Remember Ruth Ellis?
"Did you know that the ‘new car smell' is actually made of over fifty volatile organic compounds?" He said.
Gail nodded and raised her eyebrows enough to show she was interested, even though she wasn't. All she could do was watch as her starter was placed in front of her: A Turkish potato salad that was made up of only a handful of ingredients: Potato, spring onion, chilli, parsley, lemon juice, and salt. And freshly made too, meaning the potatoes were still warm and were fusing the ingredients together and creating a beautiful aroma that was invigorating her head and tantalising her palate.
You should put that in a new car, she thought.
She had been looking forward to dinner at the Turkish restaurant all day. Usually, it was the food that made her happy, but this evening it meant that she could give her eye a rest. Because thanks to a five-year-old called Thomas with ADHD at the respite centre where she worked, it was swollen, badly bruised and half-closed after he had thrown a Bob the Builder digger at her face the previous day in a fit of anger. She could have easily taken the day off but had continued as normal because she knew that children with mental health problems could often be a handful and sometimes unpredictably violent, making injuries like hers fairly commonplace. But also because she didn't want to make a fuss. Because it wasn't in her nature – this forty-year-old woman who was polite and softly spoken. Peering out from behind a pair of thin-rimmed brown glasses; with a clear pale complexion, mousy hair that she wore down and a frail frame that was lost amid her ankle-length fabric skirts and cardigans. A woman who was quite attractive with nice eyes and small breasts, but was totally hidden behind insecurity and too many layers.
But right now, sat in the front window of the low-lit authentic Turkish restaurant, it wasn’t her bruised and swollen eye that was bothering her. It was the man sat opposite who was skewering one of the diced potatoes from her salad with his fork and putting it in his mouth.
Gail had met Owen after he’d contacted her via an online dating site a year previously.
Sat at home alone one evening after half a bottle of red wine, Gail hadn’t been massively impressed with his profile picture or the fact that his main passion was cars. But she had been intrigued that he’d put ‘eating out’ as his second interest. But still didn’t feel it was enough to meet even though he’d sent her a message saying he was interested. So when she woke up the next morning, feeling the effects of the entire bottle and remembering that they had connected and she’d agreed to meet for dinner, she immediately wanted to pull out. But she didn’t. Partly not wanting to make a fuss or let anyone down, and partly knowing that she would only be sat on her sofa reading her current fantasy novel – but mainly because if there was one thing Gail liked more than a book by George RR Martin, it was eating out.
“What kind of food do you like?” Owen had asked her when they spoke on the phone two nights later.
“Anything–” she said, before hesitating. “But I don’t mean anything–” she was nervous, sat on the edge of her two-seater sofa fiddling with the corner of a floral cushion, a glass of red wine within arm’s reach on the coffee table.
“Food from around the world, mainly.”
“Me too. What kind of things do you go for?”
Gail explained how she liked Spanish, Indian, Thai or French, feeling herself relaxing. “But–” Gail said, “My absolute favourite is Turkish. But a restaurant, not a takeaway.”
“Okay.” Owen said, “So when are you next free?”
On the first date, Gail had met him in an Italian restaurant in Covent Garden and had worn a long dark floral dress with a plain pink woollen cardigan that was buttoned up to the top. She was pleasantly surprised to realise that he looked a lot like his profile picture suggested, no more handsome, but no worse either, with slim narrow features like her, but with strawberry-blonde hair that was thin and slightly receding.
Smartly dressed in a light blue shirt that was tucked into dark blue jeans with brown brogues he had been polite and funny and, most importantly, he had also kept his fork to himself.
For the next two months, they met for dinner twice every week, which is around the time Gail invited him into her bed. From there they saw a lot more of each other, rarely going to Owen’s but instead staying over at Gail’s one-bedroom flat in Stoke Newington almost every other night. On the two nights that they weren’t out at a restaurant Gail would cook, stood in the small kitchen area chopping onions and peppers with a chef’s knife that was almost as big as her. There at the worktop she would sip wine while Owen sat in the adjoining living room watching repeats of Top Gear from the Jeremy Clarkson period with a diet coke at his feet. After six months passed Gail had grown to really like Owen – maybe even loved him?
Or at least she had, right up until the point where he started stealing her food.
It had first happened in La Petite Auberge. Gail had ordered a French bean salad and as soon as it was placed in front of her she watched Owen’s fork go in – stabbing away, trying to spear as many beautiful green beans as he could while making a mess of the nicely presented plate in the process. And from then on it simply developed into a permanent habit. No matter what restaurant they were at, or what Gail had ordered, every time Gail’s starter would arrive Owen would help himself: Her grilled halloumi cheese from Apollo, her fried calamari from Il Guscio or her grilled asparagus from La Bella. It happened every time. With Owen sticking his fork in and then watching Gail from across the table with his narrow eyes while he chewed slowly. With Gail unable to bring herself to say anything, despite wanting to scream in his face and tell him to have more respect. Because if there was one thing that was sacred to Gail, it was food.
For those first few weeks when Owen had started violating her plate, Gail had questioned herself long and hard if it was her? If she was being overly sensitive? Wondering if she should be more open-minded, and let Owen act as he pleased. But ultimately realising, as she watched him cram one of her grilled artichokes into his mouth while they were at Rubedo, that she was unable to accept it. And with every passing meal they shared together, she only grew to hate him more and more.
