Charlie looked up at the dead man on the cross.
How the hell did he get up there?
The victim’s arms were suspended directly above his head, fixed to the rough timber with a nail the size of a railway spike. Blood had leaked down his arms and the top of his chest and dried into a brown crust. His legs had been broken.
He was naked except for a priest’s collar and a wooden crucifix around his neck. His expression had been frozen by rigor; he looked as cheerful as a man might, in the circumstances. If he really was a priest, Charlie thought, it was a poignant way to die.
“Jesus Christ,” Greene said
A moment. Charlie heard the plaintive cry of a crow from the trees.
“It was the elephant in the room. Someone had to say it.”
Charlie shook his head and turned away. One of the CS officers nodded to him, and pulled down his face mask. “Morning, Charlie. I thought we’d had Halloween.”
“What have you got, Jack?”
Jack nodded at the photographer, who was standing on a small, aluminium stepladder, taking close-ups of the stone sill.
“Grooves in the stone, made by a rope or a chain.”
“That’s how he got him up there?”
“Looks like it. Take a butcher’s at this.” He turned and went outside. Charlie followed.
There was a bit of rubbish strewn around, beer cans and crisp packets and toilet paper; the grass was still crisp with frost. A feathery grey mist hung in the trees.
Under the branches, the gravestones in the cemetery were soured with age and all about the place, in a jumble. Still, the dead had long lost any reason to be tidy. They were actually just fine when they were let alone. He wondered for a moment how many of them had been murdered. One in six hundred and twenty-five, if you believed the statistics.
On the other side of the cemetery railings London was still about its business, pounding horns, texting, looking at Facebook on the bus.
“See these marks here,” Jack said, pointing at the frozen mud about twenty feet from the Gothic windows. “What it looks like, he had a van or a truck with a winch. Attached the end of the chain to the top of the cross and hoisted it up, using the wall as a lever.”
“It’s a lot of trouble all this. Anything else?”
Jack nodded at two other CS officers in their blue overalls, on hands and knees in the grass. “Footprints. Good impressions, too, mud must have been a bit softer when he made them and they froze overnight. We’ve taken casts. There’s some smaller tyre prints, could be a mover’s trolley.”
“Right. For getting the victim into the church.”
“It would have made life easier.”
“What you mean is, it made death easier. Crucifixion in the twenty-first century. I wonder if he used a nail gun?”
“You’d need a power source.”
“I was joking.”
“Know you were. But that spike wasn’t put in here, there’d be blood splatter.”
“You’re right. Interesting.”
“Whole bloody thing is interesting, if you aren’t the poor sod he did it to.”
“He or she, Jack. Let’s not jump to conclusions.”
“It’s a he. What would a woman be doing with a winch?”
“Who found the body?”
Jack nodded to the patrol car, parked under the trees, a little way up the gravel drive. A man was sitting in the passenger seat, his head between his knees, holding an emesis bag. Two uniforms were standing over him. One of them was taking notes.
Charlie went over. “Alright?” he said.
“Sir,” they both said, in unison, when he showed them his warrant card.
“Is he okay?”
“Still in shock, sir. We’ve called an ambulance.”
Charlie squatted down. “Detective Inspector George, Metropolitan Police. Was it you that found the body?”
The man looked as if he wanted to say something, instead he gagged into the bag. Charlie jumped up and took a step back, didn’t want any of that on his Fratelli Rossettis.
“What happened?” he said to the uniform with the notebook, a stocky young woman with an earnest expression.
“He was doing his rounds first thing this morning. He knew something was wrong when he found the chains on the front gates had been broken.”
“Doing his rounds?”
“He checks for vandalism every morning, sir. He’s one of the Friends of the Cemetery.”
“The cemetery has friends?”
“Christ, it has more mates than I do. So, he comes down here every morning at this time?”
“They have a roster.”
“Alright, when he’s feeling better get a statement. I want the names and addresses of all the cemetery’s Friends. And its enemies as well.”
“It was a joke, constable.”
He went back inside the chapel. Years since it had been used, by the looks; it was closed to the public these days, most of the windows boarded up with corrugated iron and mildewed plywood, the stained glass all gone. Their perp had used bolt cutters to snap the chain on the padlocked gate in the vestibule.
He stood there for a moment, admiring the way the light angled into the chapel through a hole in the slated roof. Nice. An overhanging tree had worked its inquisitive fingers through one of the high arches. There was the smell of leaf mold. On a transept wall he could make out a piece of ancient graffiti, CASEY LOVES COCK. I wonder if she still does, Charlie thought. She’d be a grandmother by now.
Greene hadn’t moved, was still standing there, staring at the body.
“No spear wound,” he said.
“Rules out the Romans.”
“What are you doing, Jay? This is not a laugh.”
“I was trying to get inside his mind, guv. The murderer, I mean. It looks like he’s arranged everything, like a tableau.”
“A tableau’s like a representation of a scene from a story.”
“I know what a tableau is, thanks.”
“What I mean, guv, is that if you want to off someone, it’s easy enough. You just hit the geezer with a brick. But this, this is like, art.”
“What are you, a profiler now?”
“The thing is, why the bloody performance?”
“That my old son is what makes the job interesting. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you get a crucifixion in an abandoned church. Brilliant.” His mobile rang. “DI George.” He listened, said right then, and hung up.
“Who was that, guv?”
“Jolly. He’s got held up in the traffic. No point in us hanging around then. Let’s get back to the nick.”
They walked back to Greene’s Sierra, threw their overalls and overshoes in the boot, and climbed in. Charlie let Greene drive, they bumped back down the footpath to the front gates.
Charlie took out his iPhone and did a quick Google search.
“It’s a Dissenter’s Chapel,” he said.
“What is, guv?”
“The place your artist chose for his tableau. Dissenters were like Quakers and Anabaptists, Christians who didn’t believe in the Church of England so they built their own. This one was put up in 1840. Hasn’t been used for years. Careful!”
“You nearly ran over a squirrel. I like squirrels. You run over a squirrel, I’ll get you transferred to traffic duty. Says they recorded an Amy Winehouse video here.”
“Popular little place, then. One of the uniforms said that during the day the locals use it for walking the dog.”
“Is that a euphemism?”
“Look it up. It’s in the dictionary next to Tableau.”
There was a jumble of tombs on either side of the path, some collapsed, others overgrown with ivy and brambles. They reached a pair of imposing Victorian gates, blue and white police tape everywhere, three more uniforms from the local nick keeping the curious at bay.
Charlie scrolled down the screen on his mobile. “God love us.”
“It says there’s two hundred thousand people buried in here. That’s more people than Southend.”
“And they’re about as lively.”
They drove through the gates and they were back in North London, a dour streetscape of betting shops and pawnbroker’s, a Salvation Army shop squeezed between a Pizza Hut and a Morrison’s. There were Hassids in gaberdine raincoats and side-curls, Nigerian mothers in bright wraps. Charlie had grown up not far from here; it wasn’t like that then.
He quickly checked the Arsenal website before he shut down the phone; Arsene Wenger was still hanging on, he’d been hoping he’d resign. Greene saw his expression.
“What’s up, guv?”
“Nothing.” He pointed out of the driver’s side window, at the CCTV camera mounted the other side of the bus stop. “Let’s hope that’s working.”
He made a mental note of the row of shops on the other side of the road, flats built over them, someone must have seen or heard something. He didn’t want this one getting away from him, people mustn’t think they could crucify someone in the middle of London and get away with it. Next thing, everyone would want to do it.