The first four chapters of 'With Intent', a legal thriller featuring Irish barrister Michael Devlin, American reporter Sarah Truman and a killer targeting London's leading lawyers. Please note that the chapters have been self-edited only; professional edit to come. Please feel free to comment.
Phillip Longman did not wake at the sound of breaking glass. To do that would require sleep, something his body no longer seemed to need.
A metal rail reached downwards from a re-enforced section of the ceiling. Longman’s frail hands gripped it as tightly as they could. Pulling with all of his strength, he brought his body upright. The mattress followed, designed to support if his strength gave out. Longman was a proud man. Too proud to be raised by a mechanical bed. But pride would not keep him upright. The mattress was Longman’s concession to his body’s decay.
The sound of exertion filled the room as he lifted his own weight. Grunts. Groans. Heavy breaths. In Longman’s younger days he had been an active man. Football. Rugby. Squash. Even into his sixties his physical fitness had marked him out from his peers. But Longman’s sixties were long gone. Now he could barely climb out of bed.
The mattress finally caught up. Longman released the rail and returned to silence. Listened. The sound had been unmistakeable. Shattering glass is distinctive. Even reduced hearing can pick it up. Identifying its source was harder. Was it the sound of a dropped ashtray? A wine glass? A broken window, smashed to admit the uninvited? No possibility was better or worse than any other. In the empty house of an 85-year old widower, every one of them was a concern.
Longman strained to listen. At first there was nothing. At least nothing he could hear. But the house was big. Much too large now that his wife had passed and his children had moved on. Impractical, too. But Longman had been unable to bring himself to move. To leave the family home of fifty years.
Those years made the next sound an unintentional alarm. The creak of the first step on the main staircase was familiar. Had been for decades. In the daytime – during the housekeeper’s working hours – it would be the most natural sound in the world. But when the bedside clock read 3am it was terrifying.
The emerging sound of footsteps was drowned out as Longman threw back the sheets. Even this small effort left him breathless. But now was no time for exhaustion. Longman moved his entire body just to swing his legs off the bed, towards the floor. The pain was excruciating; he had not moved so fast in five years. Back when his hips did their job. Longman ignored the agony. Climbed to his feet with one hand on the solid bedpost for support. His breathing was out-of-control. His heart a thumping piston. Still Longman pushed himself forward.
Staggering to the wardrobe entrance in the far corner of the room, he somehow made the distance without a stick or a frame for support. Longman stumbled as he reached the door. Adrenaline kept him upright. He stopped. Gripped the door’s handle. Held his breath. Nothing cancelled out the thumping of his heart that filled his inner ear, nor the fear that the aged organ would not keep the pace. Still there was silence enough to hear the footsteps. They came ever closer to his bedroom door.
The wardrobe opened easily. Longman transferred his weight from the handle to the frame, to let the door pass. Once open he moved inside. Fumbling in the dark, he found the light-switch. Pressed it as the footsteps stopped outside the room. The light was at first blinding, but Longman’s eyes sensed the danger. Their muscles contracted quickly, allowing him to see. The sight that resulted was not worth the effort.
What had he hoped to find? What weapon would have been of use to a man crippled by age? The hope that had carried Longman disappeared in a single breath.
He turned. Longman had not heard the door open, but that sixth sense that humans possess – that feeling that tells us when we are not alone – had not diminished with age. The bedroom was no longer empty. Longman knew that before seeing who had joined him.
“You?” Longman’s tone was more an accusation than a shock. “You?”
It was the eyes. Cold. Intense. Evil. The most soulless Longman had ever seen. He would recognise them anywhere. Even now.
“You remember.” The reply was as sinister as the speaker. A predator born and bred.
“Some things one never forgets.” Everything about the man was as Longman remembered. “And some people.”
A smile evolved on the predator’s lips, yet his pale eyes remained as cold as they had ever been. It was a smile of triumph rather than happiness. Happiness had never been this man’s driving force.
