There were no lights on in the house from what he could see, but even in
the darkness the place looked like something out of a fairytale, or a
horror story. Set deep in the woods, way off the beaten track. This
house had seen a great deal of horror only months before. Six men they
knew about, and doubtless more they didn’t, had been slaughtered in the
picture-postcard setting, slashed to death and burnt beyond
recognition. And then this afternoon they’d received an anonymous phone
call regarding the now abandoned cottage, someone claiming that someone
was squatting in it. Detective Chief Inspector Jim Taggart had sent his
sergeant, Michael Jardine, out to take a look. To be truthful, the DCI
hadn’t taken it very seriously.
But the sunlight was fading, Michael had been gone hours and they
couldn’t raise him on his mobile. Sergeant Jackie Reid had finally
agreed with their boss that they should drive out to the house to make
sure that everything was all right. Their colleague had been distracted
recently, depressed even. He’d just found out that his latest
girlfriend had been sleeping with one of his oldest friends and the
discovery had really knocked him for six.
Taggart drove them out to the house, pulling up behind Mike’s purplish
Rover. When he killed the car engine, the silence was almost
deafening. “Something’s definitely not right.” Picking up the handset
he called HQ, asking for immediate backup, stating a ‘bad feeling’ as
He might have called for it, but there was no way he was going to wait
for it. “Take the back, but be careful.” Jackie nodded, getting out of
the car and heading around to the back of the house as Jim went to the
front. He knocked on the heavy wooden door. There was no answer, but
he hadn’t really expected there to be. He knocked again, harder, more
insistent. And then he tried the door handle.
The door swung open with a rusted creak, letting him into the hallway.
The kitchen was to his right, living room to his left. He could hear a
cracking of wood, and the warmth that hit him immediately suggested a
log fire. A blaze that consumed the house had ended their investigation
six months ago, and it was no more than a burnt out shell now. Yet
someone had lit a log fire?
“Michael?” Taggart stepped through the doorway into what used to be the
lounge. The fire provided the only light, but it was enough for him to
see by. The furniture that had once been was nothing but ash. There
was no sign, apart from the amber flames, that anyone was living here.
He turned away, glancing at the stairs. But something caught his
attention, a movement in the far corner of the living room. Slowly, he
moved further into the room, watching the shadows, trying to make out
what was lurking there. His eyes slowly accustomed themselves to the
dim light, and he began to make out a figure of a man, sitting in the
corner, knees drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs,
rocking slowly back and forth.
“Michael....” He could barely believe what he was seeing. “Michael?”
Crouching down, he touched his sergeant’s arm, and Michael flinched away
as if electrocuted, but he didn’t look up. He continued to stare into
the distance, into the opposite corner. Taggart followed that
trance-like gaze and his eyes widened. Slouched against the far wall
was what remained of a man. The naked corpse had no arms, no legs. The
head drooped at a sickening angle, chin dropped against the collarbone.
From what Taggart knew of his pathology, the body had been devoid of
life for at least a few weeks.
He heard Jackie’s call as he moved deliberately between his sergeant and
the gruesome sight in the corner. “In here, Jackie.” He glanced up at
her as she stepped into the living room. “You’d better call an
ambulance, and Stephen.”
Jackie came toward them, frowning. “What the hell...?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Her eyes swept over her colleague, and into the far corner. “Oh my
God....” Taking out her mobile she dialled the station.
Still getting no reaction from his sergeant, Taggart decided the best
approach was the most direct one. Leaning forward, he put his hands on
Michael’s shoulders, gripping him tightly. At least he got what he
wanted. The reaction was immediate and definite. Michael screamed,
coming alive suddenly in Taggart’s grip. Starting to fight to escape,
he pushed against the older man, kicking out. Jackie was stunned, but
Jim refused to let go, moving closer, to Michael’s side out of the way
of his feet, using his strength to pull his sergeant against him.
Putting one arm around Michael’s shoulders, he grabbed both his hands
and held them. Michael continued to struggle, yelling to be released,
until all the fight left him finally and he collapsed against his boss,
Taggart held him tight, securing him from whatever horrors he perceived
to be out there. After a time, he released his grip slightly, gentling
his embrace to coerce Michael into relaxing, into trusting him. But
Michael held on, twisting his superior’s shirt in his fingers, burying
his face into the other man’s shoulder until his tears soaked through
the thin material.
“We need to get him out of here,” Jackie observed. “He must have been
sitting there for hours.”
Taggart nodded. She was right, he just wasn’t sure how they were going
to accomplish it. Rubbing his hand up Michael’s arm, he tried to ease
him away slightly. “Michael, we’re going to take you outside now. Can
you stand for me?”
Michael pulled back, and Taggart got the impression of watching a man
sinking back into himself. He looked up, reddened eyes pleading with
his boss and when he spoke it was nothing but a whisper. “Don’t let him
do it again, please.”
“No one’s goin’ to do anything to you.” His mind was spinning, trying
to put together the scant pieces of this frightening puzzle. But
Michael’s safety and sanity had to be his priority now. “Come on.” He
pulled his sergeant to his feet, keeping his arm around him, watching
Michael’s reaction to Jackie as she put her arm around his waist.
Michael glanced at her, but it wasn’t anything like the initial
hostility he’d been shown.
Leading their frightened colleague out of his self-made prison, Taggart
couldn’t resist wondering who the corpse was. Once outside, Jackie
opened the back door of the car, staying close as their boss talked the
traumatised sergeant into getting in. Motioning to Jackie, he waited
until she’d climbed in the other side before gently handing Michael over
to her. They could hear the sirens of police cars and ambulances
“Michael, I’m goin’ to have to sort this all out. Jackie’ll stay with
you until we’re finished.”
Jackie glanced up at him. “Shouldn’t he... go to a hospital, Sir?”
That got a reaction. Michael sat up suddenly, pulling away from Jackie,
absolute terror in his large eyes. “No... no hospitals, please.”
Taggart gripped his shoulder, easing him back. “All right, Michael. No
hospitals. Just stay here with Jackie for now.” He met Jackie’s gaze
for a moment before standing, turning to meet the vehicles that started
to fill the wooded driveway in front of the house of horrors.
McVitie was one of the first ones out of the cars, Stephen Andrews close
“What the hell’s going on here, Jim?”
But Taggart was watching the paramedics approaching. “Could you give me
a minute, Sir?” He missed McVitie’s frown as he hurried forward to
intercept one of the paramedics. “Er...” he read the name badge on the
uniform, “Chris. When we got here, we found my sergeant inside. We
was... catatonic might be the best word.”
Chris nodded. “Where is he?”
Taggart led him to the car. “This is DS Jackie Reid, and DS Michael
Jardine.” Michael was once again folded up, feet up on the seat, arms
wrapped around him in what seemed a protective gesture. One of Jackie’s
hands covered his, her other petting the back of his neck, trying to
soothe. Michael didn’t seem aware of her, or of anyone any more. Chris
sat himself slowly on the edge of the back seat.
“Hello, Michael. My name’s Chris, I’m a paramedic. Is it okay if I
look you over, make sure you’re all right?”
Taggart watched the introduction get no response.
“Jim?” He stood back, almost walking into his superior. “What’s going
“I have no idea, Sir.”
The windows were black with ash, and the electricity had been cut months
ago. It took five minutes to set up some emergency lighting for Stephen
to work by. In the light, the dismembered corpse looked worse. “Do we
know who he is?” McVitie turned from the body while Stephen got closer.
Jim shook his head. “I don’t, but I have a feeling Michael does.”
“Well then, let’s talk to him.”
“Not yet, Sir.” He explained what had happened, what he and Jackie had
“You don’t think just seeing the body caused such an extreme reaction in
such a sensible man?”
“No. Someone lit a fire in here. That wasn’t Michael. Someone else
“Is Mike all right?”
Taggart shrugged. “I’ve got one of the paramedics talking to him,
hopefully checking him over. He really doesn’t want to go to hospital,
so if it’s okay with the doctors I’ll take him back with me, he can stay
at my place tonight.”
Stephen stood. “Well, this unfortunate soul has been dead about three
weeks. His limbs were hacked off while he was still alive, although I
doubt he was aware after the first amputation. And that’s not all
that’s been removed. His genitalia is also missing, and I would hazard
a guess that they were chopped off first.”
Stephen faltered, stopped in mid-flow. “Why what?”
“Why would you hazard a guess that his genitals were removed first?”
“Well, in my experience, someone who does that to a man does it for a
reason. His killer would presumably want him to be conscious.” Taggart
nodded, not wanting to think about it too much. “There’s no ID on the
body, I’ll try to give you something more once I’ve got him back to the
lab. As for cause of death, that’s easy - blood loss.”
“So he wasn’t killed here?” His answer was an empathic ‘no’. Taggart
rubbed his eyes. “Thanks, Stephen.” He turned to McVitie. “I’ll check
“I’d like you to be able to talk to me,” Chris spoke gently, rolling up
his patient’s sleeve to take his blood pressure. “Can you tell me what
Michael turned his head to actually focus on the man speaking to him but
he turned away again without a word.
Jackie stroked her thumb across the base of his neck, where his hair was
cut short. “We want to help, Michael.” But even as she spoke, she
heard how lame it sounded.
Taggart stepped out of the house, shivering in the cold. The night was
dark now, and it had started to drizzle. The light in his car
illuminated the three people in the back, and as he approached Chris
“Chief Inspector Taggart.”
“How is he?”
“He’s covered in bruises! He’s had a terrible shock of some kind, but
he won’t talk about it. In fact he won’t talk about anything. I’m not
entirely happy, I’d like to take him in.”
“The bruising’s that bad?”
“No. Well, yes, but I didn’t mean that kind of hospital.”
Taggart frowned, confused for a moment. And then the penny dropped, and
his eyes widened. “Are you talking about an asylum?! He’s in shock,
he’s not insane!”
“These aren’t the Middle Ages. I’m not talking about locking him up in
a padded room.”
“You’re not going to get a chance to lock him up anywhere! He’s coming
home with me. He needs familiarity, not some team of doctors prodding
and poking him.” He stepped passed Chris, dropping into the back of the
car. “Hi, Mike. What say I take you home? You can stay with me for
tonight, maybe we can have a drink and a chat?” Michael didn’t lift his
forehead from his knees. Jackie sighed softly. “Sir, have you spoken
Jackie nodded, she wasn’t about to argue. She could feel her colleague
shaking under her hands and she wasn’t happy about the idea of handing
him over to a group of strangers either, doctors or not. “Can I drop
“Actually, Sir. I’d like to stay with him. If I can?” Jim considered
her request, and nodded. Michael was perhaps more likely to open up to
her than to him anyway.
