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By My Side - Eight

'You are aware, of course, that this is not an exact science?'

DI Kevin MacGregor bit down on his impatience as his partner, DC Lauren MacDonald, shot him a warning look.

'Yes, I'm aware. We would be grateful for any insight you could give us.'

What was it about this woman that made him talk like a fanny? He caught Lauren smothering a snigger in a gulp of tea out of the corner of his eye. The forensic psychologist, Dr Rae Christie, stared at them as though they were a pair of naughty school kids.

'As you are aware,' Kevin continued, seemingly unable to stop talking like a Tory minister, 'we have not been able to confirm whether or not these three murders are linked. The primary indicator that they might be is, of course, the placing of the victims in ponds, but they have been found in three different ponds in different corners of the city —'

'Victoria Park and Kelvingrove Park are reasonably close together,' Rae interjected, her voice cool.

She was tall, a good bit taller than him, although, to be fair, he was a wee guy. His husband Jack was also a wee guy, and their friend Ruari called them his pocket pals when he was drunk. Rae had a long, narrow nose, and her thin hair was scraped harshly back from her face in a rigid bun.

Kevin had unerring accuracy when it came to identifying a Springburn vs a Govan vs a Dennistoun accent, but outside of Glasgow, he didn't have a clue. Rae could be from a remote island that was practically Nordic, the Borders, or Edinburgh. All he knew was that every word she spoke conveyed the message that she would like to scrape him off his shoe.

'They are almost two and a half miles apart, which is outside the definition of local when it comes to crime scenes,' he shot back, and Lauren rolled her eyes behind Rae's back. Lauren was better at taking the path of least resistance when it came to Rae. Kevin once asked her how she kept her cool over pints at the Lismore. She laughed that Rae was a drop in the ocean after a lifetime of mansplaining.

'That's why it bothers you,' she grinned, finishing off the last of the nachos they'd got to share. 'You're not used to it.'

'Still, it's hardly unreasonable that a given perpetrator could live somewhere within easy access to both,' Rae was saying. 'Alec McAvoy had a home in Dowanhill, did he not?'

'Alec McAvoy has been half-dead in prison for years,' Kevin said firmly. He had no interest in going down that road again. The Dancing Girls/Crowded Room case had been such a nightmarish bag of worms that even two years after Stuart Henderson and Liam Kavanagh were dead and Alec McAvoy firmly locked up, every time there was a murder in Glasgow somebody brought up the possibility they were somehow behind it. 'Are you saying you believe we are looking for a single killer?'

'No, I'm not quite saying that,' Rae said, with a slight disapproving frown, as though he had interrupted her, which he hadn't. 'Though I realise that would be convenient for you.'

'It isn't about convenience —'

'We are looking for all the information we can get to help us catch the person responsible for ending these three women's lives.' Lauren pointedly poised her pen to write. 'Anything you can tell us would be hugely helpful.'

Rae looked at the considerable whiteboard that dominated one wall of the office Kevin and Lauren shared. They had identified the Alexandra Park victim as Nel Pawlevicz, twenty-eight, originally from Poland. Her teenage babysitter finally raised the alarm after she didn't come home for two days. She worked a cash-in-hand night shift at a bed and breakfast near Duke Street. The babysitter, Alicjam, had been afraid to approach authorities because she had been under the impression that she was in the UK illegally. Both she and Nel's one-year-old were now in foster care.

Kevin and Lauren had dropped the pair off at a packed semi-detached house, and then Kevin came home and told Jack he was ready to start the adoption process. They'd been talking about it on and off for years, but they filed the first lot of paperwork the following morning. The process would likely take too long to be any use to Nel's wee girl, with her huge, frightened eyes, who refused to let go of Kevin's hand until she fell asleep on the sofa, but there would be another wee kid who needed them just as much.

A smiling photograph of Nel had joined photographs of Maggie and Rosie, the two earlier victims. So many families gave police formal, professional headshots, but Cara had taught Kevin always to try to get a snapshot that showed the person unguarded and natural, vivacious and laughing. She explained that it kept them alive in your mind, keeping the stakes real and high.

'I believe the placement of the victims in water is significant,' Rae said. 'It's not as though they were dumped in the sea or a deep river in an attempt to hide them forever. These ponds are barely a metre deep. They were intended to be found, but there is a reason he — if it is indeed a singular he — placed them in water rather than, say, a flowerbed, or under a tree. Three found in a specific and relatively unusual place suggests a pattern.'

'Even though they were killed in different ways?' said Lauren.

Rae nodded slowly. 'There is nothing particularly ritualistic about the method of killing. Nothing has been done to the bodies before or after death. None of the victims reported prior harassment or stalking, even to friends.'

This was true for both Maggie and Rosie, Kevin thought, but so far, they had made precious little progress in building a picture of Nel's life. It was partly down to the language barrier and partly because, as far as they had been able to tell, Nel, Alicijam, and the baby, had been entirely alone in the world. It added another layer of bleakness that was starting to get under Kevin's skin.

'The method of killing strikes me as opportunistic. He wanted them dead, quickly and efficiently, with whatever means he had to hand. I think that the key aspect is the ponds. Leaving them in water — it could represent washing away sin, cleansing —'

'None of they ponds are exactly clean,' Kevin muttered.

Rae continued as though he hadn't spoken. 'It could also be practical. Your report states that precious little forensic evidence has been found on any of the victims — the water will at least partially account for that. I imagine you must curse TV dramas exposing forensics to the world.'

'Ach, it was too easy before,' Lauren said with a rueful grin. She went to the board and drew lines linking the three cases to a single question mark. 'There was exactly one week between Maggie McGlinty and Rosie Morgan's deaths.' Lauren turned to them with a concerned look.

'If he follows the same pattern, we have four days before he strikes again.'

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