“True.” Pale Eyes moved closer as he spoke. Slowly. Deliberately. A viper finding its range. “It’s good you’ve kept that mind of yours. Even at your age.”
“What does that matter?”
The old man spoke without concern. His fear gone. Longman’s fate was sealed. There was no point in fearing the inevitable.
“Oh, it matters.”
For the first time there was life in the voice. It did not add warmth. Only inches now separated their bodies as Longman found his wrist grasped tight.
“Because it means you’ll feel every second of what’s coming.”
Michael Devlin wiped through the steam that clung to the bathroom mirror. His reflection stared back at him. Stripped to the waist, a collection of scars dotted his torso. Remnants of wounds rare for a man in his profession. Permanent reminders of a life more eventful than he had ever intended.
Michael plunged his hands under the running hot water. Threw the pool that grew between them onto his already dripping face. The sting of the heat bit into the scar tissue under his left eyebrow. It was a familiar feeling. An old wound.
Minutes later and Michael was clean-shaven. A full-head plunge into a basin full of cold water ended the process. An important morning ritual. It refreshed him. Reminded him that he was alive. A few more moments were needed before he was ready for the day. Moisturising balm. Aftershave. The smallest pearl of pomade to control his thick blonde hair. Then the suit. A bespoke pin-stripped three-piece that highlighted his tall, triangular frame. Michael was not a vain man but he understood the importance of appearance. First impressions matter.
The master bedroom and the main bathroom of his Chelsea townhouse were on the building’s second floor. A staircase led upwards to three spare bedrooms, and down to a large first floor bedroom and playroom. And at its bottom was a ground floor reception, a lounge that was hardly used and a large extended kitchen that was the reason for that.
That kitchen was a whirl of activity as Michael walked through the door. Within two steps he was ambushed by a five-year old. Tall and blonde with piercing blue eyes, the mere sight of Liam Devlin was as good as any DNA paternity test. The boy bounced off of his father’s leg and onto the floor.
“Jesus, Liam." Michael’s tone was concerned as he picked up the elder of his twin sons. The smile on Liam’s face said the concern was misplaced.
“Can you bring him here?” Sarah Devlin’s American accent cut through the British voices from the morning TV. “He hasn’t touched his breakfast.”
Michael held Liam at head height as his wife spoke. His arms dead straight, he raised an eyebrow in mock annoyance.
“Is that right? Have you been giving your mother trouble?”
“No, Dad.” Liam’s voice was an attractive medley of accents. His own native London mixed with his mother’s Boston and his father’s Belfast. It would not last. Not once the influence of school kicked in. “I waited to eat with you.”
Michael adjusted his grip. Moving his hands from under Liam’s armpits, he now held his son by one arm, scooped under his backside.
He carried Liam to the kitchen table and deposited him in the chair next to his brother, Daniel. Liam immediately began eating his plate of scrambled eggs on toast, happy now that Michael was in the room. Daniel, who had not waited, was almost done. Shorter and darker than his minutes-older brother, Daniel had always been more independent. Less tied to his father. Not that Michael loved him any less.
Michael smiled as he looked away from the boys and towards their mother. Sarah now had her back to them. Standing at the stove of the kitchen’s cast-iron range cooker, which combined with a traditional Aga to complete a dedicated cooking space. Michael moved as quietly as he could. Crept close behind his wife.
“I know you’re there, Michael Devlin." Sarah spoke without turning. Reached out for a plate to serve breakfast. “And I don’t have time for games. Sit at the table.”
“Now how could I do that?” Michael took the empty plate from Sarah’s grasp with one hand. Wrapped his other arm around her waist and pulled her into him. “When I’ve got the most beautiful woman in London standing right in front of me?”
“I’m going to drop the pan!”
Sarah laughed as she felt her back pinned to her husband’s body. She felt his smooth skin bury into her hair as he kissed her neck.