“Where’s Jean?” Jackie pushed open the door of the dark house, taking
the keys from the Yale lock.
“Some conference or other in Edinburgh.” They watched Michael pad
slowly into the lounge and stand in the centre of the carpet, staring at
the floor. Jim shook his head, continuing through to the kitchen to
fill the kettle. Jackie tapped his shoulder. “Can I use your toilet?”
“Second door on the left.”
Deep inside the darkness, a five-year-old boy clawed at the cage that
imprisoned him. The eyes of his torturer glowered down at him, two
glowing circles of red fire burning through to the little boy’s soul.
He had believed it all over, and yet he was back here, trapped in the
one place he’d spent his life trying to escape.
Taggart stepped into the lounge a few minutes later and was stopped in
his tracks by what he saw. Michael was kneeling on the carpet, long
black coat pooled around him hanging from shaking shoulders. From under
the heavy material, his feet poked out on either side. Just in front of
him, his palms flat were on the carpet, supporting his weight as he
cried violent sobs of anguish.
Desperate just to hold him but frightened of scaring him, Jim approached
slowly, crouching down beside his sergeant. “Michael?” Hesitantly, he
reached out, touching his friend’s shoulder, keeping in mind what Chris
had said about the bruising. “Michael.” The other didn’t look up, but
he did shake his head. Moving to kneel beside him, Jim put his arm
around the cloaked shoulders, keeping his touch light and easy. “Come
on.” The tenderness in his actions, in his words would have surprised a
great many people. They surprised Jackie when she stopped in the
doorway, not wanting to interrupt.
With loving care, Taggart placed his other hand around the back of
Michael’s head and very gently pulled him close. To his relief, Michael
went, falling against him, struggling to catch a breath as the hysteria
took hold and the heart-crushing sobs were torn from his soul. Taggart
held him much as he had done on the floor of the burned out living
room. He made the circle of his arms a haven for Michael to hide in,
stroked the short blond hair with undisguised affection. Above all, he
let him cry, without talking, without asking any questions or offering
any answers. It seemed that for a while at least, there were none.
Silently, Jackie watched the two of them for a moment before tiptoeing
out and closing the kitchen door behind her.
The Grandfather clock in the corner of the dining room declared to the
house in general that it was ten o’clock. Feeling Michael’s body
finally start to relax, Taggart shifted them both back a foot to enable
him to lean against the edge of the sofa, pulling his feet out from
under him while still cradling his sergeant in his arms. He’d lessened
his grip somewhat, all too aware of the reported state of the slim body
he held. He’d kept up the soothing stroking of the hair though,
something he’d leant from Jean a long time ago, an action that he’d used
many times in the past to calm their daughter.
Under the thick coat Michael shifted, putting his feet out to one side
and leaning more into the warm safety that protected him. His eyes felt
so heavy, his head like a hollow shell stuffed with cotton wool.
Despite the thick material wrapped around him he was so cold... and he
ached from head to foot. It seemed perhaps that the only way to escape
the increasing pain was to give into the darkness. But before he could,
a gentle, quiet voice drifted into his mind.
“...safe here, now. We’ll take care of you. You’ve got nothin’ to
worry about, there’s nothing to be frightened of.” The voice sounded
like his father, reaching out to him to pull him back from the edge.
With some difficulty, he opened his eyes.
Jackie put her own and her boss’ mugs down close to them, holding the
third mug out to Michael. “Tea?”
He nodded, whispering, “Tissue?” She smiled, going to fetch the box of
tissues she’d seen on the dining room table. Michael fell silent again
as he wiped his eyes and blew his nose. He still shook slightly,
spilling a little of the tea as he raised the mug to his mouth. Jim
didn’t release his hold, but he slipped his hand from Michael’s hair to
the back of his neck, shocked at the chilled skin that met his touch.
“Jackie, there’re a couple of blankets in the airing cupboard in the
bathroom, could you fetch them?”
Aware of Michael’s vulnerability as much as he was of his own roughly
dredged-up emotions, Taggart dropped a hesitant kiss to the blond hair.
“Michael, can we get your coat off? You’re freezing.”
He smiled up at Jackie as she unfolded the blankets she’d found.
Michael regarded the both of them with the smallest amount of suspicion
before placing his mug on the carpet in front of him and shrugging off
his coat slowly and carefully. The paramedic who’d given him as cursory
an examination as he would allow had already removed his tie and undone
his collar. And as he wrestled his coat off, trying without much
success to cause himself as little pain as possible, he pulled his shirt
across his shoulder for a moment, exposing the vicious purple blotches
that covered his arms and chest. Taggart’s eyes widened. He glanced at
Jackie, opening his mouth to say something but refraining.
Jackie took Michael’s coat from him, wrapping first one and then the
other blanket around his shoulders and tucking them around his chilled
body. She lit the gas fire, turning back to see their boss re-establish
his protective embrace. “Do y’want some painkillers, Mike?”
Michael nodded without looking up, and Jackie smiled as their boss
reluctantly asked her to fetch them. Whatever she could do, whatever
would bring her colleague back to them.
The only painkillers the Taggarts had in the house were Jean’s, and they
were fairly strong. By the time Michael had finished his tea, his eyes
were drooping closed. Jim cuddled him gently. “There’s no point in you
fallin’ asleep there, Sunshine.” He opened his eyes a crack, looking up
miserably. “Sofa or bed?”
Without answering, Michael eased himself up onto the sofa behind them,
curling himself into one corner. Jackie tucked the blankets around him
again, watching as the lids closed over his reddened eyes.
After a short time, Jim reached up to finger a wayward lock of blond
hair. “What have you seen, Sunshine?” he whispered softly. “What’s
scared you so badly?”
Jackie sat herself up in the armchair opposite. “Where did the bruising
come from?” she asked quietly, almost rhetorically.
Taggart shook his head wearily. “I don’t know. But if I ever get my
hands on whoever did this….” He sighed, picking up his mug from the
carpet. “I’ve known him since he was a year old. I used to bounce him
on my knee.”
Jackie smiled openly. “How did you know his parents?”
“His father and I joined the force together.” Jim lost himself for a
moment in his memories, soon interrupted by the telephone. Clambering
to his feet he went out into the hallway, picking up the receiver.
“Jim, Stephen. I think we’ve found your man.”
‘Off again’, Taggart thought to himself as he pushed open the door of
the home of Gerald Rogers, retired primary school teacher, RIP. Another
victim whose life they would plunge themselves into until some motive
could be found for his death. And then the lives and privacy of all who
knew and loved him would be invaded until the killer was discovered,
charged and convicted.
The only difference this time around was the as yet unknown connection
between Gerald Rogers and Michael Jardine. Superintendent McVitie had
suggested that perhaps it had just been the sight of the corpse that had
upset their sergeant. Taggart hadn’t needed to speak, Stephen had
spoken first, laughing. “The number of gruesome Post Mortems that he’s
watched? I don’t think so. He’s not the squeamish type.”
“Someone gave him those bruises,” Jim had reminded them. “Someone lit
“And he hasn’t spoken about it?”
“He barely said three words last night. I’ll see if I can talk to him
Michael had still been fast asleep when Jim had left him in Jackie’s
capable hands at six am this morning.
Gerald Rogers kept a tidy house, and it remained that way for about
three minutes before the small group of officers Taggart had brought
with him started to clear his papers, letters, magazines, anything that
might help them solve the crime into large boxes. In mid-lift, one of
the constables looked up. “Who’d want to murder a primary school
Taggart shrugged. “I can remember wishing all my teachers were dead.”
There was a general noise of agreement before work started again.
Wandering around the downstairs of the house, Taggart found himself in
the dining room, looking over a sea of school class photographs, some of
them going back twenty years. He picked one up at random, reading the
gold inscription etched into the bottom edge of the mount.
‘Glasgow City Primary School, Class 3A, 1968’
Something struck a chord with Taggart and he replaced the photo,
scanning the rest of them quickly. In the thirty or so photographs that
were there, not one was taken at the same school as another. And they
weren’t all Scottish schools, there were classes in Yorkshire,
Lancashire, Newcastle, even one in Sussex. It seemed odd, especially as
it was definitely the same man sitting in the middle at the front in all
of them. Gerald Rogers.
Again he picked up the first photograph. 1968. He would have been
twenty eight, working side by side with James Jardine. Michael would
have been five, just starting school in the September. Primary school
in fact. Glasgow City Primary School. Taggart stepped through to the
lounge, tapping two men on the shoulders. “There’s a load of school
photographs in the dining room, I want them all taken with us.”
The two men nodded and started in on the task immediately. Taggart
decided that his job there was done.
The first person he saw when he got back to the office was Jackie.
“What are you doin’ in?”
She sighed, she’d known exactly what his reaction was going to be.
“Michael asked me to take him home. I think he just needed some time by
“By himself?! Did he seem himself to you?”
She gave that some thought. “He was better than he was last night,
McVitie had stepped out of his office as the sound of his DCI’s raised
voice. “You’re worried he might do something… stupid?”
Taggart shook his head. “Nah, not Michael. He wouldn’t know where to
start.” The truth was that he hated the thought of his sergeant sitting
alone in an empty flat.
“Then perhaps we should give him some time.” He beckoned Taggart into
his office and closed the door. “Did you find anything at the house?”
“I don’t know.” He explained about the photographs. “And I think
Gerald Rogers was Mike’s teacher.”
“There had to be a connection.”
“I know…. It just wasn’t what I was expecting.”
McVitie shook his head, leaning back in his chair. “I hated my primary
“Enough to murder him, Sir?” McVitie gave his DCI a patented frown.
“There’s something bothering me, something I can’t quite put my finger
“If he moved around a lot, perhaps he was one of these ‘fill-in’
“Aye, maybe. I’m goin’a check on Michael.”
The Superintendent knew better than to argue with that.
It was strange, the things he found to grasp at to save him from
drowning. Michael walked through his flat into the bedroom and was hit
by the smell of her perfume, still lingering on the bedclothes even
after three days. It reminded him where he was, how old he was, the
problems he faced, the job he did. It all came back in a single,
blinding flash of reality. He dropped to the bed, unable to prevent the
tears that came again.
