Dr Quinlan had said it was for his eyes only. Not this woman’s. He thought of the Twins. For their sake, he had to be sure. He shut his eyes, forcing himself to peer into the dark recesses of his mind.
He was nine years old, running through a corn field, just wearing a t-shirt and sandals The brush of the wheat ears against his prepubescent genitals. He jolted upright, shaken, his eyes open.
Reynolds waited patiently, staring at him. “Greg?”
“In the questionnaire you alluded to being tied, naked, to a tree, was it?”
He squirmed with embarrassment. Had he really said that? “There is something, yes, but it’s so faded. So distant…”
“How convenient. This isn’t helping. Have you ever been hypnotised?”
“Would you have any objections to being hypnotised?”
“No way.” He wasn’t really sure what it involved, but guessed it would mean baring his soul, his darkest secrets, his innermost feelings, to this woman. He’d never be able to look her in the eye again.
He thought of the Dynamite Twins. Natalie and Tamara.
He thought of the dead child, Rebecca.
Of the news of the two new victims.
He thought of the Twins again. “Do whatever is necessary.”
“We’ll try it next session. Don’t worry. It won’t cost you anything. It will be the final stage of the free assessment, after which Dr Quinlan will meet you personally to explain our findings and talk about fees.”
“Almost. Before you go I’d just like you to have a look at these.” She pushed the lap-top towards him. “How did you react when you heard that another two girls had been killed?”
“Sick. Absolutely sick. And frightened. I can understand touching, I think. I can see how it might happen. If someone felt like I do but couldn’t control it. But to kill a child?” He shuddered. “Dr Reynolds, tell me I’ll never be capable of doing something like that, please. Just tell me I won’t.”
“I’m sorry, Greg, I can’t promise that. Not yet. Not until I know more about you. That’s why these interviews are so important. Why you have to be totally honest with me, no matter how uncomfortable you feel.”
He fell silent, staring at the computer. “What’s this for?”
“I want you to look at some images, and tell me which appeal to you.” She flicked a key and the screen illuminated, commencing a slide show of colourful photographs. The first dozen or so were of adult female models on the cat-walk, straight from a fashion show. He cast an indifferent eye over them. “What do you want me to say?”
“Just browse through. If you find a picture that stimulates you in any way, just point it out. That’s all. There’s no catch. But please be honest.”
“Sure. These are… nice, I guess.”
“Nice to look at as in scenery, or nice as in appealing sexually.”
“Fine. Go on.”
The images changed. The women were topless, then naked. Standard modelling poses. “They’re okay. I don’t dislike them. A bit dull, though. Boring.”
He came to pictures of men, first clothed, then unclothed. “I told you, I’m not a queer.”
Reynolds managed an amused laugh. “You’re not very politically correct, either.”
Back to women. The poses were more explicit now. Men and women. What he regarded as hard core.
“How do you feel about those, Greg?”
The beer was in his blood now. He opened a third can. “Worth a quick tug, I guess.”
“Sexually stimulating, you mean?”
“They could be, yeah.” He studied the pages, by now oblivious to Reynolds’ gaze.
Suddenly the adults were gone. Pictures of children. Boys and girls, playing. Clothed. He paused, wondering how he was supposed to react.
“They’re… They’re cute.”
“How about these?”
He hesitated. Children on a foreign beach. Naked children. “Where did you get these?”
“They’re just naturist photographs. You know, nudist families. It’s very common on the continent. They have a more relaxed attitude towards nudity than we do in Britain. What are you feeling?”
“Confused. These are… I don’t know. Appealing, but…”
“No. Not sexually.” He could sense she wanted more. “I suppose they could be. They’re just children playing without clothes on. Yes, they have an appeal. They’re pleasant to look at, but…”
“Just the girls?”
“Just the girls, yes.”
“What about the boys?”
He shook his head. “They’re just naked kids playing. That’s all. But the girls are…”
Reynolds raised a hand. “There’s more.”
He stared at the new screen, shaking his head in disbelief.
He pushed the screen away.
She gently pushed it back towards him.
His eyes were drawn to the photographs despite himself. Any stimulation he might have felt from the explicit poses were stifled by the pain, the fear, the terror, that showed on the faces of the young victims.
Eventually, “Where did you get this stuff?”
“It’s Home Office material. Confiscated child pornography. We have access to it for research and therapeutic purposes, like this. Under special licence.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“Honestly. This is a world apart from how I feel. This is horrible. Obscene.”
“That’s the legal definition, yes. Well, indecent is the latest jargon. Some people find it quite acceptable. There’s a lot worse. Have you ever heard of’ snuff porn?”
“I’m not into that, Dr Reynolds. If that’s what you think, you’re wrong.”
“It’s Ruth, Greg. Ruth. And it’s not what I think, so take it easy. But it’s where you could be, in time, if you don’t receive therapy.”
Randall shook his head in disbelief. “I’ve never seen anything so… So horrific. Those children were in pain. They were frightened. They were being hurt.”
“Abuse takes many forms, Greg. There’s far worse than that going on, believe me. Far worse. But you admit you found the earlier pictures pleasing. The naturist pictures. The naked children on their own, just playing. The girls.”
“Just them, yes. Not the last ones. What happened to those people?”
“Those that could be traced were prosecuted. Some are undergoing treatment.”
“I’m not able to say. You know that.”
“People can still be treated when they’ve gone that far?”
Reynolds closed the lap-top and adopted her maximum sincerity smile. “Let me level with you, Greg. A lot of our work here is for the Home Office. We deal directly with men who have committed serious sexual offences, against children, against other adults, even against animals. It’s the mainstay of our operation, treating convicted offenders.”
The beer was forgotten as he focussed on Reynolds’ words.
“If only more people would do what you’ve done… Would come forward before it’s too late, maybe fewer women, fewer children, would be harmed. It’s not pleasant, Greg, but it is necessary. Someone has to do it. The Home Office operates a treatment scheme for any sex offender serving a sentence of four years or more. A lot of them are dealt with here. It’s a condition of their parole. But that’s strictly confidential. Strictly between you and I.”
“Then why are you telling me?”
“Because, Greg, I want to ensure you return here for treatment now, voluntarily, before it’s too late.”
Randall stared blankly at her.
“Let me blunt. In the not too distant future the scenarios in those pictures, the scenes I believe you genuinely found upsetting today, could be you.”
He shook his head slowly. “No. I could never…”
“Think about it, Greg,” Reynolds said, articulating the words carefully.
“One day those children might be your daughters.”
Striding purposefully to the double garage, a leather briefcase in one hand, a brown fibreglass suitcase in the other, the right hand door opened to reveal the gleaming blue BMW Z3 convertible.
The drive to Gatwick was leisurely, the traffic tolerable with no unexpected delays. He negotiated the long-term car park with care, selecting a quiet area, out of view of the security cameras.
He pushed the eject button and slipped the CD into his jacket pocket before flipping the lock on the suitcase. The lid bounced up to reveal a smaller black and tan leather suitcase inside.
He extracted the second case, slung the first case in the boot and secured the vehicle before making his way to the terminal.
He read the Guardian editorial over herbal tea and a blueberry muffin in Costa, then picked up his luggage and made his way down to the railway station.
He took the Brighton train as far as Haywards Heath, selecting an empty carriage. In his briefcase, beneath a bundle of loose papers he dislodged a concealed catch and revealed a second compartment. From a selection of documents available he transferred a driving licence to his jacket pocket and secured the case.
At Haywards Heath he took a taxi to a nearby car rental firm. An hour later he was in slow moving traffic on the M25 near Chalfont St Peter, heading for the M1, silently cursing the road works.
He took the exit at junction 13, then on to Milton Keynes city centre. Junction 14 would have been quicker, but he had time to spare.
There were several hours until the school day finished…
Hang him! Hang him! Hang him! Now! Now! Now!
It was a conditioned, Pavlovian response to the appearance of a sex offender, Claire realised.
She found herself mentally correcting the observation. An alleged sex offender.
Almost as quickly she corrected herself again. He’d molested children in the past.
Little boys. He’d admitted that much.
As the warden closed the door, Bristow greeted her with a cautious smile, holding out his good hand. She hesitated, then took it. Bristow held on just a split-second too long, just a little too tight. These weren’t the hands that killed her daughter. Of that much she was now certain.
But they had touched other children. Little boys.
She retracted her grip abruptly, then began mumbled, embarrassed apologies.
Bristow sat down meekly. “There’s no need, Mrs Meadows. I understand. You don’t mind if I…” He began immediately to put together a spindly roll-up.
The bruises had almost healed by now. The cheap prison glasses he’d been furnished with did little for his appearance, but Claire found herself guessing he would have been a handsome man in his time. Good looking. Well educated, certainly. Not someone who would struggle to find a partner, gay or otherwise.
He said, “Thank you so much.”
“For coming. You’re the only visitor I’ve had, apart from Jeremy, my solicitor. And the Police, of course. They still think I…”
“I know. They advised me to stay away.”
He shook his head sadly. “I cannot believe they’re still going through with this. How many more children will be hurt before they will concede their error?”
“I shouldn’t be saying this, but we believe the Police and CPS are preparing to make a statement linking the murders. It will put you in the clear.”
Bristow eyed her suspiciously. “How do you know this?”
“A friend of a friend. We told your solicitor earlier today. He asked me to pass on the good news.”
Bristow seemed unsure if he could believe what he was hearing. “Thank the Lord they’re seeing sense, at last.”
“Mr Isaac said not to build your hopes up. It may take another week or so to go through the motions.”
“Jeremy is a good man. Is that why you came here? Did Jeremy ask you to come again?”
“No. I came because I wanted to talk to you again. I wanted, needed, to be sure. To be absolutely sure it wasn’t you that…”
Bristow looked into her eyes. “And are you?”
“Yes. I think so, yes.”
“Thank you.” He smiled for the first time. “That means so much to me. So very much.” He dragged on his cigarette. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to.”
“Have you no family?”
“A sister , but she can’t travel. She’s older than I. She can barely walk, even with a frame.”
“I’ve a brother too, though he hasn’t spoken to me since…” He stared into the distance. “Since my first arrest, all those years ago. He just couldn’t accept what I had become. Kathy was more understanding. I was on my way to visit her when I was stopped by the police.”
“The London Police?”
“I don’t want to bore you with the details.”
“Please, I’d like to hear it. Your version…”
Bristow drew on his roll-up. “I was taken to a police station, beaten, forced to confess…” He gestured to his arm and hand, still in plaster. “And dumped in an alley somewhere. Next thing I remember I was being charged with killing the child… The girl, Rebecca. Your daughter.”
“But why you?”
“I think they genuinely believed it, at first.”
Claire nodded. “Tell me what happened.”
“I was on my way to Hayes to see Kathy. Do you know Hayes?”
“Vaguely. West London? Near Heathrow?”
“Not far from Southall.”
“Exactly. When the body… When your daughter was found in the canal so close by, I was an obvious suspect.”
“But the police in Kent had already interviewed you previously, hadn’t they?”
“You seem to know more than you’re letting on.”
Claire shifted uncomfortably. “Bits and pieces. Please, go on.”
“I have nothing to hide, I promise you. Yes, I was interviewed several times after Rebecca disappeared, and again, of course, after her body was found. I have no problem with that, please understand. A child had been killed. I cooperated fully with the police. Fully. Of course there was no connection they could make, apart from my ice-cream van. That and my past record.”
“Which was for little boys.”
“Would you…” She hesitated. How could she put it? “Would you tell me about them?”
“ Just… Just, why? Why children? Why not other adults, like normal people? That’s what I can’t understand. You seem normal.”
A bemused smile played on his lips. “Mrs Meadows, if you think it will help alleviate your own suffering in some way then of course I’ll try. Though I warn you you’ll not find it pleasant.” He hesitated. “But… Would you do me a favour first?”
She held her breath, wondering what possible service she could offer him. “If I can.”
“Would you be so kind as to get me a cup of tea? I feel dreadful having to ask, but I have no money of my own here.”
“I’m so sorry.” She felt embarrassed at not having offered. In the main hall visitors were fetching refreshments to their tables. “You must think me very rude.”
“No, not at all. I understand your preoccupations. You’re a very brave woman, Mrs Meadows.”
“Claire… Thank you. I’m Thomas, as you know.” He paused. “I don’t think I could have coped in your position, Claire. I certainly wouldn’t have had the courage you’ve shown in coming here today.”
She stood up to get the drinks, looking down on his injuries. After all he’d been through, he was still thinking of others first. For the first time she felt warmth towards the man before her. With it, the last, residual doubts about his innocence evaporated.
She reached into her handbag and produced a packet of Benson & Hedges. “I thought you might like these.” She let the packet drop to the table.
He looked up at her with tear-filled eyes, opening his mouth to speak, but no words came. She turned hurriedly for the tea.
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