“Daaadddd!!!!” The twin boys spoke as one. Liam carried on alone. “That’s disgusting!!!”
“You say that now, son.” Michael swung his head backwards to speak. “Ten years and it’ll be a different story.”
Sarah took the opportunity to slip Michael’s grip. Did her best to look serious as she manhandled his tall frame towards the table. It was not a pretence she could pull off. A smile broke through as Michael let her push him into his seat.
“Now you stay there and be a good example to your children.”
Sarah turned her back and returned to the stove. The omelette in the pan was beginning to brown just a little too much. It had been perfect before Michael had intervened. In the past the interruption would have irritated her. Its result even more so. Not any more. Their six-year marriage had mellowed the strict standards that Sarah demanded of herself.
Michael watched his wife split the omelette in two. Half went on his plate. Half on hers. Sarah carried them both to the table. Placed one in front of Michael with a kiss on his cheek. The other was placed in the space beside him, ahead of her own seat. Turning, she walked back towards two-door Sub-Zero and Wolf refrigerator. Took out a carton of orange juice. Picked up two glasses from the sideboard and walked back to the table.
All the while Michael watched. And all the while he marvelled that his life had turned out this way. That he had not only found but married his perfect woman. Michael was almost ten years older than Sarah. They had met seven years before, in the most extreme of circumstances. Somehow their connection had taken. It had lasted. What could have been a crush had been something much more. So here he was. 44-years old with the 35-year old wife he adored. The perfect match. The perfect family. It was more than Michael could have ever hoped.
“So what’s today?” Sarah asked. She dashed some Tabasco sauce onto Michael’s meal as she spoke. After seven years she knew her husband’s tastes.
“Wandsworth Prison,” Michael replied. “First meet with Simon Kash.”
“The boy in the murder case?”
“Yep.” Michael drained half of his orange juice in one mouthful. “Bad business. What about you? What time are you out?”
“Not until 10. I’ll drop the boys at school on the way. You’re still able to pick them up?”
“Should be. I’m out of prison by midday, then working from home. But I’ll make sure Anne’s lined up, in case I get stuck.”
Neither spoke for a few moments more. Instead they concentrated on their breakfasts. Michael finished his quickly. Sarah took a little longer. Her husband turned his attention back to their sons as he waited.
“So who fancies a game of football after school?”
Both Liam and Daniel fired a hand into the air. Each tried to get higher than the other. A contest only the taller Liam could win.
“That settles that, then. I’ll tell Aunty Anne to bring her boots when she picks you up!”
Both faces dropped. Michael roared with laughter. He grabbed both boys into a bear hug. Pulled them tight into his chest.
“I’m only joking. It’ll be me. I promise!”
The hug continued for a few seconds. When it was over Michael glanced at his watch. Stood up. Kissed both boys on the forehead and Sarah on her lips.
“Time to go,” he said as he pushed his right arm into his suit jacket. “Don’t want to be late for young Mister Kash, now, do I?”
Michael took one last mouthful of orange juice. Kissed Sarah again. Headed for the door.
Kathy Gray counted herself lucky for many things. Her husband of thirty years was one them. They had enjoyed a long, happy and comfortable marriage. Never rich, they had also never been poor. Between them they had done much more than keep the wolf from the door.
Then there were the children. Four of them. All individual. All different. The eldest – John – was a carpenter, like his father. A strong, moral man with a growing family of his own. Next came Eric. Another manual worker. No wife. No children. But happy, and with a thriving business. Katie was third. She had married young and had dedicated herself to childbirth. Five at the last count. Last but by no means least was Chris. The baby who grew up to be the surgeon. His mother’s pride and joy.
And there was Kathy’s job. Her calling. For almost four decades she had been with the Longman family. Had watched with pride as Phillip Longman soared in his chosen career. Kathy had basked in his reflected glory whenever his name appeared in the press. Had dined out on the gossip Longman would share with her while she made his breakfast or ironed his shirts. Phillip Longman was an important man – a great man – and yet he had always taken the time to make his housekeeper feel needed.