Most of the previous night was nothing but blackness in his memory, a
blank that reminded him too sharply of the other gap, the one that had
been with him for a long time. The painkillers Jackie had given him
earlier were starting to wear off, and he got up, hunted around in the
bathroom cabinet until he found an unopened packet of 32 Anadin
tablets. He wondered absently what would happen if he swallowed them
all. Would the pain go away? More importantly, would the darkness in
his mind leave him alone? Would it be enough? He thought probably
not. Taking two of the pills with a glass of water, he put the rest
Moving almost on automatic pilot, Michael leaned into the shower cubicle
and turned on the water flow, soaking his shirt-sleeve in the process.
Kicking his shoes off across the bedroom floor, dropping his coat to the
carpet, he undressed before stepping into the cubicle. He ignored the
pain as the shards of water pelted his abused body. Turning his face up
into the harsh spray, closing his eyes, he let the hot shower wash away
everything it could touch. A little of the dirt always remained. It
burrowed under the skin and stayed there, a constant reminder of the
memories he could no longer see in his mind.
He stayed under the water until it ran cold. The painkillers were
starting to kick in, and the pain throughout his body was dulling to an
ache at last. Stopping the water flow, he stepped out onto the cold
tiles, reaching for a towel and rubbing himself dry as hard as he could
bare. The first clothes that came to hand were a pair of comfortable
grey trousers and a cream jumper his Mum had bought him one Christmas.
She always had good taste, his mother. He smiled to himself, thinking
about her. Since his father’s death she’d kept herself busy and he
hardly saw her. Christmas and Mothering Sunday the same as most men his
age, he presumed.
In bare feet he padded through to the kitchen to find something to eat.
The doorbell startled him, so set was he on finding the Strawberry jam
tucked somewhere behind the rest of the jars in the cupboard. He
answered the door with the ketchup bottle in his hand and the marmalade
tucked between his arm and his body. The smile on his boss’ face when
he saw him was bright enough to bask in.
“Well, you look a lot better.”
Michael smiled, a shy gesture of embarrassment and apology, and stepped
back to let Taggart in. Jim closed the door behind him, following his
sergeant through to the kitchen. Michael put the two items down on the
sideboard. “I was... looking for the jam.”
“Ah.” Taggart pulled five various jars down from the cupboard before he
found the correct one and handed it down. “That right?”
“Thanks.” Obviously embarrassed, Michael fished around in the drawer
for a knife. ‘But the toast’s going cold.’ Something in that thought
stopped him from opening the jar. He put his hands flat onto the work
surface and bowed his head, feeling his hard-won, newly built resolve
start to crack. Jim touched his arm gently, and that small contact
broke him. He screwed his eyes shut unable to stop the tears that ran
down his cheeks.
Taggart ran his hand up to his friend’s shoulder. “Michael....” A
moment passed before he turned to be folded into strong arms.
“Hey....” Willing to offer whatever comfort he could, Taggart held
Michael carefully, hands light against the soft lamb’s wool of the
jumper he wore. “It’s okay to cry, Sunshine,” he reassured over the
deep sobs of soul-deep grief. “And it’s okay to talk. I’m here for
you.” Michael pressed his face into Jim’s shoulder, trying without
success to stop the flow of emotion. “Let it out, it’s all right.”
Despite what people thought of him, he had a daughter and he’d seen her
through traumatic arguments with school kids, later bust-ups with her
girlfriends, and rows with boyfriends. Whatever was wrong here, the
process remained the same.
Tenderly, he curled his hand around the back of Michael’s neck, rubbing
the skin gently with his thumb. “Something’s so very wrong, Michael. I
wish you’d tell me, talk to me.” Under his hand, Taggart felt his
sergeant shake his head emphatically.
“I can’t.” He choked out the words.
“Okay, Mike. Okay.” He knew not to push too hard. Michael was
balanced on a fine edge, traumatised by something that they’d never get
to if he pushed too soon. Easing the pressure, he stroked his hand
across the wool-covered shoulder, playing gently with the soft
material. The tears subsided slowly and he pulled away, wiping his eyes
and cheeks with his fingers.
“Don’t be.” Taggart kept his hand rested on his sergeant’s shoulder.
“I mean it, I’m here. It’s best to let it out.”
Michael smiled slightly. “You... you’re not usually so... tolerant.”
“You’re not usually deep in shock.” He hesitated, allowed Mike the time
if there was
anything else he wanted to say. “Look, go and sit down. I’ll make you
some fresh toast and put the kettle on.”
“Jim. It’s Jim.”
Five minutes later, Taggart handed his sergeant a plate of hot toast
with strawberry jam. Curled into the corner of the leather sofa,
Michael looked to his boss terribly vulnerable, but at least he looked
“I don’t know if I can get used to that.” But he seemed happy enough
with his toast.
Taggart watched him for a while from the armchair as he sipped his tea.
“How’re you feelin’?”
Michael glanced up. “I try my best not to.”
It was an odd answer, but one he didn’t attempt to clarify. “You look
better than you did last night.”
“Do you remember last night?”
A shake of his head. “Not a lot. It’s...” he hesitated, his voice
quietening somewhat. “It’s like a dream. I can remember snippets,
little bits of blur images. Nothing detailed.”
It sounded to Taggart like amnesia, and suddenly he was worried that he
should have allowed Chris to take Michael into hospital last night.
“You don’t have a headache or anything?”
“No. Everything else aches though.” He looked up then, and his voice
became a frightened whisper. “You don’t know... how the bruises got
there, do you?”
Jim shook his head, pitching his own tone at sympathy. “I don’t,
Michael. I was hoping you could tell me.” Michael munched the last of
his toast and dropped the plate softly to the floor. “Do you remember a
school teacher of yours called Gerald Rogers?”
Michael’s head snapped up, his eyes widening. And for a moment, Jim
thought that whatever he’d hit upon, it was the reason behind
everything. And then the light in his sergeant’s eyes went out again,
and he shrugged. “Should I?”
“I think he taught you at primary school, when you’d just started
Again, Michael shook his head. “I don’t actually remember that far
“He was the corpse you found yesterday.”
And this time the confusion seemed genuine from the start. “Corpse?
He tried to relax as the cylinder surrounding him turned slowly. Jim
had held his hand through the initial stages of the scan, now he was
waiting just outside. Michael clung to that thought like a lifeline.
‘They won’t find anything,’ a little voice told him from within. ‘You
know they won’t. There’s nothing to find. It’s all too deeply buried
for anything to dig it out.’ He was becoming so confused. There was
something like a brick wall erected in his own memory that kept him away
from parts of what he knew. Images leaked from there sometimes in
dreams and nightmares. When he thought about the previous night, he
could only see blurred visions of horror, visions he didn’t want
anyway. Tears ran over his face, unheeded as he lay there. The doctor,
who’d visited the flat after Jim’s phone call, had insisted on this
despite him begging them not to, despite pleading with them just to
leave him alone.
Taggart watched as the scanner fell dark and the conveyer slid back
out. The moment he saw the misery on his sergeant’s face he pushed
passed the doctors and into the main room, reaching for Michael as he
sat himself up, swaying unsteadily. There were no hysterics and that
worried Jim more than if there had been. He’d never forgive himself if
his actions forced his sergeant back into the catatonic state he’d been
in when they’d found him. But the same awareness that he’d been witness
to earlier soon returned to the large dark eyes, and Michael accepted
his boss’ help standing up.
“I’d like to go home.”
“He shouldn’t be left alone,” the still-worried doctor instructed him
just before they left. “The scan’s clear but there’s something wrong.
If nothing physical is causing these lapses, then it’s mental, perhaps
emotional.” Jim refrained from pointing out that he could have told
them that. He drove Michael home.
“I’m sorry, I was just worried.”
Whether Mike heard and was ignoring him, or just didn’t hear the
heart-felt apology, Jim wasn’t sure. He put the kettle on again, but by
the time he took the drink into the lounge, his ward was lying stretched
out on the sofa, fast asleep.
“I don’t know, Jackie. I’m worried. He’s acting... strangely.”
“I’m not surprised.” The accusation in her tone was clear despite the
mobile signal being far from excellent. “After everything he went
through yesterday you’re dragging him to the hospital for a brain scan?”
Taggart rolled his eyes. He shouldn’t have expected any kind of
non-bias from a woman who’d been in love with the patient from the day
she’d met him. “Thanks, Jackie, you’re a great help.”
“Where is he now?”
“Sleeping. Have you got anything for me?”
There was a rustle in the background. “Yeah, but you’re not going to
“We’ve started going through Gerald Rogers’ papers, and we’ve found a
load of school records for pupils in about twenty different schools.”
Taggart frowned, attempting to mentally fit this piece of the puzzle
into what they already had. “I don’t get it. What was he up to?”
“Sir. One of the records is Michael’s.”
Dropping the last of the school files onto McVitie’s desk, Jim
“Didn’t get much sleep last night, Jim?”
“You try sleeping well in an armchair.” He picked the bottom file out
from under the pile and handed it to his superior. “I want Michael kept
out of this. We know, and that’s enough. Whatever’s goin’ on here, I’m
not goin’a watch his name and career be dragged through the gossip
channels of this station.”
McVitie nodded, taking the file and locking it away in his desk. “And
he doesn’t remember anything?”
“I don’t know. I would swear he knew the name Gerald Rogers, but after
that initial reaction... when he said he didn’t he sounded so sincere,
so convincing. I believed him.”
McVitie leaned forward slightly. “What if he’s repressing the
memories? His mind protecting him against whatever he witnessed?”
Taggart shrugged. “We could try hypnosis.”
“I don’t want to hurt him any more than he has been. I’m not going to
drag him through hell just to satisfy our curiosity.” He shook his
head. “There’s something more to all this, Sir, I know there is. I
want to find out what it is before we start subjecting him to anymore.
A nod. “All right, Jim. Where’s he staying?”
“At home. Jackie’s with him, I’ll be going back there later.”
“The photos of the scene will be in by the morning. Maybe they’d be a
gentler way to jog his memory.”
Taggart sighed, but Michael was their only witness and he could
understand his superior’s need to speak to him. He nodded. “All right,
I’ll see how he is in the morning.”
Taggart stood, but his boss stopped him from leaving quite yet.
“Listen, Jim. You seem very... personally involved in this.”
“He’s my sergeant! Some bastard’s done this to him, and I am goin’a
find out who.”
The Superintendent decided that a suggestion to pass this one over to
someone else was not going to be a popular one. He thought better of
it. “Just be careful, please? I wouldn’t want to see this one get
Jackie was pleasantly surprised by the varied contents of Michael’s
kitchen cupboards. She’d found all the ingredients to make a perfectly
acceptable Spaghetti Bolognaise. It was almost finished when Michael
appeared in the kitchen doorway having just woken. “Smells good.”