It was at the respite centre where Gail worked that her rotund manager Barry, after watching Gail struggle in pain to bend and pick up a Power Ranger from the floor, had asked, Is everything ok?
“Thomas.” She said, referring to one of the children.
Around this time Gail’s work was also becoming increasingly stressful, with some of the children becoming more prone to violent outbursts when they were told to do something. Like the eight-year-old autistic girl, Samantha, who gripped on so tightly when Gail was trying to get her dressed that she gave Gail red, lacerated wrists. Or the Thomas kid – the same one that had given Gail a black eye– who had now punched Gail so repeatedly as she tried to get him into the bath that she walked away with ribs so bruised she could hardly bend over.
And over the months that followed things didn’t improve with either the children or while at dinner with Owen. But through it all, Gail never took time off work and she never missed a dinner date – like this evening when she’d agreed to meet Owen at her favourite Turkish restaurant.
When she arrived, dressed in a bright yellow cardigan and a long dark skirt with her hair down and sporting her fresh black eye, her handbag on her shoulder, Owen was already waiting; sat at a table with a beer, in the front window close to the entrance.
Sat upright, his hands on the table, wearing one of his nice light blue shirts, the first thing he asked was, How was your day?
“Tiring.” Gail said, giving him a brief smile before she looked down at the menu that was already in her hand; even though she knew exactly what she wanted.
When her potato salad starter finally arrived along with Owen’s whitebait, Gail had hardly spoken. She had just listened to Owen talk about buying a new car and how the prices were increasing due to Brexit – or so he thought. But now, finally, as Gail looked down at her food and as Owen continued to make ineffectual conversation about the ‘new car smell’ and how it was made up of over fifty volatile elements, the smell of her potato salad with lemon and chilli was all around her and filling her senses and moistening her mouth and was giving her a feeling of happiness that she hadn’t felt for months.
A feeling that was cut abruptly short as Owen leant forward, stabbed one of her baby potatoes and eased back into his chair, leaving Gail to watch as he chewed slowly with his empty eyes staring back.
Which is when Gail reached down into her handbag, pulled out a large chef’s knife and plunged it into Owen’s chest as far as she could.
By the time Gail had let go of the knife people were already on their feet and starting to scream.
As Owen remained upright in his chair, the knife still in his chest and gurgling sounds coming from his mouth along with a little blood, Gail didn’t move, happy that she could finally enjoy her salad.
PC Rachel Rias got the call as she and her partner were coming to the end of a six-hour shift walking the beat. They were twenty minutes away from Islington station and only thirty minutes away from the end of their day, but had responded immediately and were now heading to the restaurant where there had been a fatal stabbing.
“How bad was the food?” Her Australian partner, Francis David said, making Rias smile.
They were moving south down a small Georgian side street, Rias, wearing her bowler style issue hat with her long dark hair tied up; both of them dressed in standard Police Constable uniforms of black trousers, white shirt, stab-vest, radio and duty belts.
“Gallipoli. You know it?” Rias said as they ended the Georgian side road and hit the main drag that was Upper Street: a bustling, mile-long stretch of nice restaurants, theatres and clothes shops.
Francis – Rias’ junior partner, a pup at twenty-five; tall, slender, and somewhat effete with a blonde moustache said, “No, what is it? Moroccan?”
“Turkish. It’s nice. Me and Aaron have been there a few times.”
Walking along the pavement on the lively street Rias said that she thought it was strange they were being called to a stabbing at a restaurant at seven-thirty in such a nice area?
“I’ll take it over a fuckin’ council estate.” Francis said.
It was 7pm, and still daylight and Rias could already see the restaurant a few hundred yards ahead as her and Francis walked side by side.
As the senior officer, Rias was twenty-nine and stood at 5.8” – a few inches shorter than her partner.
“Describe yourself in one sentence.” A guy she was seeing had once asked her; on account that she had inherited Mediterranean skin and dark eyes from her Spanish father and a good figure and an English accent from her British mother.
Lying naked on their backs, together on the bed, Rias let her head fall to the side so she was facing him, “I’m as English as afternoon tea...” she said, before rolling herself on top of him, “But have the heart... of a toro.” Which would have been way more romantic if the guy from Guildford hadn’t said, “Who the fuck is Atoro?”
For Rias, growing up in England with Spanish blood meant that she had always felt like she was two different things. But it was only after joining the force and putting on her uniform for the first time that she felt like one thing: a police officer.
Stood inside the restaurant now, it was exactly as Rias had remembered: overly cluttered with tables, chairs, memorabilia, and pictures hanging from every inch of the walls.
When the fifty-year-old man with a bald head and grey sides opened the door to them after Rias had knocked, she quickly noted that the place was empty: apart from a woman sat on a chair at the far end of the narrow restaurant – Rias unable to make out her face clearly because the woman had her eyes fixed on the table in front of her.
With the door closed and Francis stood just behind her, Rias listened as the bald man in the white shirt and black trousers introduced himself as the owner, Savas and gesticulated wildly and explained in a shaky voice how a male customer had been stabbed during dinner. Savas then wiped the sweat from his head, smoothed down his droopy grey moustache and pointed to the dead body behind them, no more than five feet away, still sat at the table in the window, but now covered in a large white table cloth.
