Chief Superintendent Mallard was a duck from the old school, which to Swann’s mind was both a good and a bad thing. Mallard believed that any crime could be solved with patience, attention to detail, and a length of electrical flex when the tape recorders were switched off and the cell cameras were turned to face the wall. His methods were sometimes brilliant, often brutal. Swann had learned a lot from him, though she’d always been careful not to learn too much.
He waddled into the water and swam out to where Swann and Duckworthy were examining another body.
Number three, Swann thought to herself. A swan this time; a large one. Stabbed, several times.
‘This’ll be number three, if I’m not miscounting.’ said Mallard. ‘Am I miscounting, Sergeant Duckworthy?’
‘No sir, three it is.’
Swann tried hard not roll her eyes; at heart, ducks were a pack fowl; they always stuck together.
‘And do we have anything. You know, like a… what do you call those things, Duckworthy? Small things, really small, but very important; we’re paid to find them.’
‘A clue, sir.’
‘That’s the chappie! Have we got a clue, Detective Inspector?’ Chief Superintendent Mallard believed sarcasm hadn’t existed until he joined the force.
‘Not as yet, sir. We’ve got three victims, three different M.O.s, and no murder weapons.’
‘That’s not good, Swann; that’s not good at all.’
‘No sir, and I’m as frustrated as you are.’
‘Do you hear that, Duckworthy? She’s as frustrated as me!’
The Forensics team, three herons and a couple of swans, looked at each other and sidled away.
‘Tell me, Swann; do you have the mayor kicking your downy arse up and down the Thames?’
‘No sir, but–’
‘Do you have the press camped outside your nest, looking for answers, or failing that, your resignation.’
‘No sir, I don’t, but this is a very–’
‘I don’t want to hear it, Swann. All I want to hear is the sound of wing cuffs being slapped on our perpetrator. Is that clear?’
‘As a fresh water lake, sir.’
Mallard narrowed his eyes and stared intently at her. ‘Was that supposed to be funny, Swann?’
‘That’s good, that’s very good, because until you show me a result then I think you should be keeping your stuck-up university superiority shit to yourself.’
‘You swans…’ Mallard turned his back.
‘Us swans what sir?’ Swann said, though she was sure she didn’t mean to.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘You said us swans, sir. I just wanted to know: us swans what?’
Mallard looked at Duckworthy who was trying his best to look somewhere else. ’Instead of asking me questions, Swann, how about rounding up some suspects and practicing your interrogation skills on them?’
He quacked his disapproval and swam out to his take-off strip. ‘Forty-eight hours, Swann, and then I’m putting a proper DI on the case. Understand me?’ He didn’t wait for her reply; a few short beats of his wings and he was airborne.
Duckworthy waited until he was out of sight then swam out to join Swann. She had her head down in the water and her tail up in the air. He tried not to look. He wanted to ask what she was looking for, but wasn’t sure where to tap to get her attention. Swann righted herself and swam around the body.
‘Just had a thought, Sergeant,’ she said. ‘Something that Mallard said.’
‘What about you being stuck up?’
‘No,’ she said evenly, ’the other thing: three bodies, three M.O.s and possibly three murder weapons. What does that tell you?’
Duckworthy shrugged and helped her heaved the dead swan on to its back. ‘I dunno. Three different murderers?’
‘Precisely! And why haven’t we found any weapons?’
‘I suppose they’re taking them with them.’
‘Not something that serial killers tend to do. They like to leave the weapon with the body, wiped clean of feather prints, just to taunt us.’
‘So not one killer, but two, maybe three. Sounds a lot like a…’ He froze and fixed Swann with a look of disbelief. ‘You think this is gang related?’
‘I thought we’d seen the last of that shit.’
They both searched the body, while the Forensic team chattered and squawked around them. The heron threatened to report them both; Duckworthy told him to go right ahead.
‘Nothing under his wings,’ Swann said.
‘Got it,’ Duckworthy replied. ‘It’s in his bill.’
Swann paddled around to take a look. She peered inside the swan’s mouth, and there it was: a tattoo on the upper plate. Good work too, she thought. ‘Can you make that out?’
‘Yeah,’ said Duckworthy. ‘It says Thames Disciples.’
‘Well,’ said Swann, ‘there’s a blast from the past.’
Duckworthy nodded grimly. ‘Shall I get the lads together, round up all the Canada Geese?’
‘Good idea; if there’s a gang problem on the Thames they’ll be right in the thick of it.’
They both turned their heads skyward at the sound of wings chopping clumsily at the night air.
Duckworthy squinted. ‘Isn’t that your fella?’
It was the worst landing Swann had ever seen: a pair of large webbed feet tripped and skated across the surface of the water before a large white frame smashed into the Forensic team in an explosion of squawks, hisses and feathers.
‘Malcolm?’ Swann drifted towards the waterfowl pileup. Duckworthy thought it best to keep his distance.
‘Let me through, damn you! I need to see him!’
‘Malcolm, what the hell are you doing here?’
‘Is it him? Please don’t tell me it’s him.’ Malcolm fought his way clear of the officers trying to restrain him. He beat his wings and skidded across to where Duckworthy floated, next to the body.
‘That’s far enough, Malcolm,’ Duckworthy warned. ‘This is a crime scene. You can’t just–‘
‘Oh god, it is him!’
Swann paddled over to him and said, ‘Do you know the victim, Malcolm?’
‘Of course I bloody know him! It’s Tarquin! That’s Tarquin, my…’ He looked at her and hung his head. Despair, shame: Swann wasn’t sure which. ‘That’s Tarquin,’ he whispered.
Swann took a deep breath. ‘Right,’ she said.
‘Listen, Margaret. There’s something I need to tell you.’
‘Not now. Now, you’re a witness. Duckworthy, take his statement.’
‘No problem, Ma’am. Where are you going?’
‘Home. If my husband is here then no one is at the nest, looking after the eggs.’