Jackie bestowed a brilliant smile upon him. “Thank you. Hungry?”
He nodded. “A little.” He stood and watched her cook for a short
while. “You don’t have to stay here,” he told her finally.
“I’m under orders.” But her expression reassured him that she’d have
stayed even if she weren’t.
“Thanks.” He wasn’t sure why having someone around felt safer at the
moment. He’d lived alone since leaving school and it had never bothered
him before. Yet when he’d been alone here this morning the flat had
felt claustrophobic. Perversely, with someone else around it felt
normal. Normal was good.
“Jackie?” She looked up from the herb selection she’d fished out of the
cupboard. “What is that I’m supposed to have done?”
She stared at him. “Done? Nothing.” Noting the confusion in his
expression, she dropped the wooden spoon into the pan and crossed to
him. “You’re a witness, Michael, and a victim.”
“But I don’t remember anythin’.” His tone was panicked, almost
pleading, and to Jackie’s trained ears it sounded all too familiar.
Like he was protecting himself from someone, too scared to talk.
“There’s nothing to be frightened of.” Yet even as she spoke she could
see in his eyes that there was.
“You don’t know.” It was obvious that he was upsetting himself. She
wished she could understand why. “I can’t be a witness.”
“No one’s going to make you do anythin’. I promise you.” Bridging the
physical gap between them, she took hold of his hand. “I just want to
see you smiling again.”
The gentle reassurance seemed to have a positive effect. Michael
sniffed once. He wrapped his fingers tightly around her hand. “I’m
glad you’re here.”
She waited, simply stood with him until she was sure he was back on
stable ground. “If I don’t take that pan off the heat, it won’t be
He let go. “I’m sure it’ll be wonderful.”
“Ah, brave words coming from someone who’s never eaten my cooking
“You’ve never given me the chance.” He turned when the doorbell rang.
Jackie caught the fear that flashed across his boyish features for a
moment. She hadn’t expected the boss back for another few hours, and
when Michael made no move toward the door, she felt relieved.
“Why don’t you stir this for me, and I’ll get that?”
Jackie opened the first-floor flat’s door to a stranger, a young man in
his early twenties, short dark hair and a nervous disposition.
“Can I help you?”
He regarded her suspiciously. “I’m looking for Michael Jardine.”
“I’ve got a letter for him.” He held out a small white envelope.
“Who’s it from?” He shook his head.
“I don’t know. This guy outside gave me a tenner if I’d deliver it.”
Jackie smiled sweetly, taking the envelope from him. “Can you describe
Knowing now that this was more than he needed to be involved with, the
delivery boy shook his head. “Are you sure?” He nodded. Jackie toyed
with the idea of asking him inside. He could give a description to the
police. If she didn’t try, she knew Taggart would have her guts for
garters. She asked him. He declined. So she did the next best thing,
she committed his face to memory before he ran off.
“Who was it?” Michael gazed at her from the stove, seeing the letter in
Swapping the wooden spoon for the envelope he went through to the lounge
to open it. Jackie switched off the gas and found some clean plates.
For a bachelor he certainly kept the place tidy. Or maybe he just
wasn’t around enough to make a mess. His figure really didn’t scream
junk-food at her. Draining the spaghetti, she set about scoring some
points for presentation, all the while listening for any sound that
might indicate what the envelope contained.
Michael unfolded the paper with trembling fingers. Scribbled in an
uncertain hand across the centre of the plain A4 sheet were the words,
‘At last we’re free’
He stared at the writing, seeing suddenly so much more than he’d known
before. Five words that spoke to the forgotten memories, adding to the
guilt that he kept behind the walls in his mind. He wasn’t alone.
After all this time, it seemed too much to contemplate, too great a
change in his perspective. Folding the paper up as it was, he slipped
it back into the envelope, taking it through to the bedroom and dropping
it into the bedside drawer.
Silently, Jackie stepped back into the kitchen. She hated doing this to
him, but something had to give sooner or later, and she preferred it not
to be her colleague’s sanity.
“Anything useful?” she asked when she handed him a plate and fork. He
shook his head and when she didn’t ask anything else, he brightened
“This looks great.”
“Thank you. But I’d wait until you taste it before passing judgement.”
They ate in companionable silence for a few minutes, before Michael
reached for the TV remote. He glanced across at Jackie. “D’you mind?”
“No.” Her smiled was reflected in his as he flicked on the television
set. The news was in full flow. It was more background than anything
else, just noise to break the silence, to give his mind something to
dwell on instead of the blank place that kept drawing his attention. He
couldn’t go there, he wouldn’t fall into the despair that waited for
“Michael?” Her voice brought him back to the here and now. “Is it all
“It’s wonderful. Sorry, I’m miles away.”
“It’s okay. You’re allowed to be.” She caught the beloved expression
on his face, the childlike innocence that he’d managed to hang on to
despite the job, despite whatever else had happened to him in his life.
She saw it only rarely now, hadn’t really expected to see it again after
yesterday. But the slight smile, the lowering of the eyes, the gentle
expression on that beautiful face, all touched her heart.
She thought about the words that had drifted into her mind. Saying them
was probably a mistake, but to see him smile was worth the world to
her. “Michael, can I tell you something?”
“I’m... I know I’m going to regret this for the rest of my life but...”
she hesitated, and he looked at her, that cockeyed smile she adored.
“Gawd....” She blushed, but she had to say it now. “I have had a crush
on you from the day I met you.”
The grin that spread over Michael’s face was worth every word. “You’re
“No. And you’re not to tell the boss.”
But he was still back at the initial confession. “On me? When we first
met I was...”
“...dating one of the bad girls, I know.”
“I thought you thought I was a pig.”
She looked smugly at him. “I did. Didn’t stop me fancying you though.”
Michael shook his head slowly. “Why’ve you never said anythin’?”
“We work together! You’re my boss to all intense and purposes. It
wouldn’t be right. Besides, you’ve never shown any interest. And it’s
not like I’ve spent these years pinning for you. It’s just... a
crush.” She shrugged, taking a mouthful of food to cover her acute
embarrassment. Michael dipped his fork into the spaghetti and twisted
it around before letting it go and putting the plate on the floor.
“Could I... take advantage of it for a few minutes?”
She frowned, bewildered. “In what way?”
“Can I have a hug?”
She put her own plate on the coffee table and moved across to the sofa.
Sitting down, she reached for him and he settled into her arms, wrapping
his around her. “You don’t want to love me,” he murmured, “people never
love me for very long.”
Jackie could have wept for him. “That’s not true.” She stroked her
hand over his hair. “I love you. I’ve loved you for a long time. You
have friends who love you.”
“You thought right. Don’t let one miserable bitch make you believe
you’re anything but worthy of us.”
Releasing her, he snuggled down into the offered comfort of her
embrace. Reaching out, he took a hold of her plate and handed it to
her. Somehow she managed to balance it on one knee and eat while
keeping one arm curled around him. “You’re not hungry?”
“I’m sorry. It’s lovely, I’m just....”
“Not in the mood.” She dropped an affectionate kiss to his head. “Just
don’t starve yourself to death. It’s not like you can afford to lose
He chuckled at that. “Oh aye, I’m a rake. If you weren’t here I’d be
A wicked smile crossed her face. “If you want chocolate, Michael, you
shall have it.”
“Sir, it’s Jackie. How’re things going?”
“Slowly. There’s more paperwork here than on my desk! How’s Mike?”
“He’s... fine, Sir. He has a chocolate craving, I was wondering if you
could pick some up on your way over.” She held the phone away from her
ear, looking at Michael. His hand over his mouth trying to stop the
“Chocolate?! What the hell am I, his butler?”
“I’d go, Sir, but you said he wasn’t to be left alone.”
“Right.” By the sound of his voice, Taggart knew he was backed into a
corner. “All right, I’ll bring chocolate. Anything else?”
“Chips, Sir.” There was a subtle change in her tone that he didn’t
“He’s not eating?”
“Not a lot. By the time you get here....”
“Aye, all right.” He sighed dramatically, but the giggles he could hear
in the background were a wonderful sound. “I’ll be round within the
Michael shook his head as she ended the call. “I can’t believe you did
“Why? He might as well make himself useful.”
He rearranged himself, trying to get comfortable as the
hospital-prescribed painkillers began to kick in. “He’s been
“What did you expect? He cares for you, Michael. A lot. I think he
sees you as a surrogate son.”
“Come on. You should have seen him yesterday afternoon. Like he is
now, worried sick about you.”
Michael closed his eyes. “I feel comfortable with him.”
Jackie combed her fingers through his hair, thinking that maybe if that
was true he might talk to Taggart, given the right circumstances. But
she didn’t say anything, she didn’t want to push, not at the moment.
She felt him relax, start to doze. The medication they’d given him at
the hospital for his bruising was fairly strong, and she knew he hadn’t
slept well the previous night. She worried that he was burying whatever
he’d seen and experienced the day before. It was still close enough to
the surface that the smallest thing could crack the swiftly erected
defences. But the longer it was left, the deeper it would go until no
one would be able to reach it without shattering him in the process.
She focused on the television, now showing EastEnders. She was hardly
ever home in time to watch the TV, and after the first few minutes she
found herself engrossed. When she next glanced down, Michael was
snoring softly. He looked about fifteen in the woolly jumper, and she
had to fight down her maternal instincts. Always she’d swung between
wanting to mother him one day, wanting nothing more than to jump in to
bed with him the next.
EastEnders finished and Watchdog started. Half an hour later, that
finished and some programme started, looking into the difficulty of
stopping smoking. She’d just managed to get a hold of the remote
control by use of her feet when the doorbell rang. Michael stirred, but
once she’d dropped him gently back to the sofa, he settled again.
Jim stepped inside and handed her two carrier bags. “Chips and
She grinned. “Thanks. Sorry about that, but...”
“It made him laugh.” She nodded. “That’s absolutely fine, Jackie.”
“He’s sleeping, Sir.” She led the way back down the corridor, turning
into the kitchen while he carried on into the lounge. When she peered
into the bags she found he’d bought every type of chocolate he could
possibly find in Glasgow – Mars, Twix, Bounty, Caramel, Boost, Crunchie,
Galaxy, Fruit and Nut, Cadburys Milk and Plain. He’d got boxes of Milk
Tray, Roses and Quality Street. She put the chips onto plates and took
them out into the living room. “Couldn’t decide which chocolate to
Taggart looked up from where he was crouched on the floor in front of
his sleeping colleague. “I didn’t know what he liked.” She handed him
a plate, taking the two dirties back out with her. “Michael? Chips?”