Seeing the body still in its upright position made Rias think of a cheap kid’s ghost costume – only scarier. After telling Francis to check the body and then getting a nod of confirmation that they were dealing with a murder she told him to radio it in and get the CSI team down there. Rias looked back to Savas, “Is the attacker still here?’
Savas nodded and pointed again, this time to the far end of the restaurant, to the woman sat quietly at the table.
“Has anyone else been hurt?” Rias said.
“Is anyone else in danger?”
“Were you the one that covered him over?”
“Yes, of course, I had to do something. People see a dead body in the window, they don’t want to eat.”
Rias told him that he would have to wait for the crime scene investigators to arrive. They would need his clothes and samples from him as he came into contact with the body.
Rias’ main job now was controlling the scene and not letting it get contaminated until forensics arrived to do their job. Meaning no one else in or out. Not like in films or TV where you would see countless people walking through the crime scene and approaching the dead body and stroking their chin. That always made her laugh when she saw that kind of thing; simply because it was so far from the truth, like a lot of other things writers did in their portrayal of police work. She would sometime have to get up and make a cup of tea when her husband Aaron was watching one of his favourite shows like Taggart or Morse on one of the ITV channels.
“No two people can solve a crime on their own," she would say loudly. "Sometimes it can take up to thirty officers working on one case to crack it.”
“It’s just telly.” Aaron once said. Forcing Rias to respond with, “Pero que mierda.” (Roughly translated as, “What shit.”) Finding it almost impossible to take seriously.
Stood in Gallipolis she said to Savas, “What did she do when she’d stabbed the man?”
“She did nothing – she just ate her potato salad that we sent.”
Rias nodded to the far end where the woman was sat. “And how did she get down there?”
Savas looked bewildered and shrugged. “Everyone had left the restaurant. The woman, she finish her meal, then get up, say to me that she will wait for the police. And then go sit over there. She hasn’t moved.”
Rias and Francis approached the table where the woman was sat facing them on the far side, her hands cupped together in front but her head still down, meaning neither Rias or Francis couldn’t see her face, just her long mousy hair as it fell forward.
After Rias introduced themselves as police officers the woman still didn’t look up or make a sound, so Rias took a moment, then said, “I’m going to take a seat now – Can I ask that you keep your hands on the table where I can see them.”
Rias gently slid the chair out on her side and seated herself across from the woman. “My name is Rachel, are you sure you can’t tell me your name?”
The woman then looked up as if she’d just woken from a dream. “I’m sorry…” she said, her voice soft, “Gail Hirst.”
Rias was surprised with the woman that was looking back, maybe ten years older than her, with the appearance less of a killer but more of a shy librarian, in her yellow cardigan and glasses, her face ashen and her personality appearing all but lost.
Rias saw the black eye too: the ugly dark bruise and the white sclera area partially blood-red from whatever, or whoever, had struck her.
“Can you tell me what’s happened here?”
“Owen’s dead.” Gail said, looking ahead, her eyes empty and glazed.
“Is Owen your husband?”
Rias waited. “How did he die, Gail?”
“I killed him.”
“Was it an accident?”
Rias watched as a tear rolled down Gail’s cheek: her look fixed on nothing but space. “How did you kill him?” Rias said.
“With a knife.”
“Where did you get the knife?”
“Do you have any other weapons on you now?”
Rias was looking at Gail's bruised eye again, careful how to phrase what she said next: “He must have done something quite bad to deserve that?”
There was another silence until Gail said, “He kept stealing my food.”
Rias’ immediate reaction was to ask her to repeat herself, just to make sure she had heard it right? But didn’t have to, because she knew she’d heard Gail fine. So instead, she just sat there, remembering all of the reasons she had heard over the last four years as a PC as to why a suspect had stabbed another person - none of them coming down to something as trivial as food – which is when the silence was broken by Rias and Francis’ radios cutting through the air.
As Francis stepped away to take the call Rias watched as more tears crept down Gail’s cheeks. Rias then took a napkin from where she was sat and placed it in Gail’s hands.
Francis approached and whispered in Rias’ ear that DI Bryant was outside.
Ok. Rias knew she had to wrap it up. But first, she wanted to know about that eye.
Rias listened as Gail explained that she worked with mentally disabled children and how some of them could be prone to violence.
But when Rias asked her if she had any other injuries Gail moved her eyes back down to the table between them and didn’t answer any more of the PCs questions.
Which is when Rias and Francis read Gail her rights, placed her under arrest and led her outside to the car.
“She admitted it at the scene?” Detective Inspector Bryant said to Rias, both stood there alone in the middle of the road across from the restaurant, the whole street now cordoned off with police tape and the crime scene totally sealed as the forensics team got busy inside.
It was 9.15pm and the June sun was dropping like a stone as DI Daniel Bryant wasted time by posturing with both hands on his hips, surveying the scene like a bloated Napoleon, getting PC Rias to bring him up to speed on every detail; half of which she knew he wasn’t listening to – which was standard for her superior officer who was more involved with himself than he was with any of the cases he ever investigated.
Four years older than Rias but a good foot shorter and a couple of stone heavier he said then, “Did she say why she did it?”