Kathy had the same affection for the rest of the Longman family. For Phillip’s wife, Carol. A wonderful woman. Kind-hearted and generous. She had passed at the age of 80 and yet it still seemed she was taken too soon. And for their children. Matthew. Russell. Peter. All of them near grown by the time of Kathy’s employment. But each warm and affectionate, even to the hired help. It had been the great sadness of Kathy’s life to see the three boys drift from their father in the years since their mother’s death. She had sometimes thought to speak to them on the subject. To give them a piece of her mind. It had never happened. Kathy was not family. However well she was treated, she would always know that.
Yes, Kathy Gray counted herself lucky is so many ways. But these days, whenever she opened the door and entered Phillip Longman’s shrine to the family that was now behind him, what she was most thankful for was her health.
Kathy had watched Longman decline for five years. Had seen the strength of spirit that had filled him evaporate as he mourned his late wife. It had been painful to observe. To live through. Yet not once did Kathy think to quit. Not once did she consider retirement, despite her own advancing years. Kathy Gray had made a commitment to the Longman family that was as solemn to her as the commitment she had made before God on her wedding day. She would see her job to the end.
The morning routine had changed little in thirty years. The house was quieter now, but that made little difference. As she had most days for over three decades, Kathy closed the heavy front door behind her and walked to the kitchen. Placing her handbag on the side-table by the kitchen door, she filled a kettle from the cold-water tap and placed it on the stove. Phillip Longman’s refusal to upgrade to an electric appliance might be amusing but, deep down, Kathy preferred the old ways too. Next she opened the tin bread-basket that sat next to the stove. Took out four slices of wholemeal. Examined them. Made sure they were fresh. Satisfied, Kathy turned the overhead grill’s gas knob and clicked for a flame.
Nothing. Kathy tried again. And again. Still nothing. Slowly she realised why. Felt the current of air that was rushing past her outstretched hand. Kathy had not noticed it until now. It had been chilly outside as she travelled to work. Cold enough, at least, that she had not yet warmed enough to feel the chill air that was sweeping past her.
Kathy turned. Followed the stream of cold air back to its source. In a few steps she was beside the open pantry door. A door that should have been closed. She looked inside. There was glass on the floor. Broken glass from the window. It was a small hole. No larger than would be caused by a ball. That could be an accident. If only the window itself were not now hanging open.
Kathy span on her heel. Her heart was racing. She knew Phillip Longman was not responsible for the window. That he could not reach its place in the pantry. It had been opened — and left that way — by someone else. But who?
Only Kathy’s observer knew the answer to that question. Every possible thought rushed through Kathy Gray’s mind. And he could read each and every one of them on her face. She was thinking what to do next. Run? Flee the house? Or look for the man who had loyally employed her for thirty years? Kathy would never know how important this choice would be to her continued existence.
Kathy’s mind was made up. Loyalty won out. The observer smiled that same grim, joyless smile as she steeled herself to do the right thing. His pale eyes did not blink as he watched her take a deep breath to calm her nerves, and he followed as she walked from the kitchen, to climb the stairs.
The first stair creaked as Kathy took a faltering step into the unknown. The second time in six hours. Her observer avoided it as he climbed the steps behind her. Whatever he decided to do in the next minutes, Kathy would have no warning of his presence.
He stayed back. Always watching. Always silent. His mind made up. Kathy’s reaction would be everything. The right scream. The right hysteria. That was what he wanted. That was what would satisfy him. If she gave him that then she would live. If she did not, well, her fate was in her own hands.
Kathy Gray counted herself lucky for many things. But she would never know that her luckiest moment was walking into Phillip Longman’s bedroom and screaming for all she was worth.
The first two police officers had arrived in less than ten minutes. They were taken straight to Phillip Longman’s bedroom. One had thrown up on the spot. The other had called in the carnage that had awaited them.
The same horror would greet a stream of police personnel over the next thirty minutes. Each was a hardened professional, but still a third of them were reacquainted with their breakfasts at the sight. This was no ordinary murder scene. The weight of vomit alone proved that.
“Who’s been cleaning this place?” Detective Chief Inspector Joelle Levi could smell bleach as she climbed the stairs towards Longman’s room. “Someone’s been disinfecting?”
“No, Ma’am.” Police Constable David Wright had been one of the first on the scene. The one with the stronger stomach. “That smell was strong when we got here.”
Levi gave Wright a quizzical look. Like she did not believe him. At least that was how Wright read it.
They continued to the top of the stairs and along the hallway. Passed two open doors. Inside each was an untouched bedroom. Immaculately turned out. They spoke of diligent housekeeping and a shortage of overnight guests. The third room said no such thing. Inside it was a hive of activity, filling the air like an electric charge. It combined with the smell of bleach and the sight of vomit against the corridor walls. This was why they were here.
Levi stepped inside the room. Her gaze swept from one wall to another. Took in everything in between. An experienced detective, she had been prepared for the worst. The worst was what greeted her.
In his heyday Phillip Longman been able to dominate a room. But he had never done so as completely as he now did in death. The sight of his frail body transfixed Levi. His nakedness was shocking. His mutilation was worse. Most captivating, though, was the way he had died. Longman had been crucified against his own bedroom wall. The nails that had been hammered through his wrists suspended him feet above the floor.
Levi spoke without irony. She had seen terrible things in her professional life. Had handled sights far gorier than this. Yet there was something about the ritualistic nature of this man’s death. It suggested deliberation. Levi had seen firsthand the damage a gunshot could do. The injuries caused by a bomb. Even a land-mine. But what she was looking at now? Never had she seen such horrific injuries caused so very carefully.
Levi turned away from the still-hanging corpse. Scanned the rest of the room. There was a pool of vomit at her feet. Not ideal but far enough from the body to be no risk of contamination. The other weak stomachs had held out until their owners had reached the hallway. The room looked otherwise untouched. It would not stay that way. Already a team of white-suited crime scene examiners were scouring every inch of Phillip Longman’s last moments.
“What do you make of it, Steve?”
Levi recognised Detective Inspector Steven Hale through his white suit and hood.
“Nasty business, Ma’am.” Hale got to his feet. Approached his DCI. “Whoever did this was a sick bastard. This poor old sod had his tongue cut out and replaced with his own balls. Whatever of his own teeth he had left were pulled out one by one. Then he was bled. Slow. By cutting vein after vein, up and down his arms and legs.”
“Any idea which of the injuries killed him?”
“I think we can take our pick, Ma’am. Maybe bleeding him out was what did it, even if it was slow. If that didn’t then the crucifixion would have. No way he could have survived that. Not in his shape.”
Levi nodded slowly. Considered Hale’s analysis. Agreed with every word. She moved around the corpse as much as the wall would allow. Looked closely. Took in the wounds. Finally Levi leaned close to one of the open cuts on Longman’s right leg and inhaled deeply through her nose.
“Yeah, that’s where the bleach seems to have gone,” offered Hale. “No evidence of writhing, though. Suggests he was already dead by the time it was thrown over his wounds. Small mercies, I suppose. Would’ve been agony if he’d still be breathing.”
Levi did not reply. Instead she walked to the far side of the room. Picked up a chair that sat in the corner. Placing it beside the corpse’s dangling legs, she stepped up. Levi was not a tall woman – 5’5” at best – but then Phillip Longman had not been a tall man. The height of the chair equalled the height of his crucified feet.
“Pass me a glove.”
Levi did not look down as she spoke. Or as she took the glove from Hale’s hand. Pulling the latex onto her fingers, she carefully opened Longman’s mouth. His castrated testicles had already been removed from inside. This left a cavity with no teeth and no tongue. A blackened mess. Levi leaned forward. Put her nose as close as she could without risking contamination of the evidence. Took a deep breath.
“What is it?” Hale was intrigued. “What can you smell?”
“Bleach.” Levi carefully closed the mouth and climbed down from the chair. “They’ve filled his mouth with it, too.”
“After he was dead? Why? What’s the point?”
Levi ignored the question. Instead she looked around. Found PC David Wright. Wright felt himself stand a little more upright as the she caught his eye.
“Has a bleach bottle been removed from this room?”
“No, Ma’am. Everything’s exactly as we found it. Other than any investigation of the body, obviously.”
“What about downstairs? Or in the bathrooms? Has any bleach been taken from any of them?”
“I’ve no idea, Ma’am.”
“The body was discovered by the housekeeper, right?”
“Then go ask her. Take her to the rooms. We need to know.”
PC Wright left the room without another word. Hale looked bemused.
“What does a missing bleach bottle matter?”
“It matters because it kills DNA, Steve.” Levi had encountered the theory before but she had never seen it used. “The bleach wasn’t thrown over him to torture him. It was done to destroy evidence. That’s why the whole body’s drenched in the stuff. Whoever did this got down and dirty. Maybe that was the point. The thrill. But they also don’t want to get caught. They know what they’re doing, Steve. We won’t find anything on the body. And judging by the smell, the only DNA we’ll find in this whole bloody room is in that pile of sick by the door.”
Hale turned to look in the direction of the vomit. He then looked back at Levi.
“But I don’t get why it matters if the bleach was taken? They won’t have left an empty bottle with fingerprints on it. Not if they’re that careful.”
“It matters.” Levi explained. “Because if it was taken from here then it was a brainwave. An impulse. But if the killer brought the bleach with him then we’re dealing with a professional. Important we know that, don’t you think?”
Hale nodded. Every word made sense. But they led to more questions.
“So what’s the point in examining the room, then? If you’re sure we won’t find any DNA or prints or anything?”
“Because right now this crime scene’s our only lead. Who knows if the bastards missed a spot.” Levi took a final glance around the room. “We’ve got to clear this one up, Steve.”
Hale noticed a concern in Levi’s voice. He had been a member of the DCI’s team for three years. Had worked scores of crime scenes alongside her. In all that time Hale had never seen Levi worry. Not until that moment.
“What’s so important about this one?” Hale asked. “The fact he was crucified?”
“Maybe,” Levi replied. She turned to the room. Raised her voice. “Which I want kept out of the press. Not one mention of how this man died. Not one.”
Levi turned back to Hale. Took him by the arm. Escorted him out of the room and back into the hallway. Ignored the vomit pile that was near their feet.
“But no, Steve. It’s not the crucifixion.” Levi’s voice was now a whisper. “It’s who this guy is. Who he was, I mean.”
“Who is he? I don’t recognise him.”
“You wouldn’t. It’s not like he’s a celebrity. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t important. He was a Lord Chief Justice, Steve. It’s Phillip Longman.”
Hale felt the blood drain from his face. The name was familiar. The title even more so. The Lord Chief Justice is the UK’s most senior judge. In Longman’s time there had been a lone superior rank — Lord Chancellor — but that role had been more ceremonial than judicial. Longman’s position, though, had been as as powerful as its holder wished to make it.
And Longman had never held back his influence. As Lord Chief he had taken responsibility for some of the most controversial legal decisions of recent years. Decisions that had brought down both criminal and terrorist organisations. In other words, the mutilated corpse that was currently nailed to a bedroom wall had been one of Britain’s most important men.
“The political pressure on this is going to be a nightmare, Steve. And so is the suspect list. Longman had a lot of enemies. Even now. Plenty of bastards with long memories.”
Hale nodded. Silent. The possibilities ran through his mind. The scenarios. He looked back through the open door. Stared at Longman’s corpse. Nothing about the pale, pathetic body suggested the status of the man who had filled it. A man whose death would now dominate the news.