It was 3am. The rain, which had set in for most of the previous day, had finally stopped.
Not that it matters now; I’m soaked through five times over.
Detective Sergeant York – Adam to his friends, If I had still had any – knelt down by the body. To be correct – and he was in the habit of correcting himself all the time, after all his appearances in court with lawyers who wanted to know precisely what had been said in what order – he was kneeling down beside the remains of a body; it was splattered across a disturbingly large area.
He ran a hand through his thinning brown hair and sighed, suddenly feeling bone-tired. He had just been drifting off to sleep half an hour ago, after another heated argument with his girlfriend, when the call had come in from the night-shift detective.
I could have done without being on call, he thought. There’s so much else I want to be doing. This is why I don’t see my friends any more. That, and I didn’t have may to start with.
He looked up at the on-duty pathologist, Peter Wilson. Adam had been glad to see him; Wilson never spoke in jargon and used simple words that Adam could follow. Wilson was the only pathologist in the police force that Adam actually liked. All the others looked down on him, he suspected, because he was a comprehensive school boy who hadn’t got anything more than a small clutch of GCSEs.
“How long’s she been here?” Adam asked, nodding at the smashed corpse. Wilson had been examining it for a while, and only just straightened up. Adam was glad to see that the doctor was as wet as he was.
“If you want the expert opinion of the only pathologist stupid enough to come out at this time of night,” Wilson said thoughtfully, “I’d say she’s been here for about two hours. Two and a half at the outside.”
Two and a half hours. Adam sighed. He didn’t know much about dead bodies, but what he did know was that any useful evidence would have been washed away after such a long time in the rain. He looked up and down the cracked airport runway and shivered as a blast of cold air hit him. Manston Airport had been shut down for years now, and endless wrangling had left the entire site undeveloped – and the blank site was entirely unattractive.
He wished there were witnesses he could call on, but who would have been here at this time of night? Well, apart from this corpse, of course.
Wilson reached down a gloved hand and gently touched the young girl’s neck. Adam watched him use his flashlight to examine the exposed flesh for any bruising.
“I first thought she was here for some kind of sexual encounter,” he said. “Maybe a prostitute meeting a client? But then I realised I was barking up the wrong tree. Her clothing’s too smart, there’s no track marks in her arms, and there’s no signs of recent sexual activity.”
“Hmm,” Adam replied non-committally. He watched the blood pooling around the girl’s body. A dark trail of it mixed with the rainwater and trickled down towards the dark airport terminal, which was shaped like an upright, squashed doughnut and had half its windows missing.
“Who found the body?” he asked.
“Three maintenance guys,” Wilson said distractedly, waving a hand towards the terminal. “They come by once a day to make sure nothing else has fallen down.”
Adam peered closely at the terminal, and saw three people huddled under the awning. A couple of uniformed police officers were talking to them.
They must have seen the trail of blood, Adam thought. Good to know.
Wilson stood, drawing Adam’s attention back to the scene.
“You don’t sound convinced,” Wilson said. “You think she was a prostitute?”
Adam shrugged. “I don’t know,” he replied. “An attractive blonde woman, 40-ish, found on an airport runway? Why was she here?”
“Are you serious?” Wilson asked. “Adam, she was dropped from at least thirty feet.”
Adam’s jaw slackened. Oh damn, he thought.
Detective Inspector Richard Wallace was itching for a cigarette. It had been three days since he had finally given into pressure from his doctor and stopped. It wasn’t going well. He was a slim, fit 53-year-old, and had wanted to improve his lung capacity before retirement. A long walking holiday in the Welsh countryside beckoned in six months – at his wife’s behest – and he knew it would be hell on Earth if he couldn’t breathe. He was dimly aware that he was clutching a pen in his left hand, trying to convince himself that it was a cigarette as he ran it through his long, pianist’s fingers.
I don’t give a crap about the habit, he thought. It’s the nicotine fix I miss.