For some reason Rias hesitated, not wanting to repeat what Gail had told her.
Bryant moved his tired eyes onto Rias.
“She told me it was because he kept stealing her food.” Rias said.
Bryant was looking away again, “Well fuck it, one reason’s good as another.”
“You think that’s normal?”
“What’s normal about any of it?”
Rias noticed he was wearing his dark grey M&S suit today: the one he would rotate with the other two Ted Baker ones, hoping people would think it was the same. Which they probably did as none of his suits were particularly well-fitted to his squat physique. And always without a tie and his shirt undone by three buttons, something Rias was sure he’d seen in a men's magazine and thought made him look cool.
“People like her don’t do things like this over food.” She said.
He was looking back and scowling at her. “I didn’t realise you knew her personally?”.
“Then who the fuck knows anything about why she did it.’ He said. “You say she brought the knife from home?”
“That’s what she told me.”
“Then it wasn’t a fucking accident, so who gives a shit about the ‘whys?’”
Rias kept her eyes on Bryant wondering how he could call himself a detective with a straight face.
“So–” he said now, flexing his dandruff coated shoulders back and taking a breath, “Let’s get her into custody and close this quickly.”
“You don’t want to speak to her?”
“You can’t handle it?”
She could, but told him that she thought it would be helpful if he took a look at the woman who just put a knife into her boyfriend’s chest so that he would at least have some reference when she was sending him her reports.
This was another aspect of police work that TV or film writers rarely got right: A detective chief inspector or a detective inspector like Bryant were more often than not working eight or so cases at any one time, meaning that between heading up the teams, attending meetings, and doing administration, there was very little time for a DSI or a DI to walk door to door chatting to witnesses or sit in the pub piecing together evidence over a pint; let alone interview every suspect, like you saw in most series or films. No, that stuff generally fell to the uniformed PCs like Rias.
Bryant turned to face her.
“Rias, I’ve just had to leave an angry family looking for answers because their Nigerian son got chopped up with machetes by a group of kids in the street. On top of that I’ve got seven other fucking cases I’m dealing with: four of which are murders”
“I know sir – I’m assisting you with three of them.”
“Then you know that I don’t have time to hold your hand with some woman that went samurai with her husband over a moussaka.”
“Boyfriend,” Rias said, correcting him, “it wasn’t her husband.”
Bryant kept his eyes on her, “Is there something else going on in that brain of yours?”
Rias did have something on her mind, but she wasn’t going to share it with Bryant–
“Is this the start of another one of your fucking female crusades?” He said.
–And that was the reason why. “No.” She said.
“Then what are you waiting for? You want to be a detective: I’ll give you the gold star if you get her into custody and get her confession.”
“And what if I request a liaison officer to see her?”
This stopped Bryant, who looked back with empty eyes. “Why would you do that?”
“If you come and talk with her, then I think you’ll see–”
“I don’t need to fucking see her–” he said, cutting her off, “because she fucking admitted it. We’ve got eyewitnesses around the block and enough physical to fill a fucking swimming pool.”
“But it’s my opinion that she may be unfit to be interviewed.”
Bryant stepped forward to the point where if he bothered to wear aftershave Rias could've smelled it. “Why do you want to make this more complicated than it has to be?”
Rias looked in the direction of the restaurant as two men in white hazmat suits were entering the forensics tent outside.
“Do you like wearing those blues?” Bryant said as Rias looked back. “Have you not learnt a fucking thing? Or do you want to be walking the beat for the next three years as well?”
Rias didn’t answer.
“You think she might have problems?” He said, his voice relaxed as he stepped away and placed his hands back on his hips. “You’re fucking right: her mind is shot to shit and she’s facing a life stretch. Do yourself a favour–” he said now in a stern tone, “and just get this confession and take the credit. You could use it.”
But Rias wasn’t listening, her mind was back on Gail, remembering her sat at the table, her eye beaten and bruised.
She looked back to Bryant as he said: “No liaison officer, just put her through. That’s an order.”
Once DI Bryant had left, Rias stood alone in the middle of the street and looked across at the sign above the restaurant that read, Gallipolli Café & Bistro and felt her shoulders drop, Shit, she thought – I used to really like this place.
Three hours later when things were quieter, Rias called and spoke to the custody officer at the station confirming that Gail had been booked in and her clothes taken for forensic examination. When the officer asked if Rias wanted anything else, Rias said, yes. And then asked that a liaison officer be requested to see Gail first thing in the morning.
When Rias finally got home it was 2.35am. Once inside her new-build apartment in North London, she removed her faded black leather jacket in the hall - back in her civvies after finally leaving the station - crept past the bedroom where her husband Aaron was sleeping, went into the kitchen where the lights had been left on low, and made herself a large gin and tonic.
Ignoring the saucepan of Romesco pasta that Aaron had left on the hob for her she took her glass into the living and stood at the double windows sipping her drink, looking out across city-lit skyline from seven stories up. Letting her long dark hair down she thought about Gail. How she’d brought the knife from home and then waited for the police and confessed. And then there was that look behind Gail’s eyes. One that Rias had seen before in victims of abuse. A look she couldn’t put into words but felt was there. And it was a look that she couldn’t share with anyone because, quite frankly, no one would listen. Least of all Bryant.
