Forensic Pathology Unit,
Royal Liverpool University Hospital
Professor Clive Bixter is in his office, leafing through a report when DCI Salisbury and DS Bannon arrive.
‘Good morning professor,’ says Salisbury.
‘Do come in gentleman,’ booms Bixter, standing up. They shake hands. He ignores Bannon.
‘I take it you would like to know exactly how your young lad died. The one in the park,’ he adds to dispel any doubt.
‘That’s the general idea,’ murmurs Bannon.
‘Facetious as usual,’ I see,’ says Bixter fixing him with a penetrating stare. Professor Bixter is not a man who is easily ignored. He is head of the Forensic Pathology Unit. He has crossed swords with Bannon on previous occasions.
He indicates for them to follow him. ‘Something I want you to see,’ he says. ‘I hope you aren’t squeamish,’ he smiles mischievously at Bannon. ‘I know you have seen it all before chief inspector, but this case has some unusual aspects. It is not your run-of-the-mill killing.’
‘Even we had come to that conclusion when we were confronted with a naked body, half buried and with an enigmatic note attached to it,’ Bannon pipes up. Salisbury frowns at him.
Bixter ignores that and leads them to another room where a body is lying on a stainless-steel examination table covered by a sheet.
He consults his notes. ‘The victim is Johnny Zhang, 20, of Primrose Gardens, Norris Green.’ He looks at Salisbury for confirmation. Salisbury nods. ‘We have the parents arriving later today to give a positive identification,’ he says. e He con sults
‘What is most interesting is the cause of death,’ Bixter says, drawing back the sheet. ‘This is not the usual stabbing with your kitchen knife or any of the other fashionable accessories young thugs carry around these days.’ He points to a small puncture wound in the woman’s chest. ‘Almost looks like a bullet hole,’ doesn’t it?
Salisbury leans over to study the wound. ‘I suppose that explains why there wasn’t really very much blood around the body,’ he says. Bixter nods.
‘In my opinion that was caused by a sharp pointed implement, something like an Épée.’
‘That’s a type of sword used in fencing, isn’t it?’ says Bannon.
‘So it is sergeant,’ says Bixter. ‘But before you get excited let me say that it could also have been caused by any kind of spike.’
‘Offices used to have spikes mounted on wooden plinths where bills or invoices would be ‘spiked’ when they had been paid,’ says Salisbury. ‘I don’t imagine they still have them in these paperless days.’
‘Yes, that would have done the job and you would be surprised there are still a few around,’ murmurs Bixter. He turns to study the body. ‘Anyway, it would have been around a foot long, enough to penetrate the right atrium and enter the left ventricle. No sign of sexual activity. No bruising to speak of. No sign of substance abuse. Death would have been almost instantaneous. I would hazard a guess that he knew his attacker.’
They follow him back to his office where he hands Salisbury his detailed report. ‘I have a few additional observations you may be interested in,’ he says frowning. ‘I consulted a forensic psychologist at the university about this case and included his thoughts in an addendum at the back of my report.’
‘I suppose you are going to mention the message that had been attached to him,’ says Bannon.
Bixter sighs. ‘Yes, I am sergeant, but only en-passant, so to speak. The cypher is relatively unimportant really. It is, in my opinion, essentially a smoke screen in that it was written in very bad Mandarin.
He smiles thinly at Bannon. ‘I’m sure you will have noticed that for yourself sergeant. Its purpose was to make you think that this was a Chinese killing, whereas the opposite is actually the truth. Once you have understood that it is only a matter of half an hour or so to arrive at the killer’s real message.’ He pauses and grins at Salisbury. ‘It’s hardly worth the trouble really because you will not be any the wiser when you have deciphered it.’
‘What do you mean,’ says Bannon.
‘Well sergeant since you evidently have not yet deciphered it, when you do you will find that the message is just the killer’s way of taunting you. Unless I’m very much mistaken, you will be no nearer arriving at his identity than you are now.
‘He’s just having fun with you sergeant.’ He smiles at Bannon sardonically.
‘What is more pertinent is what the psychologist had to say once he had been acquainted with the facts surrounding the case.’
‘Does he give an indication of the killer’s personality?’ asks Salisbury.
‘Absolutely. Not only that but what motivates him, or indeed her, and more importantly whether this is a one-off or whether he will kill again.’
‘You have my undivided attention,’ says Salisbury.
‘I think his most important conclusion is that the killer is a malignant narcissist and a psychopath.’
‘Psychopath I can understand,’ says Salisbury. ‘But malignant narcissist?’
‘Well, he pointed me to Psychology Today where Carrie Barron, M.D., described it as: “Intelligent, high functioning, soft-spoken, charming, tearful/seemingly emotional, gracious, well mannered, kind and have the ability to form relationships.”’
He points up a finger and grimaces: ‘But there’s a downside as well because while it is easy to see why, at first glance, this type of person would be appealing, Barron also wrote, “The combination of subtle paranoia, lack of conscience and sadism in these people renders these individuals scary, dangerous, and ruthless.”’
And there you have it, chief inspector. You are dealing with a very complex killer who is highly intelligent, well-motivated and by the way, could be either male or female.
‘That narrows it down a bit,’ mutters Bannon. They both stare at him and then Bixter claps his hands to his head.
‘I almost forgot chief inspector. A thousand pardons. The unfortunate Master Zhang had a clenched fist. At first, we thought it was rigor mortis but now we aren’t so sure. When we managed to prise his fingers open there was a slip of paper inside. I have it on my desk.’ He rummages around the various files and triumphantly holds it up when he locates it. He hands it to Bannon who looks at it with a bemused expression. He gives it to Salisbury.
‘That number rings bells,’ he says quietly.