He leaned back in his chair, looking at Sergeant York sat opposite his massively untidy desk; papers spilled across the space and practically buried the phone and laptop.
“We can only hope she died instantly, sir,” Adam went on. “The damage was … extensive.”
“We’re working on that.”
Wallace sighed. I hate mysteries. He studied York, who seemed as much at a loss too; his shoulders were slumped and his eyes red and puffy.
“So what’s next?” Wallace prompted.
York blinked and focused on his superior. He cleared his throat. “Sorry, sir, what did you say?”
“What’s your plan?”
“Oh sorry, sir,” York said with an apologetic smile. “We wait for the pathology report to come back. Meanwhile, I -”
“Meanwhile,” Wallace interrupted, “you are to get a few hours’ sleep.”
York opened his mouth, clearly ready to protest, but he seemed to catch something in the inspector’s eyes as he quickly closed his mouth again. The two men hadn’t know each other for very long; York had only made sergeant two months ago and transferred to Thanet from his previous posting, but the newly-minted sergeant was clearly a quick learner. He nodded and left the office, looking relieved.
It was ironic; Wallace was a career detective in criminal investigation, and yet he hated mysteries. He liked the feeling of mysteries being solved, and getting answers to his questions, but he hated being presented with a mystery and everything being stretched out in front of him.
He was hoping, therefore, that the summons downstairs to the Forensic Science Unit was good news that might crack the case. Given that it was now six o’clock in the morning, Wallace was hopeful; he wanted to go to bed himself sooner rather than later.
Wallace reached the bottom of the stairs to the pathology department out-of-breath. I’ve only come down three flights, he thought, cross with himself. I never got this exhausted when I smoked.
He pushed open the double doors and did a double-take at the chaos around him. The five staff – Wilson included – were packing up large, heavy briefcases with scientific equipment that Wallace wouldn’t have been able to spell, let alone pronounce.
“What the hell’s going on?” he asked.
“Inspector,” Wilson said in surprise, “I didn’t realise they were sending top brass out with us. Is Sergeant York off-duty?”
“Out with you? What are you talking about?”
“We’ve just had a call from one of your constables. There’s been another murder. A body’s just washed up on Ramsgate beach. I thought that was why you were here.”
Serial killer. The thought had crossed his mind before he could breathe, and then he gasped. No, please.
“I’m coming with you,” he said decisively.
Wallace ended up getting a lift in a police car, as the forensics van hadn’t got the room for a passenger. As a result, he was a good five minutes behind them, and the forensics team were already setting up.
“Sorry, sir,” PC Laurel, his driver, said as they pulled up. “Damn traffic.”
“Not your fault,” Wallace replied. He hesitated as he got out the car, and looked back at the constable. “Have you ever seen a murder scene?”
“No, sir,” she replied. “I passed out three months ago.”
“Then come with me,” the inspector replied. “It’s time you saw one.”
Laurel looked surprised, but eager at the same time; she was clearly keen to get involved, and Wallace wasn’t one to mollycoddle people. Qualified constables needed to learn one way or the other.
He led the way onto the beach and immediately cursed his footwear; formal black shoes weren’t the best things to wear on sand, but he would be damned if he was going to take them off.
I need to present the right impression, and bare feet don’t give an air of authority.
Ignoring the crowds that were building up on the promenade – PCSOs were thankfully keeping them at bay – he and Laurel stumbled across the sand towards Wilson, who was already keenly examining the body.
How do the path guys manage to get past the traffic? Wallace wondered. It’s like they bloody fly here.
Dr Wilson didn’t notice Wallace approaching. The pathologist had pulled waterproof trousers on over his jeans, as the body had only been pulled just far enough out of the water to stop it lapping over him.
Rule One of forensics, Wallace remembered from his training. Never move the body more than you need to. You could be destroying all the evidence.
Wallace cleared his throat, and Wilson looked up.