What was it he had said about the case? “Get the confession and take the credit, you could use it.” Giving her his condescending tone, thinking he was being clever. And then earlier, asking her if she liked still being a uniformed officer and if she hadn’t learned anything? Both of them knowing what he was implying, having both trained together; referring to the incident that had seen Rias’ career stall for three years and all her applications to be made Detective rejected time after time, while Bryant went on to be promoted twice from PC up to DI.
Her “female crusade” Bryant had called it. Where PC Rias, only a year after joining, had sided with a single mother who had accused a fellow officer of rape.
According to the woman, the PC in question – one that Bryant and Rias had trained with, PC Howell – had come to the woman’s council flat with his partner after the woman had complained about drug dealing outside on the balcony. They had taken her statement and left, but two nights later PC Howell returned alone, out of uniform citing police business, then forced himself upon her, right there in the kitchen just inside the flat while her baby slept in the next room. When the woman reported the incident four weeks later and an investigation began it was clear that the entire department was behind Howell and the DCI in charge of the case wasn’t going to do everything in his power to build a proper case. So it was PC Rias who took it upon herself to interview the woman privately. Which is when she saw the same look behind the eyes that told her something had happened. PC Rias then went door to door through the entire estate in her own time and finally found two witnesses that identified and placed PC Howell out of uniform at the scene. Even seeing him force his way in.
Due to there being no physical evidence, it wasn’t enough to get a rape conviction once it finally went to court, but it was enough to end Howell’s career. And to all intents and purposes, Rias’ too. Because in the eyes of the department, if you weren’t on the side of the force, you may as well be on the outside. Which is why, three years later, she was still completely ostracised and stuck walking the beat with a partner no other officer wanted to work with.
So when it came to Gail, and Rias feeling she may have been a victim of domestic abuse, Bryant was the last person that she was going to tell, even though that was what Rias was implying by asking for a liaison officer to speak with Gail: a counsellor that the police could offer to suspects if they think they are in need of mental or emotional support prior to the interview. Rias hoping Gail would open up to them about Owen, and if she really did get injured at work or it was something Owen or someone else had done that had driven her to kill.
Gail finished her drink, took a post-it note and wrote, ‘Looks great... But far too late! I’m sorry.’ Followed by three kisses and stuck it on the pan of Romesco sauce, because she knew she would be up and gone before Aaron got up at 7.30.
Getting out of her jeans and removing her black T-shirt, she switched out the light, walked to the sofa, stretched out and pulled the throw on top of her. Lying there she considered getting up and having another drink. Right before she fell asleep.
“So the liaison officer didn’t find a hint of dick?” Bryant said, loud enough for the entire floor to hear, stood over Rias while she was sat at her desk in the open-plan office.
“No. Apparently not, sir” She saw he was wearing his dark grey Ted Baker today. Dandruff still on the shoulders.
“So where does that leave us?” Bryant said.
Dressed in her white short-sleeved issue shirt and black trousers, Rias didn’t answer straight away, feeling the eyes of her fellow officers on the floor while Francis sat at his desk opposite sending a message on his phone.
“Miss Hirst is ready to be interviewed.” Rias said.
“Oh, you think she’s ready to be interviewed!” Bryant said loudly, turning 360 on his heals, his palms turned up to the braying crowd of twenty or so male officers who were out of their seats and looking this way. Coming back around to look at Rias he said, “That’s amazing news. Especially after wasting this department's time and resources on another of your ‘MeToo’ hunches.” There was a stifled laugh from a few people before the whole floor erupted into laughter.
Fifteen hours had passed since Gail had been taken into custody on a charge of suspected murder. As Rias had requested, a liaison officer had arrived that morning to speak with Gail to see if there were any mental issues or where she had gotten her black eye. But Gail was found to be of sound mind and had maintained that she had got the injury from an accident at work.
During this time - between walking the beat and working her assists on six other cases – Rias had attempted to contact an only brother of Gail’s who lived in Canada. But getting no answer she had left a message. When she had another window she looked at Owen Thomas’ record, which turned out to be clean, with no ex-wives, girlfriends, or anyone else reporting incidents of battery or assault at any time; the guy straight as an arrow.
Rias sat quietly as the laughter died down across the floor and listened as the short, greying, DI Bryant looked down at her and said, “So has she got a lawyer?”
“No–” Rias said as calmly as she could, “she is happy with the duty solicitor. Jim’s seeing her today.”
“You need me to be present at the interviews?”
There were more stifled laughs.
Bryant placed his hands on his hips, “Then set it up, quickly," and pointed a finger at her, “Because there are bigger cases than this that need your expert female insight.”
Rias turned back to her computer screen slowly and was going to tell Francis on the other side of her monitor to schedule the Hirst interview with herself and Francis attending. But stopped. Thinking about the duty solicitor. Then said, “Francis, find out when Jim Reed is scheduled to come in and see Miss Hirst today.”
“And speak to Aama in custody and tell him that I want to speak to Jim before he goes in for his initial consultation with Miss Hirst.”
Jesucristo, Rias thought and stood up so she could fix her eyes on him, “Now.”
Francis stopped typing and looked up with a well-shaped eyebrow raised and said, “Okay.”
At 11.30am Aama, the custody officer, phoned up to Rias’ desk phone and told her that Jim Reed had arrived to meet Miss Hirst.
