Read The Zig Zag Girl Online

Authors: Elly Griffiths

The Zig Zag Girl

The Zig Zag Girl

Elly Griffiths

First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Quercus

This edition first published in 2014 by
Quercus Editions Ltd
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
London
W1U 8EW

Copyright © 2014 by Elly Griffiths

The moral right of Elly Griffiths to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Ebook ISBN 978 1 84866 762 4
Print ISBN 978 1 84866 761 7

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

You can find this and many other great books at:
www.quercusbooks.co.uk

 

Also by Elly Griffiths

The Crossing Places

The Janus Stone

The House at Sea’s End

A Room Full of Bones

Dying Fall

The Outcast Dead

 

For my mother, Sheila de Rosa,
and in memory of my grandfather, Frederick Goodwin
(stage name: Dennis Lawes).

 

‘I’ faith he looks much like a conjuror.’

Christopher Marlowe,
Doctor Faustus

Part 1

The Build-Up

Chapter 1

‘Looks as if someone’s sliced her into three,’ said Solomon Carter, the police surgeon, chattily. ‘We’re just missing the middle bit.’

I must not be sick, thought Edgar Stephens. That’s what he wants. Stay calm and professional at all times. You’re the policeman, after all.

He looked down at the shape on the mortuary table. You couldn’t really call it a body, he thought, almost dispassionately. It was more like one of those classical statues, head and shoulders only, hacked through just above the breasts. The beauty of the face and the flowing blonde hair only heightened the sense of unreality. He could be looking at a model head in a milliner’s shop. Apart from the clotted blood and smell of decaying flesh, that is. Despite himself, he felt his stomach heave.

‘We can’t be sure that the head and legs are from the same body,’ he said, pressing his handkerchief to his lips.

Solomon Carter laughed heartily at that one. ‘There
are hardly going to be two dismembered women’s bodies floating around Brighton at the same time.’

Edgar shifted his gaze to the end of the table, where the legs lay primly side by side, still clad in flesh-coloured stockings, cut off mid-thigh as if by a prudish censor. It occurred to him that, without the ‘middle bit’, it was impossible to prove conclusively whether the corpse was male or female.

‘Might not even be a woman’s legs,’ he remarked, just to say something really.

‘You’re joking,’ said Solomon. ‘Those are a woman’s legs or I’m a Dutchman. Beautiful pair. Long as a showgirl’s.’

No, you’re not a Dutchman, thought Edgar as he followed the police surgeon from the room. He’d met a lot of Dutchmen during the Norway campaign and they’d all been rather pleasant.

*

Later, in the pub, he managed to joke about this to his sergeant, Bob Willis. Bob never really laughed at Edgar’s jokes, but sometimes his ears went pink. Edgar thought that Bob considered laughter somehow lacked the dignity appropriate to a policeman. Bob was sensitive about being only twenty-one and not having fought in the war. He would never have been a sergeant at this age if it wasn’t for the men who did fight, of course.

‘Solomon Carter was just about to proposition the girl,’ he said. ‘I promise you, he wouldn’t be put off by a little thing like her middle section being missing. Probably likes his women like that.’

Bob’s ears reddened and he took a suspicious sip of his beer. They do a good pint in the Bath Arms, but it was part of Bob’s policeman persona to be suspicious of everything.

Edgar took a more generous swig of his drink. He knew that he shouldn’t really be drinking with his sergeant on a Friday night. His own father would have left work sharply at five, brisk walk home, whisky and soda, nice little mixed grill, evening listening to the wireless with the family. But Edgar had no one to make him a mixed grill and the thought of returning to his digs was too depressing. He wondered if Bob had someone to go home to, some clean-looking girl from the perfume department at Hanningtons, a doting mother frying spam fritters, desperate to hear of her son’s adventures on the dark side of the law.

But it appeared that Bob had been thinking. Always dangerous.

‘Where do you think the rest of her is, then?’ he asked, almost fretfully.

‘I don’t know,’ said Edgar. The legs and torso had been found in the Left Luggage office at Brighton station, individually concealed within plain black cases, the kind that house the less interesting orchestral instruments, a French horn, maybe, or a tuba. It had been the smell which had alerted station staff. It was a cold grey August, but still warm enough to make a dead body smell pretty bad after a few days.

‘Who would do a thing like that?’ said Bob. Again, he
sounded personally affronted at the sheer cheek of a person who would cut a woman into pieces and leave them scattered untidily around the place.

‘Someone very strange,’ said Edgar. He thought of the mortuary room and the head and legs with the gap in-between, the sickly smell, the marble skin. ‘Tell you something,’ he said. ‘I was almost sick today just looking at what they’d done.’

Bob seemed shocked at his boss’s frailty. ‘Surely you saw worse in the war?’

‘I saw a lot of odd things in the war,’ said Edgar. ‘You wouldn’t want to know.’

Bob looked as if he heartily agreed with this sentiment.

‘I can’t believe nobody saw anything at the station,’ he said, sounding aggrieved again.

The two boxes had been deposited on Monday morning and it was now Wednesday. But it seemed that none of the station staff remembered who had left the boxes and why they didn’t pick them up again on Monday evening. The only description they had was pitiful in the extreme: ‘It was a man. I think he was wearing a hat.’ What sort of hat? wondered Edgar now. A pirate’s tricorn? An errand boy’s cap? A top hat? For some reason – perhaps it was because of the music case connection – Edgar could imagine a top hat.

‘We’ll go and see them again tomorrow,’ he said. ‘Ask at the shops around the station. Someone must have seen something.’

‘No one’s ever seen anything,’ said Bob. ‘It’s this town. It’s a hotbed of vice.’