“He died within the last hour,” he said perfunctorily. Wilson wasn’t one to mince words. “Whoever dumped him at sea must not have realised which way the tide had turned.”
“What do you know about the body?”
Wilson raised a disapproving eyebrow. “I’ve been here for five minutes.”
“Tell what you’ve learnt in the last five minutes, then,” the inspector said. “I’ll understand if you need to correct any mistakes later.”
Wilson’s eyes glinted with amusement for a moment, before he focused his attention on the dead body again. A stray thought strayed through Wallace’s brain – I need a fag – before being pushed firmly back.
“We have here a male in his mid-forties,” Wilson said. “I suspect he died as he hit the water.”
“How big was the boat he fell from?” Laurel asked.
“No boat would be big enough for the body to have that level of damage.”
Wallace hesitated. “So he would fallen from – what, a plane?”
Wilson looked up at Wallace again, and a moment of understanding passed between them. Both were thinking of the earlier murder.
“The deceased female was a similar age, wasn’t she?” Wallace asked.
“I’d say so,” Wilson concurred.
“Is there any ID from either victim?” Laurel asked.
“You’ve had the woman’s ID for a couple of hours,” Wilson replied. “Sergeant York was going to bring it straight up to you.”
Annoyance bubbled up from the pit of his stomach. He out-right denied he’d seen any ID, Wallace recalled. What’s he playing at?
“Get this guy’s ID’s up to me personally, would you? Laurel,” he said over his shoulder, “find me the ID of the deceased woman and report to me directly, do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Laurel said. “Sir, I -”
“Don’t worry about York,” Wallace said sharply. “I’ll deal with him.”
Adam snuffled and cursed as his mobile phone interrupted his sleep. He glanced at his bedside clock and groaned.
An hour, he thought. Great, is that all I’m allowed these days?
He had found a spare bunk in the cadet’s wing; it was easier than going home. As usual, his dreams were more like nightmares, and faces that he recognised had floated through his mind, laughing and cackling at him. Forcing himself awake, he fumbled for the phone and grumbled a “Hello.”
“Get into the office,” Wallace said bluntly, and hung up.
Adam’s stomach lurched. Oh god, he thought. Not again.
Wallace sat down in his office, scowling at the information Laurel had just passed across his desk.
“They’re both scientists?” he said. “Why would anyone want to kill scientists?”
“You’ve never been to our annual dinners,” Wilson said dryly
Laurel stood nervously by the door as she spoke; “Sara McDougal worked for Flight Development Technologies as a senior research scientist. She had worked there for twenty-five years, ever since she graduated with a first in biochemistry from Cambridge.”
“‘Flight Development Technologies’?” Wallace replied. “I assume the name is self-explanatory?”
“There’s not much on their website,” Wilson noted. “But yes, they were working on better ways of flying.”
“What about George Avensis? What did he do?”
“He was a qualified neurosurgeon,” Wilson replied, “and worked for FDT for twenty years.”
Wallace tapped his fingers on the desk again. Right now, he would have sold his sister for a pack of cigarettes.
“Why would an aeroplane company need a biochemist and a neurosurgeon on their books? See what you can find out about FDT. Speak to Special Branch and MI5 if you need to.”
Laurel nodded and left the office.
“She seems like a good kid,” Wilson said.
“She’ll make an excellent chief superintendent one day,” Wallace replied with certainty.
He looked out of his window into the wider office and saw, through the busy throng, a dishevelled – and exhausted – York walking through the detectives without paying them any attention.
What the hell is wrong with him? the inspector wondered. He motioned for York to enter his office, and the sergeant sat down next to Wilson. I heard a rumour he’s arguing a lot with his girlfriend. I hope he’s not bringing his personal problems into work.
“Adam, have you heard of a company called Flight Development Technologies?”
York’s jaw dropped open, his face registering pure shock. Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead.
“FDT?” he repeated. “You … you’ve heard of them?”