“Is he there?”
“No, he’s gone in.” Aama said.
“Why didn’t you stop him?”
“I was just told to let you know when he arrived?”
Gail was stood up, her face suddenly expressionless. “Seriously?” Her eyes moved to see Francis sat at his desk working on his computer.
“You can catch him on the way out.” Aama said.
“Don’t worry - it’s too late.” She said and put the phone down, not taking her eyes from Francis.
“You had one job.”
This stopped Francis who looked up at her, confused. “What did I do?”
“Quite honestly: Nothing. Ever.”
Rias was in the custody area downstairs that was all faded white paint and blue non-slip flooring. She was sat on a blue plastic bench next to the double entrance doors that faced the main desk.
Leant forward, elbows on knees, her hands clasped between her legs, she watched as a bearded guy in a bicycle helmet flanked by two uniformed officers - Parwood and Ranson - stood at the high blue laminate counter, and swayed drunkenly while handing over his personal items to Aama.
Rias moved her eyes over to the security door left of the desk that led to the cells and interview rooms as Jim Reed was exiting.
Rias stood up as the clean-shaven thirty-five-year-old in the well-fitted navy blue suit and orange tie came around and placed his leather satchel on the custody desk.
“Was that all you had for me?” He said to Aama who gave a nod as he placed the bicycle guy’s belongings in a clear plastic bag.
“Jim–” Rias said, as she approached him.
“Hey, Rachel.” Jim said after turning and seeing Rias and pulling his satchel from the counter. “Gail Hirst, yours?”
“Yes. How is she?”
“Shaken up. A little withdrawn. But lucid enough.”
“They were supposed to tell you to wait.”
Rias got a look from Aama now; one telling her he didn’t get given the message.
“I needed a favour.”
“Did you?” Jim said, drawing it out in a playful way and smiling again. Which is how he always was with her – ever since they’d first met when Rias was a new PC and Jim was already a pretty well-experienced duty solicitor. Hitting it off from the start, when in those first three weeks Jim had asked her out and then taken it like a man when Rias told him she had a fiancè. But then had continued to put on the charm. Even through all the Howell bullshit, Jim had still been Jim, making her feel like he enjoyed himself whenever she was around. Like today, stood a little taller than Rias with his satchel held with both hands in front of him, still smiling, waiting for her answer.
Rias stepped off to the left, away from the desk, and waited as Jim followed, “I don’t think she’s being honest about where she got her black eye.”
Jim nodded slowly, “She told me she got it at work, when I asked her. I thought it could have been one London’s finest. What are you thinking – The boyfriend?” He was frowning now.
“Did you check him out?”
“He doesn’t have any previous.”
“So how do you think I could help?”
“I thought you could talk to her. You’re good with people – when I asked her if she had any other injuries she just closed up.”
“I read that you got her to see a liaison officer – they said they thought she was ok, no signs of distress.”
“But what does that mean? Who knows what questions they asked her?”
“Bryant’s the D.I on this, right?”
Jim said, “Has he spoken to her?”
“No. And besides, that idiot couldn’t open up a door if you gave him the key.”
Jim smiled. “Did you tell him what you think?”
“I told him I think she needs to speak to someone.”
“What did he say?”
“He didn’t even want her to see a liaison, and now that she has – he just wants it closed.”
“Well, he’s got a confession and a long list of witnesses. It kind of makes sense.” Jim paused. Then said, “Does he know you are down here talking to me?”
“Did he tell you to leave it alone?”
Rias nodded. “Yeah.”
“But here you are.”
Rias shrugged and looked off. Jim said then, “Look, I don’t mind stepping on Bryant’s toes. But maybe you should just wait to see what we get out of her in the interview?”
“The moment we go in to interview her she’s only going to withdraw even more. And once the trial starts, it’s over. You know that.”
Rias felt it as Jim held his eyes on her for a second, “Maybe I meant that it might be best for you to wait and see. Instead of stirring anything up.”
“You sound like Bryant.”
“I honestly don't think there's a lot I could say personally to Miss Hirst that will get you anywhere. But if they find out upstairs that you're poking around then it could be one more reason to transfer you. Which you know they’re looking to do.”
“I didn’t, but thanks.”
“Well, it’s what I hear anyway. May not be true.”
“Did she tell you why she did it?”
“Yeah, the food thing.”
“Do you believe it?”
“Not for me to say. I mean once you’ve heard someone say Bouncer, the dog from Neighbours made them do it, then you kind of have to be open to anything.”
Rias looked over as the bicycle guy was being led away from the desk toward the holding cells.
Jim said, “Look I’m already late for a lunch. But, let me ask you… You spoke to her at the scene?”
“You asked her about her eye and if there was anything else she wanted to share?”
“Then what makes you think she’s going to tell me anything new over you?” He said, “Don’t underestimate yourself.”
Jim was walking away when Rias turned.
“Jim–” she said. Which got him looking back as he was nearly out the door onto the street. “You remember Ruth Ellis?” She said.
Jim thought and shook his head. “Should I?”
Rias said, “If you did, maybe this would've been a longer conversation.” Then left him stood there as she walked away and through another security door that led back upstairs.
It was 5.30pm. Seventeen and a half hours after Gail had been put into custody.
