Casey Baxter had already found more bodies than the average person. Well, sort of, anyway. And now she’d come across another, just lying there, it was, on the Delta P4 gantry.
Casey saw her first body from the river bridge in Malham Wood, but the approach through the undergrowth was too boggy and too treacherous for her to investigate further, so instead she called the emergency services. They arrived at speed and in considerable numbers. Unfortunately. Turned out the ‘body’ was merely some discarded clothes—probably tossed from the bridge by a litter lout for some reason—that had randomly shaped themselves like a sprawled bloodstained corpse. Casey’s sense of duty was praised, if not her eyesight.
Her second discovery was at least a real body. A tramp, in the park. Clearly dead. Or so she thought when she checked, as would any concerned and dutiful citizen, for signs of life. The emergency services, however, managed quite easily to wake the derelict from his alcohol-induced stupor. Why he hadn’t woken when Casey examined him she had no idea. She was remembered from her earlier find, and this time the appreciation of her good intentions was slightly more restrained.
The third time even Casey had to admit to some embarrassment. The woman was face-down in the canal, tangled in the weeds on the far bank, blonde hair rippling in the faint waves generated by the breeze. If only she hadn’t been a shop mannequin the headlines could have been so different.
So Casey approached this new body—ostensibly her fourth—with some caution.
She’d been walking through the warehouse on an inspection, logging barcodes and tracking orders on her hand-held scanner. It was all computer-controlled, but Mr Hickman—who remained suspicious of the new multi-million-pound warehouse—liked her to spend a morning every week carrying out a manual check.
Casey hadn’t heard anything, obviously, that might have brought about the appearance of a body here because she was wearing ear defenders to protect herself from the literally deafening noise of all the machinery. She wouldn’t have heard a struggle had it been happening right behind her.
The warehouse itself was a miracle of engineering, an automated marvel that could pick, sort, merge, scan, pack and load various items without a single human hand interfering in the process at any point from storage site to back of the van. It was also like some mechanical, motorised version of hell, with all the clattering and banging and screeching as medical supplies of all descriptions shuttled automatically in bar-coded crates around the multi-level maze of conveyor belts and rollers.
She crouched by the prone figure on the gantry—Delta P4—laying down her hand-held scanner. Mere inches away crates trundled past towards the final packing stage.
This one was definitely a body. Dirty, stained jeans. Black Sabbath T-shirt beneath a black leather jacket. Untidy black hair. And a face only a mother could love. Pock-marked, scarred and stubbly. Most importantly, the body had no pass-card on a lanyard. And no ear defenders. Not staff then, nor a visitor. Intruder maybe? But definitely dead. She made sure after the debacle with the tramp in the park, checking repeatedly for a pulse and giving him a good shake. His eyes were glassy and unseeing too, having no doubt just stared into his killer’s face. She noted the jacket, awkwardly off the shoulder, as if from a struggle, and also noted, with a slightly sick feeling, the knife embedded in his chest, surrounded by a small dark stain …
Casey stood up abruptly, eyes frantically searching.
It suddenly registered.
This wasn’t an accident. And she’d been on this gantry just five minutes before. Which meant the body had appeared since then. Which meant his killer could still be close.
Her hand twitched instinctively to reach for her phone, but just as the clattering network of machinery would drown out any noise from a murderous struggle it would also smother her own appeals for help if she made a call. Not that calling was even possible. The network of surrounding metal effectively blocked phone signals too. Even a text message was impossible. So her hand froze as it touched the knitted pocket of her cardigan.
Then, a shadow, person-shaped. To her left. Although she could see no detail through the intervening ever-moving mechanisms.