‘Why did you do it? Why go to… such lengths?’
The girl said nothing. She continued to stare out of the huge sash windows that wouldn’t open. At the grey skies beyond them.
‘You know we’re still trying to piece things together. You could help us a little.’
‘You ever been in luf?’ She turned around. Her face was beautiful, in a classic way. Like one of those models you see in arty black and white lingerie ads. All cheekbones and chiselled nose.
‘Love? Is that what you call this?’
‘He luffed me.’
‘I don’t call it love. I call it–‘
‘What would you know?’
‘Don’t call me that.’
‘Okay. What do you…?’
‘Is that what he called you?’
‘That’s my name.’
A nurse came to check on the charts at the foot of the bed. Detective Matthews excused himself and let the nurse take and record the girl’s blood pressure. The girl looked fine. Damn fine, he had to admit it. But multiple contusions, from blunt trauma, had been recorded across her whole body. Fortunately, there were no signs of any organ damage. He guessed the bastard couldn’t bring himself to touch the face. He’d thought he’d seen it all. Some guys got pretty obsessed, usually those middle-aged office types, the quiet ones who’ve squirrelled away a good-sized nest. Kept to themselves. Some were married, nothing new there — a bit on the side. God know’s he’s been tempted a few times. But it was usually flowers, designer clothes, diamonds, shit like that. But this took obsession to a new level.
The nurse left the green curtains open. She smelt of disinfectant and soap as she walked past and flicked Matthews an unsmiling nod.
‘How did you meet him?’
‘On the street ain’t it?’ Amber shrugged. She still wore the shadow of mascara around her perfectly shaped, almond eyes.
‘What he just… picked you up?’
‘He was nice.’
They all are. At first. ‘Don’t tell me, he had some fancy car. What was it Ferrari? Porsche?’
Smooth. Twelve years in the force, another twelve to go on the mortgage. And he was still driving around in a ten-year-old Mondeo with almost two hundred thousand on the clock.
‘But what made you… agree to it?’
‘I weren’t no prossie or nuffin, if that’s what you’re thinking.’
‘I wasn’t thinking that. But you agreed to…’
’Why wouldn’t I?’
Matthews threw a picture down onto the meal table. ‘Remember her? That’s what you used to look like Amber.’ The picture showed a young girl, around sixteen. Pretty in her own way, in a natural way, but without the cheekbones and whitened smile. The eyes were downturned, the nose rounded.
‘I told you–‘
‘And I’m telling you, Amber. It’s time to start dealing with things. Listen.’ Matthews sat down in the green plastic armchair and leant forward. Christ, she was young enough to be his daughter. ‘I know this must be difficult for you. And we — the police — and the hospital, the doctors, are here to support–‘
‘What makes you think–‘
‘We’ll support you in whatever way you need. But we need your help. Please. Before he does this to somebody else.’
After it came to light what had happened they nicknamed the guy Professor Higgins.
‘You know it wasn’t easy tracing who you were at first. But I guess he didn’t feel the need to mess with your finger prints. Lucky for you you’ve been in trouble with us before haven’t you? I’m glad you decided to talk to us.’
‘I don’t know where he is, I already told that other guy.’
‘He’s finished with you, Amber. Time to wake up. Why else would he have done this and left? Your parents will want to see you soon. They’ve been pretty worried. You should have contacted them at least.’
Were they in for a shock. Matthews left her to stare out of the window. Beyond them the skies had darkened. A storm was arriving.
Matthews turned around and peered through the curtains. ‘What?’
‘He said he’d make me famous. All I needed was a little work. Said he was an artist. I was a work of art.’
Little work. Christ, major overhaul was more like it. Matthews couldn’t help raise a smile. ‘Well, you’re going to be famous now that’s for sure, Amber.’ What was it with kids and fame these days? It was like fifteen minutes wasn’t enough, they wanted fifteen hours, fifteen tomorrows, fifteen lifetimes of being famous. Whatever the hell that meant. And at what price? ‘We’ll be in touch, Amber. Get some rest. They’ll be some officers around. In case he tries to contact you. If you need anything, just let them know. Here’re my details.’
Matthews gave Amber his card and a paternal pat on the shoulder. His phone rang just as he pushed past the curtains into the ward.
‘Hello? Yes dear… No, no… I’m just leaving… Yes… I’ll make it don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with your hair… it’s just the theatre. You look beautiful… No… I swear… Just wear anything… It doesn’t matter… I don’t mind what you look like… Why should that bother you? No, no… Okay… Yeah, I love you too. See you in a bit.’