For the last four hours Rias had written up two reports for Bryant – one a drunk and disorderly, the other an alleged burglary.
With that finished Rias found the name of the respite centre on Wharf Road where Gail worked, got up, walked out of the office into the stairwell and used her mobile to make the call where she finally got through to Gail’s manager, Barry.
What she learnt as she stood there in the stairwell, keeping her eyes on the door for Bryant, is that two of the children that Gail worked with were indeed prone to violent outbursts, and Gail had, in fact, entered her black eye in the report book two days ago. What Rias was also told was that she’d entered a number of other injuries into the report book over the last few months as well. All caused by the children. None of which however were witnessed by anyone but Gail.
“Do the children corroborate everything?” She asked.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t think we’ve ever asked them?” Barry said.
What Rias wanted to do was ask if she could come and speak with the kids but knew it would be impossible unless she did it in her own time and would then have to also get around the parents. So she just thanked Barry for his assistance and ended the call.
Walking back to her desk through the busy office she felt at a dead end. And now had the prospect of having to go out on the beat for four hours with Francis.
She was about to shut down her computer and go and get into her patrol gear when Bryant approached.
“Got anything for me?” He wasn’t smiling.
“I’ve sent you the D&D and the Morgan report. You should have them.”
“Good.” He said, "Here–"
Rias looked to see Bryant was holding out an envelope.
“Your written warning for disobeying a direct order regarding the liaison officer.”
She didn’t take it. Instead just stood there looking at his puffy face, which forced him to put the envelope on her desk next to her police bowler. “Enjoy your beat.” He said before turning and walking away.
Rias took her seat looking rapt at the letter, telling herself it wasn’t even worth opening. When she finally looked up she saw Francis shuffling toward her dressed in his patrol gear, his small blonde moustache looking slightly ruffled.
“Are we going?” He said coming to a stop a few feet away. “I’m starting to sweat.”
Rias was forcing herself up out of her chair when her desk phone rang.
It was Jim Reed who said, “I remember Ruth Ellis.”
Rias had been so busy for the last five hours that she took a second to catch up. “Do you really remember her?” Or did you look her up?”
“Of course I remembered her. I’m a criminal defense lawyer.” Jim said.
Rias smiled. Knowing he was lying.
It was after she had received Gail’s report from the liaison officer that Rias had first been reminded of Ruth Ellis: the last woman to be tried and hanged in Britain. Who, in 1955, approached her on-off boyfriend David Blakely outside the Magdala pub in Hampstead, London, pulled a 38. Calibre Smith and Wesson pistol from her pocket and shot Blakely five times, point-blank range, killing him dead. (Rias and her husband Aaron had even walked across the heath to the Magdala one Sunday to see the bullet holes that were still visible in the now derelict building)
Like Gail, Ruth Ellis had admitted that she had meant to kill her boyfriend and had shown a healthy state of mind as well as a healthy level of remorse. But never at any point did she reveal what her motive was or if anything had driven her to do it; even though any such admission could have helped her case and resulted in a lesser sentence. It was only on the morning of her execution that she finally confessed to her counsel that another male lover of hers had given her the gun, taught her how to use it, and even driven her to the scene to carry out the murder. But by then it was too late to build a worthy appeal, and Ruth Ellis walked to her execution.
“So, you think Miss Hirst could be hiding something that could help her case?” Jim said down the phone.
“Yes, I do.”
“Care to share any specifics? Remember, I defend, I don’t judge?”
Rias told him she thought it was a case of domestic violence and said, "So you can see my reluctance to bring it up to Bryant."
“But you said you checked out the boyfriend?”
“I did.” Gail then explained that she’d spoken to Gail’s manager who had confirmed Gail had other injuries that she’d claimed were caused by the kids but that no one could confirm seeing them occur.
“I see where you are coming from.”
“I still don’t think there’s anything I could say to Gail though that will help this situation. And I don’t think you should pull at this thread anymore.”
“Didn’t you say this once?”
“I know… but listen–” he said, “When I was with Miss Hirst, and I asked if she was okay? She told me that she had an upset stomach.”
“Ok.” She said wondering where Jim was going with this?
“So I’d like you to arrange for someone to see her and give her a check-up.”
Rias was nodding now; finally understanding him.
Jim said, “And please make sure the right person sees her for me? Is that something that I can leave with you?”
“Yes, you can. And thanks.” She said.
“That’s ok.” Jim said, “I’m just looking out for my client.”
Rias put the phone down and looked up to see Francis looking back at her, his face red and voice short. “Ready?”
She was already dialling another number.
While a person is in custody they are entitled to have a doctor see them if they are feeling unwell. Which is why when Rias put the phone down to Jim she immediately phoned down to the custody desk and told Aama that Duty Solicitor Reed had suggested Gail see a nurse for her upset stomach. Without any problem Aama offered to arrange one to come in where Rias said not to worry, he was probably busy and she could organise it.
The way Rias saw it: if Gail had something to say, she was never going to talk to anyone willingly. But if Rias could get someone in to talk to her and make it seem natural, build up her trust in a friendly way, and not as if a counsellor had been drafted in like the liaison officer, then maybe they might learn something. And at this point, Rias was sure that there was more to Gail’s story then what she’d told them or was ever going to tell them once she’d confessed in her interview. Which is why, after Jim had given her the reason she needed for Gail to see a nurse, Rias phoned Sharon Mallory.