Their ward blinked a couple of times, looking up at his boss through
“Jim.” He would keep reminding his sergeant until he got the message.
“I bought you chocolate.” Jackie wondered in and emptied the bag onto
the coffee table.
“Wow!” Michael’s face lit up like a kid in a sweet shop. He reached
out and snagged the nearest bar of Dairy Milk.
Three hours, two painkillers and a mug of hot chocolate later, Michael
was stretched out on the sofa, fast asleep. Once she was sure he was
out cold, Jackie unfolded herself from where she’d been sitting against
the sofa, getting her boss’ attention. “Sir, can I show you something?”
She took the letter from the top drawer next to Michael’s bed. “I don’t
like spying on him, but I thought it might be important.”
“What does it say?”
“I don’t know. Michael read it alone and then brought it in here.”
Taggart nodded, not about to rib her about the spying bit. He pulled
the paper from the envelope carefully, unfolded it and read it. “’At
last we’re free.’ What the hell does that mean?” Studying the
handwriting for a few seconds, he then handed it back. “And you only
saw the paid delivery boy?”
“Aye. I thought about detaining him….”
Taggart shook his head. “Even a description wouldn’t get us very far.
Did receiving this upset him?”
She thought back. “No more than he already is.”
Jim sat down on the edge of his sergeant’s bed. “I wish I could see the
connection. An ex-school teacher is brutally murdered and his body
dumped in a derelict house. Michael finds the body after some locals
report squatters in the house and when we find him he’s deep in shock.
Could the fact that this Rogers taught Michael at school simply be a
“I didn’t think you liked coincidences, Sir?”
“I don’t. Someone else was in that house when Michael arrived, I’m sure
of it. The body had only just been dumped, yet he’d been dead for three
weeks. What if Mike walked in on the killer as he was dumping the
“Why wouldn’t he just kill Michael to silence him?”
He sighed. “There’s something missin’, I know there is. And I think
Michael knows what it is.”
Jackie gazed at the desktop covered in photographs taken two nights
ago. The house, the room, the corpse from all angles - in its original
position and later in the lab. “What’s all this supposed to tell us?”
she asked, partially rhetorically. Standing behind her, McVitie
“Everything? Nothing? We’re hoping they’ll jog Michael’s memory.”
She turned to stare at him. “You’re going to show these to Mike?”
“Yes. Jim’s bringing him in this morning. My idea. He wasn’t too
keen, but we need a break on this one.”
Jackie sighed, but kept any remaining comments to herself. He was
right, they did need a break. She just wasn’t sure that it was the
right way to go about getting one.
Outside in the main office, two officers were still trawling through the
boxes they’d brought from Rogers’ house. Jackie gave them a small smile
of encouragement as she walked passed. “Anything?”
One of them held out in hands in near-defeat. “More school reports.
We’re running the names through the system but it’s slow going. We did
find this….” Rummaging around on the desk, he dug up a crumpled sheet
of A4, typed onto which was a list of names and addresses. “We’re
running those names too.”
“Maybe today’s the day.”
The answering expression on his face told her that he didn’t share her
She’d reached the coffee machine when the door was pushed open and Jim
led Michael through into the office. It was unusual to see him here in
jeans and the jumper he seemed so comfortable in. Knowing the physical
state of him, she wasn’t surprised. “Good morning.”
He smiled at her, slightly nervously. “Morning.”
She glanced at the boss. He was hovering, obviously in protective
mode. “The photos are in McVitie’s office, Sir.”
Jim closed the door behind them, watching his sergeant closely as the
young man stared at the images before him. Michael stepped up to the
desk, resting his fingers on the edge, taking in each photograph in
“Do you recognise anything?” McVitie asked conversationally. But he got
Taggart walked around the desk, keeping a close watch on Michael’s
expression. He could almost see the delicate façade crumble before his
eyes. “Could you give us some time, Sir?” Realising he had little
choice, McVitie left them to it.
Reaching out, Jim touched Michael’s arm, squeezing gently. “It’s all
right, Michael.” But the dark blue eyes darting over the gruesome
pictures told him otherwise. “Did… did I do this?”
He’d known this was a bad idea, yet still he’d led this lamb to the
slaughter. “No,” he stated with utter conviction and no little horror.
“Of course you didn’t! This is what you found, in the house in the
woods, the one you went to two days ago, where we found you. Do you
remember that?” No reply. “His name’s Gerald Rogers. He was your
primary school teacher when you were five.” The words were barely out
before Michael backed away from the desk suddenly, coming up against the
blinds that were drawn down over the glass panelling of the office.
Taggart stepped around, reaching out. But the other man was too fast,
and before Jim could touch him he’d bolted from the office.
The main office door slammed shut as Taggart stepped out of the doorway
to meet his superior’s questioning gaze. “Well, you wanted a
reaction!” McVitie glared at him, but said nothing.
Jim turned, uncertain what to do next. “Jackie.”
“Sir… we’ve had a result with a couple of the names on a list we found
in Rogers’ stuff.”
Her demeanour was enough to get his full attention. He led her into his
own office and closed the door, his mind already working on where
Michael might have gone. “Well?”
She handed him the original list along with the print outs from
Records. “Out of the twelve names on the list, six are known
paedophiles. They’re checking on the rest now.” He didn’t hear her
last sentence. Sitting down hard, he knew the final connection had been
made. Glancing at her, he realized she too had come to the same
conclusion. What could he say?
“I want all the names in those school reports rechecked.” He stopped,
shaking his head. “I want to drop this case, Jackie.” She nodded her
understanding. “If we draw the conclusion that he was assaulting his
pupils, we could also draw the conclusion that one of them killed him.”
He fingered the papers she’d handed him. “I have to tell The Biscuit.
There’s only he, you and I who know about Michael’s report being there,
right? I want it to stay that way.” Another nod. “Are you all right?”
“No, Sir.” She leaned on his desk, blinking the few tears from her
eyes. “What do we tell Michael?”
“Give him some time. I’ll go and find him after I’ve spoken to the
boss.” For a few seconds their eyes locked. There was everything to
say, and nothing to say. Pulling herself together, she left him to
relay the news upwards.
McVitie studied the list and the reports from Records without Taggart
saying a word. “I’m sorry, Jim.”
“Me too, Sir. I don’t want this case any longer.”
“You don’t have a choice.” Taggart sunk down into the chair, knowing
his superior was right. “If you hand over the case you have to hand
over everything. That includes your witness.”
“Witness?! Sir, he isn’t goin’a talk about it.”
“He has to, Jim. Chances are that he saw the man we’re looking for.
You have to treat him like you would any other traumatised witness. We
have to bring in a psychologist.”
Taggart’s head snapped up. “Don’t you think he’s been through enough?”
“We have to know what he saw. What happened in that house. Someone
battered Michael, someone inflicted those injuries.”
“Aye.” He got up. “I’ll go find him, try to talk to him. I wish I
knew what was going through his mind at the moment. When he saw the
photos, he asked if he’d done it.”
“He’s in shock, Jim.”
“It’s deeper than that. He’s lived with this for what... twenty-four
years? That bastard Rogers.... He deserved what he got.”
“Does anyone deserve that?”
When he left the station he carried on running, as if by doing so he
could leave the pain behind. He reached the park before he was panting
for breath, and when he came to a clearing, he sank down against a tree,
a deep sob escaping him. Curling in on himself he folded his arms over
his head, fighting for breath as he wept uncontrollably.
There’s nothing to hang on to anymore. It’s all been ripped away. If I
don’t go to the dark place, where is there? What’s left? But it’s so
cold, so lonely, so dark. Don’t want to go there, don’t want to be
There was only one place Michael would go. Taggart could remember
finding him there as a child, when he’d run away from home for reasons
they hadn’t known then. Now... now when he thought about what a trusted
school teacher could get away with it made him sick. If James had ever
found out what Rogers had done to his son, he’d have probably killed the
man himself. And after James’ death, Jim had taken it upon himself to
look out for young Michael. He wondered how he’d have reacted if Rogers
hadn’t been murdered, but had turned up in the course of an
investigation, if he’d had to sit and stare at the bastard across an
interview table, knowing full well what he’d subjected Michael to as a
The only problem was the park being a large place.
You know you made him do it. You know what he said, he had to show what
you were doing was bad. If you hadn’t been bad, he would have chosen
But he had, hadn’t he? Wasn’t that what the message meant? “No....”
Michael blanked the thought from his mind, burying it along with the
rest, desperately trying to ignore what a part of him was screaming.
Why wouldn’t it all go away? Shaking violently he could do nothing but
cry, the tears streaming from his eyes. He didn’t notice the rain
start through the trees that barely sheltered him.
The sudden rainstorm soaked Taggart to the skin in a matter of minutes.
He was starting to think he was wrong about this place. Perhaps Michael
had been sensible and simply taken a taxi home. And then he spotted
He felt the warmth of another human being and could do nothing. He
couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t hear. The darkness that trapped
him in his mind now imprisoned him with invisible bonds that strangled
and blinded him.
Jim knelt at Michael’s side, wrapping his arms around him, hugging him
close. Not knowing what to say, still trying to come to terms with his
own raging emotions, he tucked his sergeant’s head under his chin,
cuddling him, rocking him gently. In the pouring rain, his own silent
tears ran unheeded from his eyes. Turning his head he pressed a kiss
into the soaking hair plastered to Michael’s head. “Please don’t
torture yourself. You don’t deserve this. None of this is your fault.”
An anguished moan was his only answer.
Soon enough, Jim felt shivers drive through the chilled body he held.
“Let’s go home, ay?” But Michael didn’t budge. “Mike, you’re freezing
out here, we’re both goin’a end up with hypothermia.” He stood slowly,
bringing Michael with him, hauling him as gently as he could to his
feet. As he did, his ward uttered a single cry of protest, just wanting
to be left alone. “I can’t leave you here. Don’t ask me to.” Whether
his words were heard or understood, he wasn’t sure. But the sobs became
defeated tears of pain, and there was no more fight.
The trek back to the car in the pouring rain was made in silence. Jim’s
arm around his sergeant kept them together but he knew he was hurting
Michael with every step. If the sun had been out he’d have willingly
stayed in that woodland all day and all night if that was what was
needed. Now he knew the reasons behind Michael’s pain, it seemed an
impossible task to help him heal.
Finally they reached the Rover. Michael folded himself into the
passenger seat, dropping his forehead to his knees. The silence on the
journey back was masked by the blowers being on full in an attempt to
de-mist the interior of the car. As Jim pulled to a stop outside
Michael’s home, his passenger sneezed once. Taggart rolled his eyes.
Showered and dried, dressed in another of his Mum’s jumpers and a pair
of jogging trousers, covered with a thick blanket and heated by the gas
fire, Michael was asleep at last, curled up on the sofa with his head on
Jim’s leg. Taggart leaned into the corner, one arm draped over his
ward, fingers playing absently with the freshly-dried blond hair. Only
when he’d finally drifted off to sleep had the tears ceased.
The impenetrable defences Michael had erected over the years he’d had to
live with his secret had been shattered by the events of the last few
days. What was left was a young boy who’d been sexually abused by his
teacher then terrified into believing it was his own fault. Somehow
they had to rescue Michael before he drowned. He couldn’t help
remembering McVitie’s suggestion of regression hypnosis, he just wasn’t
sure that it wouldn’t do more harm than good if they forced everything
to the surface.
The phone’s ring sounded incredibly loud in the silent flat. Jim had
sensibly put the cordless receiver close by and he grabbed it before it
disturbed his sleeping friend.
“Sir? Have you found him?” Jackie sounded worried sick.
“Is he all right?”
“He’s probably going to come down with a cold, or worse. Jackie, could
you ask The Biscuit about the regression hypnosis he was talking about
On the other end, she went quite for a second. “Sir, you’re not
“He hasn’t spoken a word since I found him two hours ago. We have to do
something.” Michael shifted against him, muttering in his sleep, the
first signs that a nightmare was taking hold of his dreams. “Just ask,
Putting down the handset, Jim tightened his arm slightly, reaching over
to take Michael’s hand into his own. But the nightmares didn’t ease.
The horror took hold with force.
He backed away, trying to scream but only a whimper coming from his
throat. The wall came up against his back and there was no where else
to go. Still, the corpse came toward him, moving on the bloody stubs of
limbs. The head flopped from side to side sickeningly. It came closer,
and from its groin a long, hard, bloody erection stabbed at him.
Michael woke with a dull moan that in his nightmare had been a
soul-ripping scream. Sitting up he was caught in his boss’ embrace,
wrapping his arms desperately around Jim’s neck, his tears soaking his
“Ssh, it was just a nightmare, nothing more.” Taggart grabbed the
blanket that had fallen, folding it back around Michael, holding him as
if he were the most precious thing in the world.
This time, to Jim’s relief, the tears subsided quickly, and Michael
leant against him heavily, exhausted. “Tell me,” Jim spoke softly.
Twisting the corner of the blanket through his fingers, reddened eyes
staring blankly across the room, Michael started to speak very quietly.
“It’s coming after me. It’s always been there and now its been released
and it’s coming after me.”
“It… the thing in those photos. The dead thing with no arms, no legs.
Jim swept the strands of damp hair back from his sergeant’s forehead.
“Just what?” There was no answer. “Michael, it’s not coming after
you. It was a nightmare. That thing in the photos is a dead man. He’s
gone and he’s never coming back.” ‘He’ll never hurt you again.’ But he
didn’t voice the thought. “What makes you think he’s coming after you?”
“I don’t know.” The agitation was back in Michael’s tearful voice, and
Jim knew he had to be careful. “I never told anyone.” He looked up,
eyes focusing on his boss’ face, and the expression Taggart saw there
sent chills through him. Terror – abject and absolute. “I swear I
Jim closed his eyes, hugging Michael to him as tightly as he dared. He
never again wanted to be on the receiving end of that look. He’d never
wanted his beloved sergeant to regard him with such fear, the fear with
which he’d looked upon Gerald Rogers. He couldn’t find any suitable
words, and so he just sat with Michael in his arms until the soft sound
of snoring again reached his ears. Even then, he had neither the heart
nor the will to move.
Jean Taggart’s biggest complaint with regards to her husband was that
his culinary abilities went no further than chilli-con-carni, although
she was always willing to admit that he could make that one dish with
The aroma of spicy food drew Michael to rouse himself from the sofa
later that evening. He leaned against the door-frame, watching Taggart
select various herbs from his stocked cupboards.
“Found everything you need?”
Jim looked up, pleasantly surprised to see Mike up and communicating.
“Thought I’d cook you somethin’ edible.”
Michael smiled. “I’ll tell Jackie you said that.” He stepped into the
kitchen and took a glass down from the shelf, filling it from the cold
tap. “I’m all right,” he responded to the quizzical expression on Jim’s
“Michael, you’re far from all right.”
He shook his head. “It’s….” He couldn’t finish. Either he didn’t know
or couldn’t voice it.
“I know what it is.” Jim turned down the heat under the pan and leaned
against the oven. “Mike, The Biscuit’s suggested… regression hypnosis.
You’re a witness in this case, as well as a victim. We need to know who
gave you those bruises.”
For a minute or so, Michael just stood, staring into the water in his
glass. And then he turned to look his boss. “I don’t want to
“I know. But somethin’ inside you is trying to remember and it’s
The blue eyes misted over yet again, and Jim felt a stab of guilt. He
put his hand onto Michael’s shoulder, rubbing gently. Yet the young man
kept control, blinking back the tears. “I’m scared of remembering.”
“There’s nothin’ to be scared of. You’ve been through the worst. This
can only help you.”
“I don’t know....”
“Look, don’t worry about it for now. Let me serve this, and you can
tell me what a wonderful cook I am.”
It was good to see him eat at least. They sat on the sofa, Mike curled
up in one corner, Taggart settled into the other. Despite the
professional tensions between them they’d always been comfortable in one
“When’s Jean back?” Michael asked conversationally.
“She was back today. I rang her while you were asleep, told her I was
babysittin’ you.” He waited until his sergeant had started to protest
before winking at him. “I’m only kidding.”
“What did you really tell her?”
“That I was looking after you while you recovered from a nasty shock.
Witness protection programme and all that.”
The television chattered on to itself in the corner, again on for some
background noise. Michael had vetoed all Jim’s choices of music, for
one reason or other. “Why are you doin’ this?”
Jim frowned. “Doin’ what?”
“Staying here, looking after me. Why haven’t you assigned some lowly
constable to this babysitting detail?”
Jim put down his fork. “When your father died, I swore that I’d take
care of you.”
“No. You’ve come to mean a lot to me, Michael. I wouldn’t leave you
like this with some stranger. I want to be here for you.”
A blush touched the otherwise pale face. “I... I appreciate it. I
really do. And I’m sorry... I just can’t seem to control....”
“You don’t have to explain it. I understand. That’s why this
regression hypnosis seems like a good idea. And you know what I’m like
“You’re avoiding the words ‘therapy’ and ‘psychologist’.”
“It’s okay. I know.” He nodded. “When it... when we do it, I want you
there. No one else.”
“The Biscuit’ll have to be there, Mike.” Another nod. “It won’t go
further than us, I give you my word.”
Gazing unseeing at the television, Michael murmured, “I want the
nightmares to stop.”
When Jackie let herself in late that night, Michael and Jim were
sprawled on the sofa. Taggart was lying on the edge of the wide
cushions. Michael lay along side, wrapped in the secure arms of his
boss. His head rested against Jim’s shoulder while Jim’s head rested
lightly against his hair. Jackie stood for a while, watching them both
as they slept peacefully. Softly, she dropped a kiss to Michael’s
forehead and ventured back out into the night, heading for home.
Michael followed Taggart nervously into the surgery. McVitie introduced
them to the doctor who shook their hands. “Doctor Matthews, Detective
Chief Inspector Taggart, and this is Sergeant Michael Jardine.”
“It’s Simon, please.” He led Michael through to the consulting room and
turned. “If I could have five minutes with Michael?” McVitie backed
off immediately, but Jim wasn’t going to leave so easily. Simon
smiled. “I just want to talk to him. I won’t do anything without you
Simon closed the door behind them, taking note of his new patient’s
every move. He’d walked in close behind his Chief Inspector, and now
the other man had been left out he seemed awfully edgy.
“Take a seat, Michael.” Instead of sitting behind his desk, Simon
perched on the edge of the couch. “You’re nervous.” Michael was
picking at his jumper sleeve and stopped at the gentle accusation. “I
can understand that. How about I explain what I’m going to do, and if
you’re not happy, we forget it.”
“Can we do that?”
“Michael....” It had been a long while since he had seen anyone so
agitated. “Listen. You go under willingly or you don’t go under at
all. I can’t hypnotise an unwilling candidate.” Mike seemed to relax
slightly. “I’m going to take you under as an observer to your own
memories. Whatever you relive, you’ll do so as a witness, not as a
“It won’t... hurt?”
“You won’t feel anything. You’ll be impartial, looking at it as if it
was happening to someone else. No pain, no emotion. You’ll be able to
tell us what you’re seeing with total detachment. If at any time I
think you’re becoming distressed, I’ll bring you out of it, and I’m sure
DCI Taggart will make sure of that.”
Michael nodded. “All right.”
“There’s one other thing. Superintendent McVitie’s asked if we can
record the second part of the session, your experiences in the house
where you found the corpse.” Panic flashed across the young features.
“You’re their only witness to this crime and I also understand that you
were hurt too in that house.” Michael nodded. “It is standard
practise, and I’ll only let them tape what’s relevant. All right?”
Another, less certain nod of the head.
“Good.” He got up, opening the door to invite the two men in.
“Michael, if you’d like to make yourself comfortable?”
Self-consciously, the patient sat on the couch and slipped his shoes
off. Lying back, he looked across at his boss, watching as Taggart took
a chair and sat down at his side.
“You all right?”
“Aye.” But he still sounded unsure. Jim squeezed his hand
On his other side, Simon sat down. “Michael, I just want you to listen
to my voice. When you feel sleepy, just close your eyes, let yourself
“....I’m goin’a take you back now, Michael, to when you were five years
old, when you were at school in Mr Rogers’ class.”
Instantly the panic came to the surface. “I can’t.”
“Can’t what, Michael?”
“It’s too dark, I can’t go there.”
“You can, Michael.” He kept his voice quiet and calm, speaking with
authority. “You’re perfectly safe. You can go to that dark place, you
can pass through it.”
“Michael, listen to me. I’m going to take you deeper, passed that dark
wall in your mind. I won’t let any harm come to you. Just let yourself
drift. You’re feeling a sensation of falling, of weightlessness.
You’ll drop through that darkness, back to when you were five, at school
in Mr Rogers’ class. You’ll be aware only of a sensation of dreaming,
of being detached from the events you’re seeing. Michael, can you tell
me what you’re seeing?”
“A classroom. It’s empty except for one boy.”
“What’s the boy’s name?”
“And what’s he doing?”
“Mr Rogers has asked him to help clean out the stationary cupboard
“I want you to take us through what happens. Remember, you’re only an
impartial witness, you won’t feel any emotion or pain.”
“Mr Rogers has opened the door and switched the light on, the boy’s
following him. It’s a big, walk-in cupboard. He’s closed the door
behind them. Michael’s standing in front of him, waiting.”
“Waiting for what?”
“He’s done this before. He hates it, but if he doesn’t do what Mr
Rogers asks, it’ll be his fault and he’ll be punished for being bad.”
Jim squeezed his eyes shut, balling his fists. Michael’s voice was
steady and calm, displaying no hint of the trauma of the last few days,
but that didn’t make it any easier to hear.
“Go on, Michael.” Simon prompted him gently.
“Mr Rogers is unzipping his trousers, putting Michael’s hand inside.
He’s looking up at the light bulb. He always looks at the light bulb.
He’s taking the teacher’s penis from his trousers, putting it in his
mouth.” Taggart looked away, anger and sorrow vying for precedence
inside him. At that moment he was glad that Gerald Rogers was dead.
“He’s still looking up at the light bulb, sucking on his teacher’s
penis. Mr Rogers is holding the back of his head, it hurts but he won’t
say anything. If he says anything, Mr Rogers will touch him, and he
hates that. The grip on the back of his head is becoming harder,
sharper, and the penis in his mouth is growing, spurting onto his tongue
and down his throat. He swallows it, even though it tastes foul. The
first time he spat it out. Mr Rogers made him take his trousers down
and smacked him. The teacher’s telling him that it’s their secret, that
he’s special and no one else is ever to know.”
Simon waited a beat before continuing. “Michael, I want you to let this
memory fade. You won’t have to hide in the darkness because you’ve
faced this memory, you’ve brought it to the surface and you’re free of
it. Do you understand?”
Simon turned to the Superintendent, sitting slightly back from the
scene. “If you want to start the recording now.” McVitie leaned
forward and pressed the red button on the small tape-recorder he’d
brought with him.
“Now, Michael, I want you to come forward, to three days ago, to the
afternoon at the house in the woods, the afternoon you found the
corpse. This time, I’m going to walk with you through the house,
Michael. Nothing can harm you. You’re looking through the eyes of an
observer. You won’t feel any pain. Tell me where you are.”
“Standing in the hall. There’s a noise, coming from the room on the
left, I think it used to be the living room.”
“We’re going through into that room, Michael. What can you see?”
“There’s... a fire burning in the grate. In front of it, there’s a man,
his trousers are down and he’s straddling something. I can’t see what
“We’re moving further into the room now, Michael. Can you see the man?”
“Yes.... He’s sitting astride... a body. It’s got no arms or legs.
The guy’s sitting on it’s face, with his penis inside it’s mouth.” The
bewilderment and disgust came through in Michael’s tone and was mirrored
on Taggart’s face. “He’s looking up, staring at me, shouting
something. I’m trying to back away but I can’t, something’s keeping me
there, I can’t move.”
“Michael, remember, nothing can harm you, you’re just seeing this
through the eyes of an observer.”
The panic faded again from his voice. “He’s getting up, grabbing me,
shaking me by the shoulders, shouting something. He’s strong, bigger
and stronger than I am. He’s kicking my knees, forcing me down to
kneel. His fingers are gripping the back of my head and he’s forcing me
forwards, putting his penis inside my mouth. I can’t fight him, he’s
too strong, I can’t get away from him. He tastes stale, horrible. I
keep trying to escape.” Michael’s head turned, side to side. “He’s
pushing me away now, back onto the floor. And he’s... kicking me...
“Michael, can you describe him for me?”
“He’s... big... fat. He’s got a beard and… short dark hair, greasy.
His accent... is Scottish. Glasgow, I think.”
“What’s he wearing?”
“A white T-shirt. It’s dirty. And jeans, dark blue jeans.”
“And what’s he saying to you, Michael?”
“I don’t know. He’s kicking me. Now he’s... grabbing my shoulders,
he’s shaking me again, lifting me and banging me against the floor.”
“What’s he saying?”
“I... he’s saying... that he didn’t want to do that to me. That he...
he’s sorry he’d done that to me.”
“He’s lifting me. I’m trying to stand but I can’t. I can’t keep my
balance, and he’s kicking now, throwing me into the corner. I can’t
move. Everything’s... hurting. He’s gone back to the body and he’s
lifting it, moving it into the corner opposite me. He’s leaving now.
I’m asking him to stop, to wait, but he’s leaving. I can hear the door
close. The body... I can see it now. I can... I know who it is... oh,
God... it’s him, it’s Mr Rogers.... He’s back, he’s found me....”
His distress was obvious, and one glance at McVitie told Simon that they
had everything they needed. “Michael, listen to me. I want you to look
at the body. You’re sitting in the corner, and it’s opposite you. Look
at it, Michael. See it clearly. It’s dead, isn’t it?”
“Mr Rogers is dead, isn’t he, Michael?”
“Yes.” Relief crept in.
“He can’t hurt you any longer, can he?”
“No. He’s dead.”
“Let the memory fade now. I want you to come forward, leave that time
behind and come forward to the present. Follow my voice until you can
open your eyes. You’ll feel tired, but calm. Follow my voice,
Michael. Come back to the present....” Blue eyes opened, and their
patient smiled a little. “That’s it. You just rest there for a few
minutes, all right?” He nodded. “You did very well.”
Simon beckoned McVitie out of the room, switching the recorder off as he
went. They closed the door, giving the two who remained a little
privacy. Jim reached over to take his sergeant’s hand into his own.
“Was I helpful?”
Taggart beamed, keeping any adverse emotion from his expression. “You
were. How’re you feeling?”
“I’m not sure. Tired.”
“Calm?” Michael nodded, and Jim couldn’t help but smile. “I’ll take
you home soon.”
“Did I give you anything useful?”
“A description of the guy we’re looking for.”
“Good.” His eyes slowly lost their focus, and he seemed to be
remembering something, something long hidden. He turned his head away
as the tears started; tears of sorrow for himself, for a five-year-old
boy who’d been terrified into silence for twenty-four years. Jim just
held his hand, letting Michael cry. The worst of it was over, now at
least he could start to heal.
Simon stepped back into the room as Michael sat up. “Tears are a very
natural reaction to regression therapy,” he told his patient, sitting
down on the end of the couch. “You have memories now that you’ve kept
buried for years. They’ll fade quickly, into the past. The more recent
ones, your experiences in the house in the woods, if you think about
them, you’ll be able to remember the details.” He fished first a
handkerchief then a card out of his pocket. “If you’re finding you’re
having problems sleeping, if you just need to talk or you want to do
this again, contact me. Strictly confidential.”
Michael took the card, wiping his eyes. “Thanks.”
“See how it goes. Now I’ll let DCI Taggart take you home.”
Jim opened the door for Jackie. “Thanks for coming round.”
“How’d it go?”
His expression said it all. “I’m not sure who it was more difficult
for, him or me.”
She could hear the shower running. “How is he?”
“All right. As well as can be expected. The hypnotherapist was great
with him.” He led the way through to the lounge. “The sketch artist is
coming round later. I’m hoping he’ll be able to give us a composite of
the guy we’re looking for.”
“He can remember?”
“I think so. I’m hoping so. While he was under, he told us the man
we’re looking for had a Glasgow accent. I want you to go through those
school reports they found at Rogers’ place. Narrow them down to the
Glasgow schools. Once we’ve got a composite from Michael, we’ll get
them to take twenty years off and try to match the result to the photos
in the reports.”
Jackie was impressed. “Yes, Sir.”
Stepping from the shower, Michael dried himself carefully, turning to
look at his reflection in the mirror. The bruises looked less angry
than they had at least. He continued to stare at himself, dropping the
towel he held to his body. Reaching out, he touched the mirror.
Something had changed, something was different. It was as if he’d had
some sort of release, had been freed from a prison he’d built for
himself a very long time ago. Looking down at himself, he did realise
one thing; he hadn’t been less interested in sex in his entire life.
Finally, he threw on some clothes – blue jeans and a warm cream-coloured
shirt – and padded through into the living room, his feet bare.
“Jackie... is everything all right?”
She smiled at him warmly. “I should be asking you that. We’re going to
try to find your attacker, Michael.”
He glanced at Jim. “We need you to try to give us a composite, Mike.
D’you think you can?”
Michael nodded. “Aye, I’ll try. I’m no good at drawing though.”
Taggart smirked. “Ha, ha. I’ve got an artist comin’ round. Cheeky.”
But he was smiling as he headed into the kitchen. Jean would be
impressed at his new-found domesticity.
Sitting down on the sofa, Michael dropped his head back against the
cushions, his eyes following Jackie as she sat down beside him. “How
are you, really?”
“I don’t know. Better... I think. Listen, thanks for everything you’ve
She touched his hand lightly. “Anytime.” It was the easy answer.
They sat at the kitchen table, a laptop computer displaying a partially
completed composite of their suspect. Michael sat with his elbows on
the table, gazing at the face taking shape before him, blinking the
tears as he talked. Taggart was perched on the table, his hand rubbing
lightly across Michael’s shoulder. He wished they could just put this
behind them for his sergeant’s sake, dragging him through this time and
time again wasn’t helping the healing process at all. But they needed
this, they had to find the man who’d killed Rogers, just to close the
case and let Michael get on with his life.
“His eyebrows were darker.” Jenny pressed a few keys and the eyebrows
changed thickness until Michael nodded, wiping his eyes with the back of
“What about the hair?” Jim prompted. “You said... it was greasy.”
“Aye... dark, thin. Parted at the side.” He had the image held in his
mind; a still from his memories. He was trying desperately to hold back
the rest. He didn’t want to remember anything else in as vivid detail
as he was seeing the man who’d attacked him. If they’d asked, he could
have described the guy’s taste in equal detail. The image on the screen
changed and he nodded. “That’s it. That’s him.”
Taggart touched his hand. “Thanks, Mike.” He watched his sergeant
leave the room. “And thank you.”
Jenny saved the composite and shut down the computer. “That’s okay, all
part of the service.” She glanced at the doorway. “Is he all right?”