Wilson nodded. “Both of today’s victims were employees of FDT,” he said.
Adam closed his eyes at Wilson’s words. “No …” he whispered, although it sounded more like a groan.
“What’s wrong, Adam?” Wallce asked. “Do you know about FDT?”
For a moment, he wondered if York had even heard him; the sergeant seemed lost in his own world.
“Yes,” York said, his voice thick with emotion. “I know them well. I need to go. I’ve got to -”
“You’re not going anywhere, Sergeant York,” Wallace retorted. He must have practically shouted it, as a couple of passing officers – and PC Laurel, sat at her desk just outside the office – looked round. “You are going to explain yourself!”
York’s demeanour suddenly changed; Wallace’s manner and annoyance seemed to help him focus, as his hands folded into fists so tight that his knuckles turned white.
“Don’t … tell … me .. what … to … do!” he snarled, rage spitting out with every word. “I’ve spent my life being told what to do!”
He flipped up Wallace’s desk and hurled it through the large window pane. The glass shattered into thousands of pieces, thrown into a thousand different directions. All the officers immediately ducked, but Wallace saw pieces of glass slash peoples’ faces and arms.
Adam stepped through the now-empty window pane and ran off down the corridor, barging through the double-doors at the end.
There was no point in hiding any longer. I wanted to be safe. I deserved to be normal. Neither are possible now.
Adam had gone straight to the station roof. Stepping to the edge of the building, he glanced down; the yard was quiet. The next shift change wouldn’t be for a few hours yet.
His jacket was done up all the way to his neck, and he undid it now; underneath, he was bare-chested. There were large, vivid scars running down the front of his body and, as he turned, he could still feel the scars down his back as well – as well as the two massive wings that had been folded close to his body underneath his jacket. The wings spread wide, as Adam’s coat fell to the floor, and began beating, propelling him into the air.
I can never be normal, he realised, but I can still get revenge. I tried to do it one by one, but now I will do it wholesale.
He propelled himself forward, effortlessly flying through the air towards his next target.
“There he goes!”
Wallace had reached the courtyard first, but Wilson had shouted out – rather pointlessly – as he followed through the door.
Wallace came to his senses and pointed at Wilson as he ran across the courtyard.
“Come with me!” he barked.
“Where are we going?” Wilson asked. “I’m not a police officer.”
“No,” Wallace called over his shoulder, “but you’re a doctor, and I’m going to need one!”
Ten laborious minutes had passed, with Wallace and Wilson trying to force their way – in a marked police car with its sirens blaring – through the slow-moving traffic.
“Come on, you idiots!” Wallace yelled impotently. “Get moving!”
Drivers and pedestrians were all slowing as they watched the thick billows of flames and dark smoke dead ahead, rising above the rooftops. Wallace was distracted from his impatience – and the noxious fumes – by his mobile phone. It routed through to the car speakerphone as he answered the call.
“Sir, it’s Laurel.”
“What have you found out?” Wallace asked. He weaved past another car that had pulled up at the side of the road to gawp at the flames, and tried to contain his temper.
“FDT were set up five years ago as a weapons development agency of the Ministry of Defence,” Laurel went on. “I’ve not found its terms of reference, but I have found a staff list.”
“How many weapons researchers work there?”
“None,” Laurel replied. “But plenty of scientists, doctors, counsellors, and genetic researchers.”
“Does York’s name appear anywhere on the staff directory?” Wilson asked.
“Yes,” Laurel replied. “His job title was ‘Tester’. It says that he resigned four months ago.”
“Tester …” Wilson shook his head. “They were doing genetic tests on him.”
“And gave him wings?” Wallace exclaimed. “That’s something out of a Dr Who episode.”
He looked at the smoke and flames again; his stomach knotted. “We haven’t got time for this!” he snapped. “This is taking too long.”
“What do you suggest we do?” Wilson retorted. “Run?”