Sharon was one of the on-call nurses for the station. A genial woman in her fifties from the west coast of Ireland who was also a trained counsellor and Rias’ friend. It was Sharon’s day off but once Rias had explained the situation regarding Gail, she agreed to help.
The time now was 6.10pm.
When Rias and Francis got back to the station at 10pm they changed out of their patrol gear and into their civvies in the locker room. Francis said goodnight and left the station to head home, leaving Rias to go back to her desk.
There she phoned down to the custody officer covering the night shift and asked what time Sharon left? Only to be told that she was still with Miss Hirst. Giving Rias the first good feeling she’d had in twenty-four hours.
Dressed in dark jeans and her faded black leather jacket, Rias stayed at her desk catching up on a few things while she waited for Sharon’s call.
Twenty minutes later when her mobile rang, Sharon told her she was finished and suggested they go and get a drink, because there was a lot to talk about.
Sharon had spent a total of three and half hours in the cell with Gail but only took ten minutes to explain everything to Rias.
Sat opposite one another at a table in a low-lit gastro pub that was around the corner from the station, Rias listened:
“You were right.” Sharon said, her hand on the stem of her wine glass on the table. “When I looked her over I found the other injuries. Some of them a lot worse than her eye, the poor dear.”
“From the children?”
“No child could have done this.” Sharon said and went on to say that after an hour or so of talking, Gail had quietly revealed that following roughly nine months of being with Owen, he had started hitting her.
Although Gail never said it, Sharon noted that – up until the black eye - Owen had only inflicted injuries on her in places where no one would see.
“She was reluctant at first–” Sharon said, “but when I checked her stomach I found more bruising on her wrists and then contusions on her ribs that were so bad it was as if she’d been trampled over by a horse.”
Rias couldn’t do anything but keep her eyes on Sharon.
“The ribs were a week old but the wrists are as recent as her eye. Which all happened two nights ago–” Sharon looked down as she twisted the stem of her glass again, “after Owen had beaten her, tied her up and then raped her.”
Jesucristo. Rias wanted another gin and tonic. “So did she say that that was the reason she killed him?”
“Not when I asked her. She still claims it was over food. But when you look at the dates you’ll see that both the abuse and him stealing her food started at roughly the same time.”
Rias frowned, unable to see a connection.
Sharon said, “For him, I would say that stealing her food was all an extension or further demonstration of his control.’ Sharon sipped her wine. “Once the beatings began, so did his taking of the food.”
“And what about her?”
“She’s obviously going to have to speak with a psychologist but from what I can tell, she’s been in denial about the beatings and the rape, suffering from PTSD of sorts. It does happen to roughly sixty percent of women who go through a sexual assault. And as for the food, I would say that it’s all a matter of transference. Because she was unable to accept the fact that she'd been raped, she probably took those feelings of frustration and hatred and re-focused them on another aspect of her life.”
Rias sat back, her drink in her hand as Sharon explained that she’d informed the custody officer about Gail’s situation and she’d already been sent for a full medical and forensic examination.
“It doesn’t sound very nice I know–” Sharon said, drinking again, “But hopefully there’s still some physical evidence left from the rape that you can use.”
Rias didn’t answer straight away. But when she finally did, all she could say was, Fingers crossed.
On the fifteenth of June, 2018 at 4.20pm Gail Hirst made her statement at Islington police station with Officers Rias and Francis and duty solicitor, Jim Reed, present.
Miss Hirst made a full confession to killing Owen Thomas by fatal stabbing and when asked what her motive was she said it was because he kept stealing her food.
Despite this, four months later at the trial, there was - thanks to Rias and Sharon Mallory’s expedited efforts - conclusive evidence taken from Miss Hirst's forensic examination that proved she had been a victim of prolonged domestic abuse and that the night before the murder, Owen Thomas had tied her up and raped her. All of which went a long way in reducing what would have been a first-degree sentence to a second degree and, thanks to a compassionate judge, resulted in Gail receiving a much lesser sentence.
It was after Gail’s interview at the station, while Rias was alone in the locker room, she got a call from Jim who congratulated her on what she’d done.
“It was thanks to your help.” She said, stood in dark jeans and a white patterned T-shirt, ready to go home for the evening.
“Well I’m a dutiful guy, what can I say.”
Rias closed the door to her locker, put the key in her pocket, pulled her hold-all bag onto her shoulder and walked out as Jim said:
“If you ever want to leave the force and move into victim support I’m sure they’d welcome you.”
Rias was walking down the stairs to the ground floor. “Well, that’s more than anyone does here.”
“Still no love from the Islington blues? What did Bryant say when he found out about Gail being raped?”
“Nothing much-” Rias walked through the main entrance and onto the street. “He just said I should thank him for giving me a chance to close a case with a confession already attached.”
“He’s my hero.”
“I did notice that my written warning had disappeared though,” Rias said turning the corner into the station car park.
“That’s something.” Jim said.
“Thanks again, barrister.”
There was a silence, until Jim said, “So – you’ve still got a ring on your finger. Still married?”
Rias couldn’t help but smile. “Yes.”
And waited, until Jim said, finally: