Thorne hated the idea of coppers being hardened. A hardened copper was useless. Like hardened paint. He was just . . . resigned. To a down-and-out with a fractured skull and the word SCUM carved into his chest. To half a dozen Girl Guides decapitated courtesy of a drunken bus driver and a low bridge. And the harder stuff. Resigned to watching the eyes of a woman, who’s lost her son, glaze over as she gnaws her bottom lip and reaches absently for the kettle. Thorne was resigned to all this. And he was resigned to Alison Willetts.
‘Stroke of luck, really, sir.’
He was resigned to having to think of this small girl-shaped thing, enmeshed in half a mile of medical spaghetti, as a breakthrough.
A piece of good fortune. A stroke of luck. And she was barely even there. What was undeniably lucky was that they’d found her in the first place.
‘So, who fucked up?’ DC David Holland had heard about Thorne’s straight-for-the-jugular approach, but he was unprepared for the question so soon after arriving at the girl’s bedside.
‘Well, to be fair, sir, she didn’t fit the profile. I mean, she was alive for a kick-off, and she’s so young.’
‘The third victim was only twenty-six.’
‘Yes, I know, but look at her.’
He was. Twenty-four and she looked as helpless as a child. ‘So it was just a missing-persons’ job until the local boys tracked down a boyfriend.’ Thorne raised an eyebrow.
Holland instinctively reached for his notebook. ‘Er . . .Tim Hinnegan. He’s the closest thing there is to next-of-kin. I’ve got an address. He should be here later.Visits every day apparently. They’ve been together eighteen months – she moved down here two years ago from Newcastle to take up a position as a nursery nurse.’ Holland shut his notebook and looked at his boss, who was still staring down at Alison Willetts. He wondered whether Thorne knew that the rest of the team called him the Weeble. It was easy to see why. Thorne was . . . what? five six? five seven?
But the low centre of gravity and the very . . . breadth of him suggested that it would take a lot to make him wobble. There was something in his eyes that told Holland that he would almost certainly not fall down.
His old man had known coppers like Thorne but he was the first Holland had worked with. He decided he’d better not put away the notebook just yet.The Weeble looked like he had a lot more questions. And the bugger did have this knack of asking them without actually opening his mouth.
‘Yeah, so she walks home after a hen night . . . er, a week ago Tuesday . . . and winds up on the doorstep of A and E at the Royal London.’
Thorne winced. He knew the hospital. The memory of the pain that had followed the hernia operation there six months earlier was still horribly fresh. He glanced up as a nurse in blue uniform put her head round the door, looking first at them and then at the clock. Holland reached for his ID, but she was already shutting the door behind her.
Extract taken from Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham, published by Sphere.