Bob wasn’t from Brighton, and it showed. He had been brought up in a small village on the Kent coast. His parents were Methodists and sometimes that showed too.

‘It’s not too bad,’ said Edgar. He liked Brighton. When he first joined the police force, he had been stationed in Croydon. Brighton was definitely a step up. He liked the cheerful anonymity of the town although, as Bob said, sometimes that had its drawbacks. But surely a man who could cut a woman in two must have left a trail behind him.

‘In three,’ said Bob, when Edgar voiced this thought aloud. ‘He cut her into three. We haven’t seen the middle bit yet.’

That was the thing about police work, thought Edgar as he watched Bob go up to the bar to order more drinks. There was always something to look forward to.

*

As he walked home, Edgar thought again about his father and the mixed grill. What would his dad – long dead now – have thought about having a son who was a policeman? On one hand, the job surely deserved his parents’ most prized epithet, ‘respectable’, but on the other it hardly matched their other major criterion, ‘nice’. Edgar had spent the morning looking at dismembered body parts, the afternoon trying to trace someone – anyone – who might know how they came to rest in the Left Luggage office at Brighton station, and the evening drinking beer
with a lad who should be looking up to him as a superior officer. No, nice it wasn’t.

Edgar’s digs were in Hanover, the steep hill that stretched from the Pavilion almost to the racecourse. The houses were mostly small and run-down, but on a clear day you could see the whole of Brighton spread out before you, a series of tottering white terraces until you reached the pier and the sea. As Edgar stomped up the worst part of the hill, he reflected how his mother would have considered the area ‘common’. Edgar’s parents had graduated from a terrace to a semi-detached bungalow in Esher and had thought themselves the most fortunate people on earth. Edgar’s father had not lived long to enjoy the suburban bliss. He had died barely a year after the move to Surrey. But Edgar’s mother, Rose, lived on, polishing her silver and ironing her tablecloths as if preparing for a banquet that never quite materialised.

Edgar thought of his childhood as being dominated by the pursuit of respectability. His father, Bill, had worked at the Post Office and, though it was a struggle at times, it was his boast that Rose had never had to go out to work. Edgar and his brother and sister were never allowed to play in the street with the other children. They had to stay inside, doing their homework and practising the piano. This joyless self-betterment had its results. All three siblings won places at the grammar school although, when Edgar later got into Oxford, this was considered rather showy and unbecoming. ‘People like us don’t get degrees,’ his mother said. ‘Just when Dad’s got you a nice little
berth in the Post Office.’ But Edgar went to Oxford and enjoyed two delirious terms before Hitler spoilt it all and he found himself, almost without knowing it, on a troop ship bound for Norway. His younger brother, Jonathan, had further ruined the party by getting himself killed at Dunkirk. Lucy, his sister, was now the only regular visitor to the bungalow, where she reported that Jonathan and Edgar were both spoken of in the same hushed, regretful tones. They had both let their mother down. Jonathan dead on a French beach and Edgar in the police force.

Edgar’s flat was on the ground floor of a house painted a rather virulent shade of pink. As he let himself in, he smelt the familiar musty smell that never seemed to get better no matter how much he left windows open or tried to spring-clean. He had once gone as far as complaining about it to his landlady, who had sniffed the air and said ‘nasty, isn’t it?’ as if it had nothing to with her. Mice, Bob had said, when he’d mentioned it at the station, and he was probably right. Edgar frequently heard scurrying and squeaking in the skirting boards and, once, when he had left a biscuit out overnight, he had woken to find that it had been chewed by sharp rodent teeth.

Trying not to think about the mice, Edgar cut himself some bread and searched for something to spread on it. He thought he had some sardines somewhere, but a trawl through the larder produced nothing better than some rather mouldy jam and a half-open tin of spam which he hastily threw away (maybe that was responsible for the smell?). He scraped off the thin layer of green and spread
the jam on the bread. Then he took the sandwich and a bottle of beer and repaired to the front room for the best part of the day. The cryptic crossword.

He didn’t know where his love for crosswords started. Maybe it was sitting at the kitchen table trying to do his homework and being distracted by the tempting black and white squares on the back of his father’s evening paper. His father never did the crossword and his mother could hardly even bring herself to touch a newspaper (news was rarely nice or respectable). All evening the clues would tempt and tantalise: ‘fare to be cooked over first part of Sunday … I, for one, am reflected … ruminate, stuck in ales perhaps.’ He couldn’t remember the first time that he had taken the discarded paper and tentatively filled in the blanks, but even now, even after completing a crossword had indirectly led him to the Magic Men and some of the worst experiences of his life, he still saw an unfinished puzzle as a treat, something to be savoured at the end of the day.

He sat down now and chewed his pen. ‘Turn to important person making a comeback.’ Five letters. ‘Comeback’ often meant that the word was reversed. Important person? VIP. Turn that and you get ‘piv’. Oh yes, ‘pivot’ – turn to – an anagram of ‘VIP to’. Edgar filled in the answer in neat black capitals. It was a point of honour never to use a pencil. Two down: ‘Christmas visitors include conjuror (8)’. Well, Christmas visitors are always ‘Magi’. Magi … Edgar stopped, looking down at the paper.

He heard Solomon Carter saying, ‘Beautiful pair. Long as a showgirl’s’. He thought of the boxes in which the body parts had been found: wooden, black, fastened with brass clips at the back, exactly the same size. And he saw, not the dingy walls of his flat, but a variety show at the end of a pier – the velvet curtains, the wheeled cabinet and the white face of the magician as he proceeded to saw a woman into three.

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