Jim smiled to himself. He often wondered if Michael had any idea how
popular he was with the women at the station. “Aye, he’ll be fine. Had
a rough few days, that’s all.”
She nodded, wanting to ask more but keeping quiet. “I’ll have a print
out of this for you as soon as I get back to the station.”
“Thanks. If you could get a copy to Jackie Reid?”
Jenny peeked into the living room as she left, spotting Michael standing
by the window, gazing out. He had his back to her, and she found
herself wishing she was closer to him, close enough to offer support.
But she wasn’t. She was glad she could do something.
Jackie looked up as Taggart strode into the incident room set up at the
station. “We’ve got him, Sir.”
Until he saw him through the slot in the cell door, Taggart hadn’t been
sure how he’d feel when he finally came face to face with the man who’d
put the events of the last few traumatic days into motion. As he stood
looking through the slot, he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Are you sure
about this, Jim?”
He turned, gazing at his superior. “I’ll keep it professional.”
“But are you ready to hear it from him?”
He shook his head. “I can’t let anyone else do this.”
“If you can get the murder confession, we could let the other go.” Jim
looked at him. “No point in dragging young Michael through further
hell, is there?”
“No, Sir. Unless Mike wants to press charges of course.”
McVitie frowned sadly. “How likely is that?”
“Interview of suspect Gary McDonald starts, 12:20 pm. Present are DCI
Taggart and Superintendent McVitie.” Taggart leaned forward. “We want
to talk about Gerald Rogers.”
McDonald sat at the table, slumped in his chair, picking the dirt from
his fingernails. He gave the initial outward impression of not caring
what happened to him, but when he spoke, his tone reminded Taggart of
Michael recently. “He deserved it,” the quiet voice gentled the usually
harsh Glasgow accent.
“What did he do to deserve it, Gary?”
“At school... he made me do things. Not just me either.” He looked up
then. “Your Sergeant Jardine, the one who was at the house. He did him
too. I didn’t recognise him at the house. But I saw his picture later,
on the television. I knew who he was then, I recognised his name. We
were at the same school. I reckon he thought he was the only one, but I
knew I wasn’t even back then.”
Taggart somehow kept his outward appearance calm and unbiased. “Did you
write to Sergeant Jardine?” Now Michael’s name was on the tape, he
thought he may as well clean up all the loose ends.
“I had some lad deliver a letter to his house, just telling him he was
free. If he can ever be free.” The sympathy and understanding in his
voice then touched Taggart. This man at least understood, perhaps
better than any of them who’d been involved with trying to get Michael
McVitie took up the questioning seamlessly. “Why don’t you tell us what
happened with Gerald Rogers?”
“I saw him, one night in my local. He was sitting there, large as
life. I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t know who I was. What had I
been to him anyway? Just another little boy whose life he made a
misery. I bought him a drink, bought him lots of drinks then offered
him a lift home. He got out of the car in front of his house, and I
followed him. I didn’t know what I was going to do. There was a milk
bottle on the doorstep and I hit him on the back of the head with it.
He wasn’t heavy. I dragged him back to the car and put him in the back
seat. And I drove home.”
“What did you do when you got home?”
“I dumped him in the bath, tied him up with some rope I found in the
garage and gagged him with duct tape. I waited then, until he woke up.
And I told him, everything he’d done, each time he’d taken me into the
stationary cupboard and made me suck him off. I could see in his eyes
that he knew I wasn’t going to release him, that I was going to kill
him. I cut his clothes off with scissors, and I realised that I could
cut his penis off as well, with the scissors. I did his balls first.
He struggled, but I had strength I didn’t know I had. I did his penis
after that, used the shower to wash the blood away, off the tiles. He
passed out but I didn’t care. I found a saw in the garage and spent
most of the night taking his legs and arms off.”
“Where did you dump the arms and legs?” Despite extensive searching,
they’d failed to find the limbs.
“They’re in my garage, wrapped in bin bags.” He looked up at the two
detectives. “Your boys have probably found them by now, I assume
they’re taking my house to pieces.” There was barely any emotion in his
voice. If anything, there was a certain respect for the police who’d
caught up with him.
“What about the body?”
“I kept it in the bath for three weeks, something like that. But it
stank. I decided to get rid of it, but I knew if I threw it into the
trash or dumped it in the river someone would find it real quick, people
tend to find bodies here in Glasgow, have you noticed?” It was a
conversational question, but the two ignored it. Taggart wished he
could feel more hatred for the murderer before him, but he couldn’t help
thinking of Michael, and what both men had suffered. “I knew about the
house in the woods. One of my neighbours was killed by the woman who
lived there. I knew it was deserted so I wrapped the thing in bin bags
and took it in the car out to the house.” He shook his head. “How did
you lot know I was there? I was so sure I hadn’t been seen.”
Again they ignored the question and their suspect didn’t seem bothered
either way. “Why didn’t you just leave the body at the house?” Taggart
needed to know. ‘Why did you have to hurt my sergeant? Why did you
have to drag him into your nightmare?’ He kept the thoughts to himself.
“I don’t know. That’s the truth. Something... snapped inside me when I
saw the body lying there. I lit a fire, but I couldn’t tell you why.
Suddenly I just wanted to put him through what I’d been through. I was
angry with myself that I hadn’t made him suck me off when he’d been
alive. I just... I did it then. I wasn’t excited, I just did it to get
“Your revenge? He was already dead. What further revenge could you
“Like I said, I don’t know.” He seemed to both detectives to be as
genuine as anyone they’d ever met. More than anything, he seemed
relieved to be talking it through. “I just did it, and then your bloody
sergeant walked in.” He sounded so sorry that Michael had ever been
involved. “I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to hurt someone, I
couldn’t think straight. I just... I guess I saw him as being Rogers.
I’m a lot bigger than your sergeant, he didn’t stand a chance. Like we
didn’t when we were kids.” He looked up again. “I am sorry I hurt him,
I mean that. I killed Rogers to stop him from hurting anyone else and
instead I hurt someone.” He shook his head. “When I realised what I
was doing... I was horrified, I was angry with myself and again I took
it out on Sergeant Jardine. I hated him for being like I’d been when I
was at school. I couldn’t think, like I said. I’d killed Rogers so
calmly and I was losing it with some poor innocent copper.” He shook
his head. “I left him there. I left Rogers – what was left of him – in
the other corner. I saw Jardine’s reaction when he saw the body, and
although it didn’t click with me then, I realised when I got home. I
knew he’d been one of Rogers’ victims and I hated myself for what I’d
done to him. I could only hope you lot would find him quickly.”
He leaned forward. “I am sorry about Michael Jardine. Tell him that.
Tell him I didn’t ever mean to hurt him.”
Taggart broke their eye contact. But he waited until the tape had been
switched off, after the interview was suspended for the time being,
before he uttered just two words. “Thank you.”
“What’s he like?” Michael stepped up behind Taggart as he stood waiting
for the coffee machine to deliver. Jim spun.
“What are you doin’ here?”
“I wanted to know.”
It was getting late, the office was clearing out. It was a possibility
that entered his mind. “Do you want to meet him?”
Michael hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah.”
The duty constable led them down to the cells. He opened the small slot
in the cell door, and Michael looked for only the second time on his
attacker. He stood back, silent for a moment.
“You don’t have to speak to him. We have all we need to charge him with
Michael regarded his boss, considering what he was about to do. “It’s
okay. I just... I want to.”
Taggart nodded at the constable, and he opened the door. McDonald
looked up from where he lay on the hard bunk. When he saw Michael, he
sat up immediately, sorrow and guilt clouding his features. “Sergeant
Michael stared at him for a second. “I want to know why.”
“Why I killed Rogers...?”
“Why you attacked me. Why you put me through that again.”
“I am so sorry.” He leaned forward, but didn’t stand. Taggart stayed
at his sergeant’s side. “I wasn’t thinking straight. I know it’s no
help, and I know it doesn’t make it any easier, but when I did it I
wasn’t seeing you, I was seeing him.”
Jim watched Michael’s reaction carefully. He thought about the bruises
on his sergeant’s body and the pain they must still be causing. He was
only starting to understand that the physical bruising was nothing
compared to the pain inflicted mentally by Rogers.
“Which school were you at?” Taggart was amazed. Michael hadn’t
mentioned what he’d been subjected to at school except under hypnosis.
“The same as you. I remember you now. I remembered you when I got back
home, after being at the house.”
Michael stepped back. “You knew what was happening, back then, when we
“Not at first, not for a long time. You thought you were alone, didn’t
you? You thought you were the only one he was hurting?”
Part of Jim was screaming at him to get Michael away from here. But a
more predominant part of him was quietly reassuring. Perhaps McDonald
was the only one Michael could talk to because they’d shared the
experience. McDonald knew, whereas the rest of them could only guess.
Michael was nodding, answering McDonald’s question. The other remained
seated, didn’t make any attempt to stand, to close in on Michael. “You
weren’t alone. He didn’t pick on you. He liked boys. There were so
many, Sergeant Jardine. I’m glad I killed him, I’m just sorry I hurt
you that day.”
“I don’t want what you did to me to come out in court. I don’t want
what he did to me to come out.”
“You have my word, Sergeant. If you don’t press charges, I won’t
mention you.” There was no threat, no coercion just the truth in his
voice. Michael nodded. “I know what you’ve been through. I don’t know
how you dealt with it, but I thought about it, each and every day until
I realised that I couldn’t undo what he’d done. And I buried it, deep
where no one else would ever find it. Until that night in the pub when
I saw him and it all came back. I don’t know how strong your defences
were, but I do know they might have withstood this if I hadn’t done what
I did to you. I can’t apologize enough and I know that I can’t take
away the hurt I caused you.”
Another nod. But he couldn’t forgive, not today. He turned and left
the room, followed closely by Taggart. Behind them, the duty constable
looked for a long time on the face of a murderer before closing the
“Are you all right?” Jim followed his sergeant back to his desk in the
now empty main office of Strathclyde’s CID.
“I’ve lost count of the number of times you and Jackie have asked me
that recently,” but he was smiling gratefully. “I’d like to come back
Taggart eyed him suspiciously but nodded. “Aye, okay.”
There was obviously more. “But...?”
“If I start to mother you, shout at me.” It was confession of sorts,
one that Michael could well understand. The effects of the last few
days weren’t going to fade fast for either of them.
“I’ll do that.”
Leaning forward, Jim switched off the desk lamp. “Listen, I know this
place that does the best hot chocolate. What d’you think?”