Wallace’s lungs were threatening to explode inside his chest, and he stopped to deal with a sudden and intrusive coughing fit.
If someone offers me a cigarette now, I’ll rip their hand off for the whole pack.
Straightening up, he realised that Wilson was hardly out of breath at all.
The two men had stopped at the rope line set up by uniformed police to let the fire brigade do their job. They squeezed through the crowds of people to watch what was happening.
They were in central Margate, just outside a covered walkway in the town centre. Laurel had discovered this location as the FDT’s office.
“Shouldn’t we be searching for York?” Wilson whispered in his ear. “There’s not much we can do here.”
“There’s no need to go anywhere,” Wallace retorted. His eyes were fixed on a point just above the burning building. “He’ll find us very soon.”
He flashed his warrant card at the PC supervising the rope line, and he and a confused Wilson were waved through. As they strode towards the nearest fire engine, Wilson couldn’t resist but ask; “What are we doing? You’re not planning to go into that building, are you? If there are survivors, the fire brigade will bring them out.”
“I would caution against that, Dr Wilson.”
Wallace and Wilson froze by the fire engine; despite the noise from the fire, both men heard the third voice clearly – as well as the surprised yells from the people behind the rope line.
“Hello, Adam,” Wallace said calmly – more calmly than he felt – as he turned round.
Adam’s wings will still unfurled; he had clearly flown down from the roof of a neighbouring building.
“Detective Inspector,” Adam replied coolly. He glanced at Wilson. “You’d save the people in that building? Why? Because you’re a doctor?”
Wilson frowned. “Because I care.”
“I wish the doctors who experimented on me cared,” Adam replied.
“What did they do to you?” Wilson asked.
“They grew wings on my fucking back and tried to turn me into a weapon!”
“They … grafted the wings on?” Wallace cut in.
Adam shook his head. “They grew them, by manipulating my DNA. I was merely the latest test subject they tried it on – but I was the first where it succeeded.”
“My god,” Wilson muttered, his eyes raking the still-unfurled wings. “Why would they do something like that?”
“Because flying humans are quiet, intuitive, and can get into places that planes and helicopters never could,” Adam replied, regaining his composure. “The Ministry of Defence wanted a whole battalion of winged fighters.”
“How many of you are there?” Wallace asked; anger and pity were currently vying for attention in his chest.
“I’m the only one who’s fully-formed.” Adam looked up at the three-storey building with a mixture of fear and hatred on his face. “There are others in there, being tortured and mangled right now.”
“Then we need to save them!” Wilson exclaimed. He made to move towards the building, but Adam stepped forward and blocked his path.
“It’s too late,” he said with a sigh. “They’re …” He hesitated, clearly searching for the right words – “… all like me.”
Wallace hadn’t been able to stop himself from asking the question, and was surprised by Adam’s reaction; he merely nodded. His shoulders and wings slumped down in apparent sorrow.
“I was maimed for years,” he said quietly, “as were many of my friends. I want revenge for what they’ve done to me … but I also want to liberate all those others. Their deaths will free them.”
“You want to kill them?” Wilson asked, askance.
“Yes,” Adam replied with a strange smile. “It’s the best gift I can give them.”
His wings began to beat hard, growing in speed until he rose up off the ground and drew level with the first floor windows. Flames and smoke belched out through a smashed pane.
“I don’t want to be the only one left!” Adam shouted.
He flew into the building through the broken window.
Wilson turned to face the inspector. “We need to get in there!” he yelled. “Give the order to go in!”
Wallace looked back up at the broken window and shivered as he remembered the look in Adam’s eyes.
He was terrified and frightened. He just wanted it all to stop. The inspector shivered. If I were in his place, what would I do? There’s different types of good in the world.
“Richard!” Wilson yelled, immediately getting Wallace’s attention. “We’ve got to get those people out of there!”
Wallace shook his head. “No,” he replied. “We really haven’t.”