk stood beneath a Velux window which was cut into the sloped roof. The desktop was neatly presented: a laptop, ordered piles of paper, more family photographs, a pot of pens and pencils—nothing looked out of place apart from the captain’s chair that lay on its side directly beneath the body. Bailey drew close to Sylvia and studied her fingers, which hung at head height. Her nails were ragged and broken and had a great deal of dirt and material pressed beneath them. He looked up, and felt himself go lightheaded as he gazed at death. Bodies never used to bother him, but now he had to fight the urge to run, to get as far away as possible. He forced back his fear and concentrated on Sylvia’s neck, which was raw with scratch marks, where she’d tried to rip away the noose. The abrasions were bright red and her skin wasn’t yet showing the bluish tinge of the long dead—the body hadn’t been hanging for more than a few hours. Bailey looked beyond her lank blonde hair to the rafter, where the heavy rope pressed tightly against the hard wood.
“What do you think?” Murrall asked.
Bailey hesitated, forcing himself to look directly at Sylvia Greene’s face. You’re not haunted anymore, he thought darkly as he peered at her glassy, bulging eyes. “You find a note?”
Murrall shook his head. “This is going to be a hot one, sir. I don’t know if you read the Record, but she really turned it around. Broke a lot of big stories. Pissed off a lot of powerful people.”
“Where’s the husband?” Bailey asked.
“Downstairs with victim support,” Murrall replied. “He said anything?”
“No. He kept it together until his sister collected the boys, but then he lost it.”
“We should see if he’s ready to talk,” Bailey suggested as he headed for the door, relieved at his growing distance from grim death.Bailey saw the man glance over at him and Murrall as they entered and recognized a familiar expression, one he’d seen on the faces of countless criminals: the discomfort of deceit.
Bailey didn’t answer any of Murrall’s questions but instead considered what he’d seen as he followed the wheezing detective downstairs. Apart from the bloodstains on the carpet, there was nothing to suggest murder, and the beam that supported Sylvia Greene’s body showed no signs of abrasion, suggesting that she had not been hoisted up there by someone else. Subject to the results of the forensic report on the blood, Bailey had been inclined to view Sylvia Greene’s death as suicide, but that changed the moment he caught sight of her husband, Connor. The distraught widower was seated at a pine-topped table near the high windows of his basement kitchen, and, while there was no doubting the authenticity of his grief, Bailey saw the man glance over at him and Murrall as they entered and recognized a familiar expression, one he’d seen on the faces of countless criminals: the discomfort of deceit.
“Mr. Greene?” Bailey crossed the expensive white kitchen, the heels of his shoes clicking against the hard stone tiles. “How are you feeling?”
Connor looked at the uniformed victim liaison officer, a young constable with an earnest face, no doubt in the vain hope she could answer on his behalf. The young constable caught Bailey’s eye and shook her head slowly. Connor’s chin dropped and he kept his eyes fixed on the delicate natural patterns embossed on the stone beneath his feet.
“Do you think you can talk?” Bailey continued, leaning against the butcher’s block that stood at the heart of the kitchen. Ignoring Murrall’s concerned looks, he took off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves while he waited for Connor to answer. “It’s humid down here.”
Bailey tried to read Connor’s eyes as the bereaved man glanced up at him: grief, anger, hostility—all the usual emotions he’d expect to see, but there was also discomfort, which manifested itself in Connor’s inability to hold his gaze. Bailey crouched down and forced himself into Connor’s eyeline. “What do you think, Mr. Greene?”
“We can do this later, right . . .” Murrall began, but he stopped talking when Bailey shot him a disapproving look.
“Saturday morning,” Connor began quietly. “Saturday morning. Give the boys their breakfast, get them in their kit, take them to football. Vee came every now and again, but Saturday mornings are mine. Me and the boys. She said she was going to catch up on some work.”
Bailey watched Connor as he choked back his tears. The grieving husband looked hot and uncomfortable, perspiration clearly visible on his brow. Connor was wearing a thick woolen submariner’s sweater, complete with tight roll neck. His right hand was holding his left forearm, his fingers teasing a loose strand of wool. Thick jeans and heavy boots completed the husband’s outfit, clothes that might have been sensible for the touchline, but were bound to stifle in this well-insulated, hot kitchen.
“Would you like me to open a window?” Bailey asked.
Connor shook his head. “What would you like to know?”—his voice rising, searching for a name.
“Detective Inspector Bailey. Just tell us about your day. Exactly what happened.”
The kitchen fell still. Bailey could hear Murrall’s labored breathing and the muffled sounds of distant traffic. Someone outside the house dropped something that clattered to the pavement and made Murrall jump. Bailey was studying Connor too intently to react.
“I take the boys to football practice every Saturday,” Connor began. “Out at the Hackney Marshes. Vee, Sylvia, my wife . . . she uses the time to work. She likes the house quiet so she can concentrate. Me and the boys stop for food on the way home, McDonald’s normally. She was fine when we left, maybe a little preoccupied, but she’s always like that when she’s got a lot on at work. When we came home . . . I . . . I found her upstairs. I tried to get her down . . .” Connor crumbled, his voice failing utterly as he recalled his efforts.
“And the blood?” Bailey pressed.
Connor took a moment to compose himself and then stared directly at Bailey, holding his gaze with unnatural intensity. “I cut myself,” he responded flatly, rolling up the sleeve of his thick sweater to reveal a nasty gash on his left forearm. The bloody wound was still weeping.
Bailey gave Murrall a dismayed look; that was not the sort of thing he should have missed. “We need to have that looked at, Mr. Greene,” he advised, before telling the scruffy detective beside him, “See if you can get someone in here.”
Murrall nodded at the victim support officer, who quickly left the room, and Bailey turned back to Connor. “How did you cut yourself, Mr. Greene?” he continued.
Connor didn’t answer, but instead looked sheepishly at the floor. “Mr. Greene, what did you cut yourself on?” Bailey insisted, and
the atmosphere changed.
“The chair,” Connor responded at last. “I caught myself on the mechanism when I tried to lift my wife down.”
Bailey looked to Murrall for confirmation, and the pale detective shook his head emphatically.
“There was no blood on the chair, Mr. Greene,” Bailey countered. “How did you cut yourself?”
Connor was unresponsive, his attention held by the patterns on the floor tiles.
“People go into shock in these situations, do strange things, things they might struggle to remember,” Bailey added. “You need to tell us how you cut yourself, Mr. Greene.”
Connor’s mouth twisted into a half-smile as he shook his head. “Why would I call the police?”
Exasperated, Bailey turned to Murrall. “I think we’re going to have to continue this at the station,” he said. “Once we’ve got his arm seen to.”
Connor’s smile fell away and he stared past Bailey, toward some distant point far beyond the walls of the kitchen. “Why would I call the police if I’d had anything to do with my wife’s death, Detective Inspector Bailey?”
From FREEFALL, by Adam Hamdy. Used with the permission of the publisher, Pegasus Books. Copyright © 2018 by Adam Handy.